Social-media-savvy students to help Merced business

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 22, 2012 

A social-media marketing campaign in Merced is bringing together area college students and local entrepreneurs.

The program, called Elements Merced, is being operated by the United Way in an effort to give small businesses in the community a boost, as well as provide jobs for students.

The program pairs businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenue with students specializing in social media-based marketing.

"We're starting a program where people can have sustainable and ongoing jobs, especially youth, and businesses can increase their income," said Flip Hassett, executive director of the United Way of Merced County. "We're going to build on skills that are already here in the community."

A pilot program is scheduled to start in January and will enlist about 30 students to design marketing plans for 100 local businesses for free.

After the initial program is completed sometime this spring, the United Way will design a fee scale. While the nonprofit will initially broker the marketing services, Hassett said he'd also encourage students to work directly for the small businesses.

"Once we have the data that shows we have a return on investment, the businesses can say this is worth so much a month," he said. "There's no question that social media is absolutely critical."

There are more than 5,000 small businesses in the county, about 80 percent of which would welcome this kind of help, according to a United Way survey.

The United Way is still in the process of choosing students to volunteer for the pilot program.

"We had a huge response form UC Merced, as well as some from the Merced College," Hassett said. The unemployment rate for kids is atrocious. This is a win-win for the kids and the businesses."

For more information, call the United Way of Merced County at (209) 383-4242.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at jsmith@mercedsunstar.com or (209) 385-2486.

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