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Bemidji's Young Professionals Network promotes networking opportunities

Chris Rodewald with CR Consulting discussed the business benefits of establishing an online social-networking campaign. Rodewald gave a presentation Wednesday afternoon to members of the Young Professionals Network at the Hampton Inn & Suites. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

The Young Professionals Network is now in its second year of offering networking opportunities for young adults.

YPN is a program offered through the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, but is targeted at professionals ages 21-40.

It kicked off in March 2009 with a goal of having 45 members but quickly surpassed its goal with 56 members, said Melissa Hoover, special events coordinator with the Chamber.

The goal of YPN was to form a networking group specifically for younger professionals to help them embrace and accelerate personal and professional growth, according to the Chamber's Web site at

"These are our new and up and coming leaders in Bemidji," Hoover said.

The group meets for a luncheon from noon to 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

YPN's luncheon on Wednesday featured Chris Rodewald from CR Consulting. He discussed how to build an online social-networking campaign for businesses.

"It's not just a fad," he said of social media. "It's here to stay."

Rodewald said he suggests that businesses first use the "big four" online social-networking sites when embarking on a new campaign: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

"Everybody has a Facebook page," he said, noting that the second-largest user group for Facebook is ages 50-59.

Rodewald's presentation addressed some of the fears that business owners have regarding social media.

The biggest, he said, is probably the fear of change.

"This is a whole brand-new realm," he said.

He said that Baskin Robbins started a social-networking campaign, and within seven months had increased its participation in its birthday club by 200 percent.

Business owners, Rodewald advised, should also not be afraid of negative comments from customers.

Rather, social-networking sites allow business representatives to quickly address those complaints, he noted.

"You can now respond to these negatives," he said.

Since the group was composed of young professionals - of which nearly every attendee said he or she already had a Facebook page - Rodewald also offered some tips on how to sell a boss on the idea of a social-networking campaign.

He noted that joining sites such as Facebook and Twitter do not require a financial investment, but did advise that business owners need to maintain and update their respective pages.

Pages that are not updated make a business appear inactive, Rodewald said.

"They're there but not doing anything," he said. "That can actually hurt you a little bit."

The return on investment can also be tracked based on page views, the number of fans and followers and the time they are spending on a business' page.

He cautioned against basing the success only on financial improvements.

"Social media isn't just about selling products and services," he said. "It's about communication."

And, he advised that companies examine improvements on an annual basis, not quarterly.

"Make sure you give yourself enough time to get there," he said.