Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

To the Chocolate Manor born with help from the web

By Lisa Smyth

Published 08/09/2015

Geri Martin, owner of Chocolate Mano
Geri Martin, owner of Chocolate Mano
Dorcas Crawford of Edwards & Co launches #belfasthour with Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts
A business card from Chocolate Manor

There is no doubt that social media has taken over the world. Facebook just announced it has an average of 968million active users each day in June, while Twitter boasts that 500million tweets are posted every day.

So this incredible global platform would seem like an obvious tool for any business-savvy firm to market and promote themselves to millions of potential customers.

Geri Martin, owner of confectionery firm Chocolate Manor, says both Facebook and Twitter have played an integral role in the success of her business.

The Coleraine businesswoman said: "It was one of the first things I used when we set up in November 2012.

"To be honest, in the first year, if it hadn't been for Facebook no one would really have known about what I was doing."

One of the main benefits of using social media as a marketing tool is the fact that it is free - so it is particularly useful to fledgling companies.

Facebook and Twitter are also both easy to use - so it just a matter of garnering as many followers as possible in order to maximise the exposure.

This is made even easier by the fact that social media platforms such as Facebook allow you to monitor times during the day and week when followers are most active.

It also includes geographical locations and a demographic breakdown of followers, as well as revealing the posts that receive the most attention.

In turn, this allows businesses to tailor marketing campaigns to best suit their followers, while ensuring the content is relevant and of interest to the audience.

Like most small businesses, Geri invited friends and family to like her Facebook page.

Followers have grown steadily and the chocolate manufacturer now has almost 2,500 likes on Facebook.

Geri said: "When we started out I wouldn't have been able to afford traditional advertising to reach people so Facebook was invaluable for that reason.

"Facebook also allowed us to instantly engage with our customers which was always a huge advantage for me in the early days.

"We started off small on Facebook but grew and grew, although I have to say we concentrate more on Twitter now.

"We tend to do more business to business stuff and in my experience Twitter is more useful for that."

Recent research has suggested that Twitter's influence in delivering traffic to websites has slumped in comparison to Facebook.

However, while it may not necessarily win over customers, businesses have found it invaluable when it comes to building contacts.

Indeed, the success of #belfasthour would suggest that companies in Northern Ireland continue to recognise the relevance of Twitter.

Every Thursday, between 9pm and 10pm, followers engage in conversation with #belfasthour as the host.

Each week a different company is featured and anyone posting a tweet includes the featured firm's hashtag.

The result is simple - the company trends and can expect to gain between 80 and 100 new followers.

Sean Kelly, finance manager at Belfast solicitors' Edwards & Co, is the brains behind the phenomenon, which is supported by the smallest business with just a handful of employees to more high profile users, such as ice hockey team the Belfast Giants.

He said: "It was an initiative to allow businesses to connect with one another and just over a year after it was set up we now have almost 9,000 followers.

"We had 540 businesses take part in #belfasthour last week - it's massive.

"We've had businesses that have featured on #belfasthour that have subsequently told us they have had to take on new staff because demand for their product or service was so great as a result.

"The businesses taking part in #belfasthour support one another and it's also a great way to network.

"They're able to use Twitter to reach out and build up contacts they may otherwise not get."

Hillstown Brewery and Get Er Brewed, based in Randalstown, have certainly found Twitter to be a powerful medium.

In fact, the award-winning microbrewery and homebrew company first made contact with their new hops supplier through Twitter - a relationship that has made it possible for them to sell the largest and most varied selection of hops in Ireland.

Director Deborah Mitchell said: "When it comes to social media, we believe Twitter plays a key role in enabling us to establish connections on a global scale.

"This allows us to continue to expand and deliver the best possible range to our customers."

Deborah has also made good use of Facebook to advertise the business - and like Geri found it invaluable in the early days of the company.

Deborah said: "Facebook allowed me to speak directly to the customer, to find out what they wanted and to answer any queries about stock or deliveries.

"The fact that it was free was a bonus.

"It also played a key role in getting us to the top of Google rankings.

"We made sure that we had a Facebook page set up before Get Er Brewed was even live and we ran a countdown to the launch day.

"It meant that we were number one when you searched for the likes of homebrew and Northern Ireland on Google.

"We believe that Facebook in particular is a very important marketing tool, so much so that we have a specific Facebook strategy.

"We know when our posts are going to be seen by the most people. And because Facebook allows you to schedule posts we are also able to plan ahead with our coverage.

"Social media has been the single biggest driving force for us when it comes to the success of our business."

Geri is also adamant that Facebook and Twitter are the reasons for the success of Chocolate Manor.

She said: "I don't think we would be here today if it wasn't for social media."

Edwards & Co hosts #Belfasthour on Twitter every Thursday between 9pm and 10pm

Belfast Telegraph

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