Vesatee and I are at the Women’s Council of Realtors/Alabama Chapter (WCR) annual retreat at Callaway Gardens. They asked us here to speak on social media and other online marketing tools. Today, we discussed the importance of referrals in service-based businesses (well, any business really). Social media gives us the ability to amplify that word-of-mouth. If you used to be able to call 10 people a day, you can now easily reach hundreds of people that you already know (if you know that many people) in just one day — well, minutes really.

I meet lots of social media skeptics, people who think it’s just another waste of their time. And some of it is. But I think most of us agree that we want to hang out where our customers are hanging out, and increasingly, that’s online. They are interacting on Facebook, using Twitter to communicate, uploading videos to YouTube and blogging. It’s important to cruise this virtual town square and insert yourself in these online conversations.

The women of WCR understand this. They are building their local association chapters, in addition to building their individual businesses. They are dynamic and motivated. They understand that in times of economic distress, it’s more important than ever to step up one’s game.

Tomorrow, we are going to teach the group how to use Twitter. Twitter, for all its bare-bones functionality (it is, after all, just short messages), is still baffling for new users to figure out. The interface is not intuitive; that’s why so many people use Twitter apps like Tweetdeck, Twhirl and the like. For new people just getting started, the learning curve can be steep. What’s a “retweet?” What’s the difference between an “@reply” and a “dm”? Heck, what’s an “@reply” anyway?

Given how confusing it can be to get started, it’s remarkable how much Twitter usage has grown: it grew an astonishing 2,613% year to year (July 08 to July 09). Somebody’s figuring it out. Your customers? Your competitors? Might it be time for you to find out?

Thanks to the WCR for asking us to be part of their retreat.