Tap into Social Networking

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

 The Internet makes the world a small place; the growing popularity of social and business networks has made it even more so. If you aren’t taking advantage of the endless opportunities to promote yourself and your business on the Web, why wait?

If you have Internet access, you can tell the world about your massage practice, communicate with clients and business contacts and meet new ones, keep up with your professional associations, and advertise your retail products, available appointments, or continuing education classes, all without spending a dime.

Most of the Internet networks are similar in many respects. You post a profile of yourself and/or your business, share your calendars, publicize and invite people to events, upload pictures and videos, and post links to blogs and other websites. You can search for people you know or want to meet. Most networks also allow you to connect via the Web, mobile phone, or personal digital assistant (PDA).

Many include numerous applications such as themed pages, background music, quizzes, games, and other things that are not necessarily business-related, but somehow, it all seems to meld together. People often share how and what they’re doing both in and outside of work; you connect to therapists who might be from the other side of the planet.

Lisa Curran Parenteau works for the Center for Compassionate Touch as a marketing and training consultant in the field of hospice massage. “These tools go a long way in leveling the playing field,” Parenteau says. “We can get a glimpse into the interests, hobbies, and perspectives of a peer that we otherwise may rarely have the opportunity to meet.”

Key Networking Sites

Many of the sites that started as
social networks are popular
for business purposes. Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a great example. Facebook states its mission: “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” So far, there are more than 200 million active users. Many massage and bodyworkers on Facebook have formed dozens of special interest groups to share information. Discussion forums abound.

Bodhi Haraldsson, research department chair of the Massage Therapists Association of British Columbia (MTABC), doesn’t let a day go by without posting links to the latest in massage research on Facebook. “The more people are aware of the work all of us do, the better,” says Haraldsson, who also maintains a blog, MTABC Evidence-Based Massage Therapy, at www.mtabc.wordpress.com.

Joel Tull, a massage therapist and continuing education provider in Greensboro, North Carolina, uses Facebook to post appointment openings, with great success. Within minutes of posting an opening, it’s usually filled. “Facebook is an efficient and noninvasive way to fill appointments. It is particularly useful for last minute cancellations and for keeping the I-need-a-massage thought in the mind of clients,” says Tull, who also uses online networking to publicize the classes he offers. It saves thousands of dollars and more than a few trees over traditional direct mailing.


LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a strictly business network that has nearly 40 million users, including executives of every Fortune 500 company; about half the members are from outside the United States. LinkedIn has specific job-posting and job-seeking applications, secure areas where you can conference with others, a survey tool, and other business aids. One application, Company Buzz, will automatically notify you if your company, or pre-set topics you choose, is mentioned on other networks. Another useful feature, Recommendations, allows you to post comments on people you have worked with; it’s basically an online job reference.


MySpace (www.myspace.com) touts itself as “a place for friends,” but that hasn’t deterred thousands of people from using it for business networking purposes. MySpace also contains numerous applications, and solicits members’ suggestions for applications they would like to see. MySpace lets you map your family tree, connect with long-lost classmates and friends, post and search for jobs, and much more. MySpace and Facebook share the feature of targeted advertising; for instance, if your profile states that you are a massage therapist, ads for massage-related companies and products will appear on your page; it’s how they help pay for the site and keep it free for users.


Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) started out as an online address book, and now has more than 49 million users. Plaxo has evolved into a social and business network, but without the bells and whistles of Facebook or MySpace. Plaxo allows photo sharing and personal updates, but you won’t find the flippant applications that are hosted by the other two. You can set your preferences to notify you by e-mail whenever someone in your network posts an update.


Ryze (www.ryze.com) is another business network that currently has about 500,000 members. According to their FAQ, the name Ryze was coined to indicate a site that helps people to “rise up through quality business networking.” Although many features on Ryze are free, you have to pay for features such as conducting advanced searches for people or organizations, or contacting people who are not in your direct network.


Twitter (www.twitter.com) is the simplest and one of the most accessible of the social networks. Twitter asks one questions: “What are you doing?” You must answer with 140 characters or less. Michael Reynolds, a massage therapist from Indianapolis, is an active user of several Internet networks. “My favorite [network] depends on what I want to accomplish. Twitter is great for PR and having spontaneous conversations. LinkedIn is my favorite for connecting with people I’ve just met at a networking event. Facebook is great for digging a little deeper and sharing education material.”

