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Real Companies Using Social Media: Grasshopper Empowers Entrepreneurs to Succeed

This post is part of our series where we talk to real companies (and other organizations) around the world to find out how they’re leveraging social media, how it has impacted their business, and what lessons they’ve learned. Today we’re talking with Jonathan Kay at Grasshopper. Check them out at Grasshopper.com or follow them on Twitter here.

Tell me a little about your company, what you do, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.

Grasshopper provides Virtual Phone Systems for entrepreneurs. Our service helps entrepreneurs sound bigger, more professional, and always stay connected. We were founded in 2003, and have since served over 160,000 entrepreneurs. We currently have about 45 employees between our HQ in the Boston Area, Austin, TX office, and a handful of virtual employees.

Our mission is to empower entrepreneurs to succeed.

How much of your business comes from the web, either via social media or via traditional web?

About 99% of our business comes from the web. We are an ecommerce site and you sign up online. We have a 24/7 365 day support team, but no sales associates so all of our traffic is driven primarily to http://grasshopper.com .

When did you start engaging in social media?

We always had a “presence”, but I don’t think we started really engaging our audience until mid 2009.

Who manages your social media efforts?

We have 5 or 6 active team members who all play a different role in our social media strategy. Although some are more active than others, you can learn about “The Many Twitter Faces of Grasshopper” here. It took some time to develop, but now everyone has a good grasp of where and how they can add value on Twitter. Most importantly we act as a system of checks and balances for each other.

What networks are you active on?

We are very active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. YouTube has actually been great for us of lately; in fact we launched our first ever TV ad there before it went live on TV and created a ton of buzz (over 115k views in 5 days).

Which have been the biggest drivers of business for you?

While I think YouTube has helped us create the most awareness, Twitter has been by the biggest driver of business/new entrepreneurs. We have earned a following of brand loyalists who will now actually proactively recommend us to people inquiring.

Describe any customer interactions that stick out in your mind

Wow, there are tons. One that really sticks out is a woman who owns a local ice cream shop. She voted for us via Twitter for a Mashable Award that was taking place at the time. I was tracking this topic, and trying to personally respond to a handful of people. I happened to read this woman’s feed and simply thanked her for the vote, also adding I was impressed with how she was using Twitter for her local business. She was so blown away that I took the time to read and thoughtfully respond to her, she instantly became a brand champion. She went from a happy Grasshopper customer, to someone who now shouts from the rooftops about us.

What software tools or web apps do you use in your social media efforts?

Tweet Deck; I think everyone on our social media team finds this the most effective dashboard tool. We have multiple computer monitors as well so it makes it much easier to be constantly engaged. I know one of our guys uses Twitter’s RSS Feed feature, which is a tool that emails you relevant tweets based on what you input.

For your business, what makes social media different from other channels?

We love interacting with our customers. In fact, some of our best ideas & developments have come from simply listening to our customers. Also, we have found that a high percentage of our target audience (entrepreneurs) tend to feel more comfortable starting conversations via social media (even if they end up off-line anyway).

What has been the most challenging part of dealing with social media?

Balance. Because it’s so hard to measure any short term gains from these efforts, you need to make sure you balance your tangible goals with your social media ones. It is an important tool in Word of Mouth Marketing, and you need to buy into the long term effects this strategy can have. Our founders certainly have.

What are your social media plans for 2010?

We plan on continuing down the path we have been; really it seems we learn more every day. I also know we have plans to creatively integrate some of our current partnerships / sponsorships into social media. There are some really exciting things coming from Grasshopper toward the end of Q1, beginning of Q2. But you will just have to wait and see…

I appreciate Jonathan taking the time to talk to us, and I encourage you to check out Grasshopper.com and follow them on Twitter here. We’re always looking for interesting companies and individuals to talk to, so if you know of anyone that would like to be profiled, please contact us.