Does Your Business Need Facebook?

I used to have a Facebook account.  For several months  I wasted an hour a day looking at other people’s babies, pets, and gardens.  Then I ill-advisedly said “yes” to a friend request from someone who filled up my entire screen with Beatles lyrics. I pulled the plug the next day and haven’t missed it. That is, until lately.

Lately I’ve been running a small business and the universal advice from the SBDC staff and the internet experts is that a BUSINESS needs a Facebook page as an integral part of a marketing plan. I can certainly see that in the retail sector; it’s the business-to-business aspect I have some doubts about. If I were promoting a rock band, or a local restaurant or bakery I’d be on Facebook. But I’m not and although I can see the logic of using a Facebook page to drive traffic to my blog, I’m holding out for a while. Ideally I’d rather skip the Facebook part altogether. 

It seems that every day in the news we are reminded of Facebook’s shortcomings as a corporate citizen. The other days it was announced that the company would settle a class-action suit for $20M ( a pittance in Facebook-land) for having used the profiles of Facebook users beside the product they had “liked”.  Far more common are stories about Facebook’s effects on individuals, such as the story the other day  on CNN Money about lenders checking whether a applicant’s FB friends are delinquent on THEIR loans. 

If you want an example of positive use of Facebook,  the affable Bill Prescott has done internet marketing at both Los Bagels and (currently) the Sun Valley Group, and has done many successful promotions with contests, mascots to enhance the brand name, and a habit of posting USEFUL information for the users. To set up a business page, you first need to set up a regular account, and add the business account. The regular account is NOT the old FB page you’ve been using to post pictures of your kitty.  Bill gave a presentation at the SBCD the other day and his enthusiasm was so infectious he has just about won me over. Then I swing back the other way- just another damn thing to keep track of.

What about you?  Does your business use Facebook or any other type of internet marketing?  What has been your return on investment? On your time spent? We’d love to hear from you. 

 

Stupid Employer Tricks and Golfing in Cuba

Was it the Letterman Show that used to feature “Stupid Pet Tricks’? The tricks were invariably dumb but the animals were invariably cute. Employers who cheat their workers and somehow think they’re going to get away with it are not cute.

We had featured the new Holiday Inn (under construction on Broadway in Eureka) a few weeks ago when we couldn’t figure out how a hotel that hadn’t opened yet could possibly have been voted “best” in its category in the Times-Standard “Best of Humboldt” poll.  We got a nice note from the general manager of the McKinleyville Holiday Inn explaining that the real winners were the Holidays in Mack Town and Fortuna and that the error was due to a typo by the Times-Standard.

We were left wondering why construction was proceeding so slowly until last week when the news broke that the project had foundation problems as well as numerous wage and hour violations such as not paying some workers since January (!), over a dozen serious safety violations, and that some 31 workers had been illegally classified as independent contractors. The details were well-reported in the Times-Standard,  the NCJ and in Richard Marks’ blog. I hear that the Carpenters’ Marianne Hassler deserves a lot of credit for setting things straight.

Those of us who weren’t involved can only stand on the sidelines shaking our heads and wondering, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Did they really think they were going to get away with cheating workers out of $250K and no one would notice? Or is this another instance of failing to monitor a contractor? ( See our earlier post about the perils of contracting without monitoring.)  Let’s hope this ugly mess is resolved soon.  All we need is another unfinished eyesore on Broadway.

Here’s something to make you feel old:  Fidel Castro turned 87 the other day.  The old devil has outlasted nine US Presidents so far and has turned the reins of government over to his “kid” brother Raul, who has been assiduously seeking foreign investment. He recently gave the go-ahead to construct something that hasn’t been built in Cuba since the 1959 revolution- golf courses! Yes, those emblems of bourgeois prosperity (and money-making machines) are being built- but of course not by Americans. No, our government continues its insane policy of isolating a natural trading partner while the Canadians get richer and richer building hotel after hotel.  It’s said you can’t tell the south side of the island from Waikiki. You won’t hear me often complaining about government rules but  closing off trade with Cuba has hurt American businesses, the Cuban people and hasn’t done a thing to dislodge the Castro government, has it?

Enough already! Does Barack Obama have the political capital and will to end this travesty? We’ll see.

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Trains, Planes and Buses??!!?

Last week,  a friend who needed to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco decided to try the Megabus.  His verdict? Unequivocal approval.

He took the overnighter which leaves LA’s Union Station at 1145pm and arrived in San Francisco (the CALTRAIN station) at 645am, no stops. The bus was new and immaculate, a double-decker carrying at least 100 passengers. There was free wi-fi and each seat had its own charging station. These buses are green-certified and Megabus is now serving Sacramento and San Jose.

Megabus,  Bolt Bus  (affiliated with Greyhound) and other intercity bus services reflect a national trend.  The Chaddick Institute at Depaul University came up with these figures comparing 2011 to 2012 :

Intercity bus:                    7.5% growth

AMTRAK, available seat miles:  3% growth, revenue passenger miles: 2.6% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, available seat miles: .4% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, revenue passenger miles: 1.4% growth

The entire study is available at their website.  Note that these figures do NOT include the “Chinatown” bus services as they do not have published schedules.

