Providers find a friend in Facebook

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FACEBOOK – Bryan Collins is a fourth generation HME provider with 21st century ideas for promoting the family business. One of those ideas: Facebook.

"It's free marketing and it’s a way to promote new product lines or specials," said Collins, vice president of sales and marketing for Fairfield, Conn.-based Collins Medical Equipment.

For the uninitiated, Facebook is a free social networking site that has grown to include 150 million profiles since its launch in 2004. Users simply set up a profile page with information about themselves and their interests. They can add individual friends, join networks and special interest groups, and generally stay connected with people.

Collins, 27, already had a personal profile. He created one for the company about eight months ago and invited 450 friends to join. About half responded.

"In my age group medical equipment is not that prevalent but they now know that we are here if their parents or grandparents need something," he said. "If we're having a Mother's Day special for lift chairs, we'll send out an invitation. People respond and look."

In a way, Facebook works like an Internet word-of-mouth, said provider Chris Miller, who started a Facebook page eight months ago.

"It's a good way to get your name and logo out there," said Miller, owner of Apalachee Medical Supply, which has locations in Greensboro and Monroe, Ga. "In this business, name recognition is what it's all about.”

Social networking is still in its infancy and how it evolves over the next few years remains to be seen, says Mike Mallaro, CFO of The VGM Group. Still, providers should go ahead and wade in, he said.

"The business community is finding that having a Facebook page is a good long-term investment," he said. "They are not sure how they are going to use it or what benefit there is going to be but they are recognizing that their customers are on there and, compared to other media, it's dirt cheap."

Also, although the current perception is that Facebook and sites like it are strictly for the younger crowd, more and more seniors are turning to it, as are disabled people who see it as a valuable tool for socializing, said Mallaro.

"We used to give talks about the Web and a lot of the reaction was that it was just going to be for young people," he said. "This is the same thing. Three or four years from now most seniors will be using social networking sites."