Ease of making connections


Jeannie Walters, founder of customer experience consultancy 360Connext, found her biggest client on Twitter. She advises companies to leverage innovation and quick response time to satisfy media-savvy customers, and is photographed in her home on Thursday, November 3, 2011 in Oak Park. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

As people spend nearly a quarter of their time on the Internet, social networks are providing serendipitous and fruitful meetups, providing everything from new clients for entrepreneurs to new friends for Chicago newcomers.

During this holiday season, meetups can be especially meaningful.

Christine Brown, an Uptown resident who immigrated 25 years ago from Jamaica, started her website, Unieros.com, so Chicagoans could post information online about their native countries, allowing others to learn about different cultures, such as their food, movies, music, customs and people.

The website’s name comes from a combination of “universal” and “eros” to mean “one love,” Brown said.

Two years ago, Unieros started hosting events, and leverages the latest technologies to ensure that the cultural dialogue grows richer.

Examples include:

** Creating an online world music karaoke event, complete with big-screen TVs, at the World Trivia Party at Multilingual Chicago in August. The English-speaking attendees tried to sing their favorites tunes in Russian, Spanish and Japanese.

** Providing on-site computers at a benefit for Japanese earthquake victims in April so people could donate on the spot to the American Red Cross’ relief efforts.

** Twittering and posting on the Unieros website the international flag that marks meet-up spots for summer picnics at Millennium Park. The flag differs with each event.

With 30 events and activities already hosted, Unieros’ latest venture is to support local sustainability. The group’s No. 19 anniversary event, “Living Green for a Cause,” connected people worldwide through Skype and live Internet video.

One Unieros member got an unexpected bonus when she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend one of the get-togethers in Millennium Park. Kateryna Maryenko, a Ukrainian native, accepted an internship after striking up a conversation with an accounting manager in the group about her interest in gaining experience in accounting.

Said Marynenko, who holds an MBA and is seeking her second master’s in information systems at Robert Morris University, “You have to be open to interactions and the experience, and you’ll meet great people. It starts with the first step.”

Jeannie Walters, founder of customer experience consultancy 360Connext, found her biggest client on Twitter.

She set up a search column and typed the words “customer experience.”

“I noticed that someone had posted that she was having trouble with a mapping project, and that’s something I had lots of experience in,” said Walters, 38, of Oak Park.

The result? Today, that customer is 360Connext’s most consistent client, and has helped the company not only be profitable from its start two years ago but realize 50 percent higher revenues this year than in 2010.

In addition to regularly tweeting and reading tweets, Walters blogs, checks in on Foursquare and networks on Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn and LinkedIn Groups.

“I wasn’t always good talking about myself, but I’ve trained myself to blog at least three times a week,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas. It’s just a matter of getting them down. I keep a running log on Evernote. Now, I think of it as an assignment.”

Increasingly, companies aim to maintain outstanding customer service by staying rooted in social media, and that’s where Walters’ expertise comes in.

She advises companies to leverage innovation and quick response time to satisfy media-savvy customers. She points to the need for businesses to avoid phone prompts, wait queues and other barriers to real-time talk with customers.

“Innovation includes risk, but it means listening to customers and not backing away from promises,” Walters said. “Many companies are so used to doing the same thing all of the time, they crush ideas too quickly.”

Social-networking expert Gary Vaynerchuck, author of “The Thank You Economy,” describes such experiences as necessary for any social networker’s success.

He writes that the power of social media boils down to adhering to old-fashioned manners, as well as “having authentic conversations and demonstrating real caring.”

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