Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Facebook, Twitter, search engines, blogs, podcasts and even YouTube can be vital marketing tools for businesses of all types, experts said at a conference Friday in Portland.

They spoke before about 400 attendees at this year’s annual Agents of Change Conference at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Community Education Center.

The conference, sponsored by businesses including email marketing firm Constant Contact, Time Warner Cable and Shipyard Brewing Co., focuses on how businesses can use social media platforms to groom customers and boost sales.

The key to converting social media marketing into sales is to avoid aggressive sales pitches, said Laura Fitton, a Boston-based expert on using Twitter in marketing.

Instead, businesses should generate content that informs, entertains, empowers and elevates actual and potential customers, said Fitton, whose title at the social media software firm HubSpot Inc. is “inbound marketing evangelist.”

“Be useful,” she said. “Your content’s not about you. It’s got to be about your audience.”

While nearly all businesses use Twitter, most don’t know how to use it effectively, Fitton said.

Their goal should be to produce tweets that appeal to their target audience, using helpful links and tidbits of information that make customers look good to their own followers.

“Make stuff people actually want,” she said. “Helpful is the new viral.”

Fitton said Twitter is unique because it serves as “a global sensing and signaling network,” gauging in real time what the world is thinking.

To build a base of loyal followers, companies must learn what their audience members want, care about and help them get it, she said.

“You want screaming, raving fans,” Fitton said. “You want people who feel a personal stake in your success.”

YouTube marketing expert James Wedmore, whose videos on how to generate sales through YouTube have surpassed 1 million views, said many businesses don’t think to create YouTube videos as part of their marketing efforts.

“I always feel like YouTube is the forgotten stepchild of social media,” he said.

While it takes time and effort to generate and post video content, Wedmore said the rewards can be significant, citing as an example a clothing designer who tripled his sales in a year by posting a series of fashion-tip videos on YouTube.

“You become transformed into this authority,” Wedmore said.

For a business, the goal of a YouTube video should be to convert viewers into customers through informative, entertaining content, he said.

Each video should contain a keyword, mentioned several times, that lets viewers know what it is about and makes it easier to search for the video, Wedmore said.

“YouTube is the second-largest search engine” after Google, he said.

With a billion viewers watching 6 billion hours of video each month, businesses can’t afford to neglect YouTube in marketing, Wedmore said.

Attendees said they were impressed by the quality of speakers at Friday’s conference.

“I come here every year, and I learn something new every year,” said Bob O’Brien, vice president at Noyes, Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland. “I always come away with some ideas that will apply to my business.”

Terri St. Angelo, owner of Falmouth-based marketing and graphic design firm Strategic Design Inc., said she will pass on to her clients lessons she learned about the world of social media.

“I really try to keep up with what’s new, what’s hot,” St. Angelo said. “I’m so happy to have this (conference) in Portland.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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