For one Markham business, online and offline merged with an invitation to a summit of digitally-savvy entrepreneurs from across North America.

 

The owners of Main Street Unionville’s Old Firehall Confectionery were invited to the San Francisco headquarters of Yelp for the company’s second annual Coast to Coast: Community Powered Progress summit.

 

The event, held Nov. 15 and 16 featured 100 businesses from Canada and the United States, brought out for an all-expenses-paid conference aimed to “cultivate conversations between business professionals.”

 

Shared among delegates was a utilization of Yelp, a crowd-sourced platform for reviewing shops, eateries and other local businesses.

 

The ice creamery and candy store’s Yelp page boasts an average score of four stars out of five based on more than 100 reviews, but also shows a number of photos that patrons have taken of everything ranging from ice cream sandwiches to shelves of delicious treats.

 

Embracing this has been deliberate for Natasha Usher, who bought the business earlier this year.

 

“Yelp has been an important part of our social media strategy for the past year and we plan on increasing our social media promotional budget and gaining from some of the many tips offered at the conference,” said Usher.

 

For Yelp, the summit allows the company to learn from a cross-section of users who represent the target market for the platform.

 

“We recognize the achievements of local business professionals who, like those at Old Firehall Confectionery, effectively utilize Yelp’s free tools for business owners to thrive,” said Yelp’s manager of local business outreach, Corey Dane. “We connect attendees with their peers and create opportunities to dialogue about challenges and successes, and we introduce them to leaders at Yelp, giving teams an opportunity to learn what we’re doing right, and what we can be doing to enhance the experience business leaders have on Yelp.”

 

Dane said that Old Firehall Confectionery was chosen to represent the Greater Toronto Area because of the “excellent customer experiences they create” using the website.

 

Old Firehall was one of only six Canadian companies—the only from York Region—represented at the summit.

 

The conference underscores the need for companies to stay relevant online as a supplement to their brick and mortar operations.

 

The challenge is a daunting, but necessary, one according to a social media expert.

 

Seneca College offers a certificate program in social media, aimed at helping students transition from casual and personal usage of apps and platforms to marketable skills that help bolster profit and customer experience.

 

“I tell students that (even though) you know how to use Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook from a personal standpoint, what we are going to focus on is how these tools can be used from an organizational perspective,” said Bhupesh Shah, professor and program coordinator for social media at Seneca’s School of Marketing. “Everything we do is about how this can benefit an organization. Why would you use it for an organization? What are the pros and cons? What are the costs?”

 

Shah said that there is a well-intentioned tendency for businesses to leap to social media platforms, but this often isn’t thought through critically.

 

“Everyone will say ‘I need to get on Facebook…because everyone is on Facebook,’ he noted. “That’s not the reason you get on Facebook. Strategically, you have to look at it and say, ‘My customers are on Facebook, therefore I’m going to go on Facebook,’ and then you make a commitment to allocating time to engage with customers there.”

 

Shah also cautioned against letting a social media presence alter the focus or style of the business.

 

“Organizations think that when you’re on social media, you utilize all the features of the tool, and you exploit them, but you can’t forget that at the end of the day, you’re still dealing with human beings—and it’s all about relationships,” he said.