We know that the airlines are strapped, which makes them reluctant to add marginal airports such as Arcata to their service areas. Will we ever have alternates to the current United/ Greyhound monopolies? Not as long as United and Greyhound can get by with the shoddy service they currently provide. I can’t see Megabus being able to fill a double decker bus with our amount of traffic- until and unless United raises its fares to an intolerable level (which they’re pretty close to). A more likely scenario would be for Greyhound to upgrade its service.  Even if Greyhound were to upgrade its buses (by a LOT) there will always be those who, even in our eco-conscious community,  wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus.  Those attitudes will take a long time to change.

As for me, I’d rather ride a bus or other public transport that I KNOW will arrive at my destination rather than continue to play airport roulette. (“Folks, we’re going to have to land at Redding…no, San Francisco…no, Redding”.)  Even Greyhound doesn’t get fogged out.

A final note: I drove to SF to pick my friend up and was appalled at the state of 101, the potholes, unfinished road with those awful grooves, and especially the situation around Willits.  I had always opposed the Willits bypass because I didn’t think it was necessary- who can object to slowing down through a charming town?  But on Friday at 3pm it took almost an hour to get through Willits.  Then on Sunday it was back to “normal”, just the usual slowing.  I assumed the Friday crunch was due to vacationers headed for the lakes, but that was just my impression. Let’s hope the controversial and expensive bypass will improve traffic speed and safety for the entire community, not just summer vacationers.

 

Short Sea Shipping, Locomotives in Sac and Crowdfunding Goes Mainstream

“Short Sea Shipping”. Now try saying THAT three times in quick succession.

However it comes out, short sea shipping has been talked about as a potential use for Humboldt Bay Harbor for at least the several years that I’ve been following the rail/bay/train situation. At their July 31 meeting, the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group hosted a presentation by Stas Margaronis on “Trucking by Water:  Potential of a Humboldt-Stockton Container Ship Service”.  Mr. Margaronis is an energetic speaker and is the publisher of  his own website, Rebuild the US, and is the founder of Santa Maria Shipping and Trucking, as referred to on the website as a startup. Stockton is home to or near to many Central Valley distribution centers and is 75 miles from Oakland by water.

Harbor Commissioner RIchard Marks provided a good writeup on his blog, Samoa Softball, so I won’t repeat his excellent reporting. I would just add that a number of folks from SoHum showed up, apparently supporting any alternative to trucking on the theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The opponents of the Richardson Grove realignment and the Willits bypass heard Magaronis explain that one ship can replace 120 trucks but a kind of pall fell over the crowd when he mentioned LNG as a possible fuel for these ships (as opposed to diesel). It hasn’t been that long since our last LNG trauma and it’s pretty clear to me that LNG is a non-starter, even when confined to ship fuel lines, in this community.  He also mentioned our lack of a pier (cost: $10-15M). Anyway, whether you call it short-sea shipping or the marine highway, it’s a hard concept to be against assuming the freight is available. The potential for well-paying jobs is clearly there. Kudos to the HBHWG for another thought -provoking program.

LOCOMOTIVES- like any train nut, I look forward to RailPAC’s newsletter, Steel Wheels. The current issue reminds us that, although there are those in Humboldt who seem to think that railroads are a thing of the past, railroads are thriving in other areas. Siemens, the German mega-corporation, is building 70- that’s 70-energy-efficient locomotives for AMTRAK at its solar-powered plant in Sacramento.  This project will involve 69 suppliers in 23 states and 61 cities and will replace aging locomotives with state-of-the-art imodels that are expected to conserve  3Bkwh of energy by using such innovations as regenerative braking, which  can feed up to 100% of the energy generated during braking back to the power grid. Personally I am delighted that this huge investment has come to Sacramento, which has been a train town since they knocked in the Golden Spike. Hopefully there will be follow-on orders, as this first fleet is all-electric and designed for the Northeast corridor.  Hopefully Siemens can produce a passenger diesel and other products to keep foreign investment and good jobs coming in to the West Coast..

CROWDFUNDING- Those of you who supported local artist Peter Santino’s Kickstarter campaign have heard that the funding was successful and we can expect to receive our books in December. It occurred to me the other day that Eureka has a long and honorable history in crowdfunding; the Eureka Inn was originally financed by pledges from 750 citizens who felt the city needed a good hotel.  Seth Geddes’ project Fund Humboldt has taken off flying.  The Economist reported recently that in 2013 THREE BILLION DOLLARS will be crowdfunded of which about a sixth will be donations, without promise of equity or products. Crowdfunding is happening everywhere from Chile to Finland and could eventually provide an avenue by which citizens can decide how they would like their tax moneys to be spent.  Sounds good to us.

Finally,  a happy note for those of us who were English majors; the UK’s new ten pound note will feature  novelist Jane Austen,  a woman who wrote about money and its effect on families like no one else ever has. Sony is about to release Austenland,  a film about Austen  fans. Congratulations, Jane. It’s about time.