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A panel of local business owners discuss how they have used Facebook to help boost business during a seminar at the Crowne Plaza on Friday. Left to right, Sylvia Birns-Sprague, of Patchwork Patootie; Mary McGurn, of Colorful Stitches; Jessica Lamb, of Dottie’s Coffee Lounge; and Stephanie Gravalese-Wood, Red Lion Inn.

PITTSFIELD -- About 200 business owners packed into Crowne Plaza's grand ballroom on Friday to soak in wisdom from mighty Facebook.

Leaders from the social media giant were on hand in an effort to help expand its already gigantic reach -- 25 million businesses and 1 milion advertisers use the site -- by offering tips and lessons on how to use its business and advertising pages.

Bess Siegfried, the corporation's small-medium business team leader, led the presentation, stressing the importance of building relationships with customers.

She presented data that showed a majority of those online spend more time on Facebook than any other social media site. She said 38 percent of the site's users surveyed said they made a purchase as a result of using the site.

Businesses should make their Facebook page a "storefront," Sigfried said, posting important information about what they offer and inviting friends and family to "like the page."

She said that posting advertisements, promotions and sales once or twice a week will encourage visitors. Posting photographs and videos can also prove effective.

Facebook offers business owners advertising-targeted tools that allow them to promote their companies based on the location, lifestyles and user interests. Businesses can check on how many people are clicking on their advertisements and visiting their sites.

A panel of local business representatives also offered tips connecting with shoppers through Facebook.

Sylvia Birns Sprague, owner of Patchworks Pattootie in Pittsfield, a baby and toddler boutique store, spoke about the success she experienced from announcing giveaways on Facebook. Sprague, who runs her business from home, said those who are first attracted to the store for the giveaways have turned into some of her best long-term customers.

Mary McGurn, the owner of Colurful Stitches in Lenox for the past 20 years, said she makes customers part of her business by asking them to pick out certain products for her to purchase.

Dottie's Coffee Lounge owner Jessica Lamb posts lunch specials and photographs of staff preparing food. "There are no limits" to how Facebook can be utilized, "if you are really creative," she said.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, helped organize the event along with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. Neal used his appearance to speak about globalization and the power of the Internet to connect the world. "The world is not going to retreat from globalization," Neal said. "You can transfer money around the world in seconds."

Jennifer Lester and Cory Lester, owners of Lyndon Tree Care in Northampton, use Facebook for their business though they haven't advertised yet. They haven't yet seen a bump in business, but are interested in using some of the advertising tools Facebook offers. "It looks inexpensive," Cory Lester said. "I don't think many people interact with us (on Facebook) now," Jennifer Lester added.

June Roy-Martin, interim president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said she was "really thrilled" to have Facebook in Pittsfield and credited Rep. Neal for bringing the corporation to the Berkshires.

Local businesses, Roy-Martin said, are "doing OK."

"It's still a very tight economy. I think it's gotten a little better," she said. "Everybody's really careful about how they spend their money. There is a lot of competition out there."

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
nmayberg@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6243