Socially networked small businesses help customers navigate storm

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Connecticut farmer Patti Popp used Facebook during the storm to ask customers to keep …

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, power was cut to every resident in the Connecticut village of Easton, where more than 100 trees had fallen on utility wires. Even most of those with generators to power their homes couldn't get TV news or listen to the reverse-911 calls placed by the town's first selectman. Throughout town, phones, internet, and cable service were knocked out by the storm.

    Nevertheless, news flowed among neighbors over Twitter, Facebook, and email about open restaurants, businesses offering wifi access, where to buy a bottle of wine, and which local service stations weren't yet sold out of gas. An unofficial "mommy network" shared knowledge about open movie theatres and other activities for kids home from school for at least a week. And tragically, news that an Easton fireman had died in the line of duty during the storm circulated so quickly that many residents knew the hero's name before local newspapers published it online.

    Smart small business owners who survived the storm in tact used social media not just to bring in business but to comfort customers or even ask for help.

    Open for business but without internet and phone service, the custom art shop Framed by Kosal in nearby Monroe, Conn., tweeted the owner's cell phone number to followers and added, "Our hearts go out to #Easton fire dept, family & community, who lost a firefighter last night. We thank him for his service & sacrifice."

    Patti Popp, the area's most socially networked farmer, used Facebook to asked more than 500 members of her "closed group" page and another 270 public followers to be on the lookout for row covers that had blown away in the storm, and informed them that Sport Hill Farm would back in business selling homegrown produce on Thursday—welcome news to locals whose paths to grocery stores were blocked by downed trees.

    Barcelona Wine Bar in neighboring Fairfield, one of the state's worst-hit shoreline towns, had a full house for dinner on Tuesday night and a steady stream of lunchtime customers Wednesday after emailing regulars and posting on Facebook and Twitter the surprising news that the restaurant had not lost power and was open for business. Barcelona's management invited all in the community—no purchase necessary—to take advantage of "working bathrooms, outlets available & free WiFi." Sommelier Emily Nevin says many diners showed up with laptops and cell phones to be charged and even their own power strips.

    Nevin credits the restaurant group's marketing director, Ria Rueda, with being "awesome about connecting with the community through social media." The lesson: Working to build up a Twitter and Facebook following during fair weather days can bring your business foul weather friends.

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