Mississippi companies have a new face for marketing

COLUMBUS — Online friend requests and news feeds increasingly are working alongside sales brochures and phone book listings, as area business owners have been adding social networking to their marketing tools.

Although many associate marketing with television, radio and newspaper ads, some north Mississippi retailers, hotel managers and restaurant owners are working to harness the recent popularity of networking Web sites like Facebook.

“There’s no doubt about it; our Facebook page definitely helps us get the word out and draw people to the restaurant,” said Ray Hamilton, owner of Anthony’s Good Food Market in West Point. “Judging by the number of people who use the page, I’d say it’s great for our business.”

Anthony’s Facebook page is one of several business results generated by searching for Columbus, West Point or Starkville on the popular social networking site.

“We just look at it as another form of advertising,” said Deana Henson, office manager of Hilton Garden Inn on Mississippi Highway 12 in Starkville.

“We originally set the page up to help us get the word out to the younger group, and it’s been working out very well for us so far,” Henson said. “It’s an especially useful tool with all the (Mississippi) State (University) students here.”

Though Facebook pages originally were open only to individuals, the site for the past few years has been allowing businesses, churches and other groups to create pages.

Through the customized pages, entities can regularly update their “fans” by posting news updates, contact info, upcoming events and more.

Because Facebook does not charge for page creation, the site can provide a cost-effective method of drawing customer traffic to a business, said Danielle Jackson, manager of McAlister’s Deli on U.S. Highway 45 North in Columbus.

“We are working on ways to get people on our Facebook page right now. I definitely think Facebook is an excellent marketing tool once you get people to visit the page.

“We haven’t been open for a really long time, so Facebook hasn’t really been a huge marketing tool for us yet,” Jackson said. “But I think as time goes on, more and more people will start getting on there.”

Because Facebook typically has attracted teenagers and young adults, creating a business page usually helps store owners boost their younger demographic numbers, area business owners agreed.

However, business owners also said they quickly are learning the social networking site has no age limit.

“Almost every day, someone mentions to me that they checked us out on Facebook before they came to the restaurant,” Hamilton said. “It’s very important for any business trying to attract younger people to have a Facebook page.

“I guess it’s like the 35-and-under crowd that uses Facebook the most, but we definitely have people of all ages who use it.”

Anthony’s Facebook page has been up since June, and the site already is working to bring business to the restaurant, according to general manager Will Younghouse.

“One week, I think there were probably 20 people here who wouldn’t have been here if we didn’t have the Facebook page. The main thing we do with it right now is list the bands we have playing on Wednesday nights.

“With the page, we can give some info about the band, link to their MySpace page so people can hear samples of their music and other things like that,” Younghouse said. “It’s just like a free ad for us, so we see it as a great thing.”

Neal Wagner/The Commercial Dispatch