Twitter has a language all its own. Posts are referred to as Tweets. Then there are Twitpics (pictures shared on Twitter), Twistoris (an ongoing social experiment), Twittercards (allows you to post your business card) and more. Twitter has dozens of applications, and an application creator that allows you to create your own, in the wild event you don’t find what you’re looking for on the site. Like comments on Facebook, “Tweets” appear in real time.

Other Online Options

While the networks mentioned above are the most popular, there are literally thousands on the Internet, some that are open to everyone, others that are limited to those who are invited by an existing member. If you’re entrepreneurial and technically savvy, you can create your own using any number of Internet applications.

In addition to the networks, there are thousands of places where you can place free classified ads for your massage therapy practice. Gloria Coppola is a continuing education provider who uses a number of sites to post her classes. “Word-of-mouth has always been the best advertising,” says Coppola, “and this seems to be the new word-of-mouth. I also get to see all the great events others are offering and attending.” Coppola markets her classes for free on Backpage (www.backpage.com), Craigslist (www.craigslist.com), and EventBrite (www.eventbrite.com). While posting and searching for classes, meetings, and other events on EventBrite is free, for a reasonable fee they will also handle all your class and meeting registrations. As Coppola points out, so many people spend hours on the Internet nowadays, often to the point that print mediums such as newspapers and other traditional means of advertising are left by the wayside.

Blogging is another way to keep yourself in that “top-of-mind awareness,” a term I’ve borrowed from mentor, Felicia Brown, who owns the training and consulting company Spalutions! She uses her blog to keep in touch with clients and colleagues. My blog, Massage Collage, is directed at others in the massage therapy community. However, you could just as easily write a blog targeting your clientele. A blog is a weblog—a diary, if you will—where you write about subjects or express opinions that are of interest to your audience, whether that’s clients, business contacts, or other groups. Blogs allow dialogue by means of people responding to your posts, although you do have the option of checking each response and deciding whether or not to allow it on the blog. That deters spamming and inappropriate comments. Most networks mentioned in this article will allow you to feed your existing blog into the network, or use one of their applications to create one. Wordpress (www.wordpress.com) is a free and user-friendly application for creating your own blog.

These resources are valuable, no-cost ways to market yourself. Taking advantage of these opportunities can save you a fortune in advertising costs, raise your profile, and make the number of useful contacts you get virtually limitless. Networking on the Internet truly allows us to create a worldwide community, a family of hands. See you on the Web!

 Laura Allen is the author of Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009) and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). A third book, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business, will be published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins in January 2010. She is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, an alternative wellness clinic of over a dozen practitioners of different disciplines, and continuing education facility, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Visit her website at www.thera-ssage.com



Internet Integrity

While Internet networking is so accessible, bear in mind that the very quality that makes it so great is also a reminder to handle with care. If your business and social networks overlap, as many do, remember that clients, business associates, and friends may see your posts, pictures, and so forth.

While you might want your friends to see that you were dancing on the bar at your high school reunion, you do not want clients, or a potential employer, seeing any such thing. Of course, don’t post pictures of yourself in inappropriately revealing clothing if you are profiling yourself as a massage therapist.

There are still individuals who persist with the old “massage parlor” way of thinking, and the networks have a hard time weeding those people out. Some don’t even try. Craigslist tries to separate therapeutic massage from sexual service providers, but some still manage to make their way into the therapeutic listings. The network has a “flag erotic/sensual ads” feature in the therapeutic section in an attempt to police the problem, but it seems that two pop up for every one removed.

Your listings make it very clear that you provide nonsexual, therapeutic services. List your credentials, state license number, national certification number, professional affiliations and designations, and anything else that will make it evident that you are a professional massage therapist and not an adult entertainer.



All the Rage

Twitter and Facebook have become all the rage of late, with everyone from newscasters to politicians to bodyworkers coming into the social networking fold. Whether it be to test the waters on a new ad campaign or merely to stay in touch with clients and customers, the world is atwitter in social networking.

According to the New York Times, it’s not just big business or the millions of individuals utilizing these resources: small businesses using these tools, too. Take, for example, massage therapist Mary Jenn in San Diego, who told the Times that she uses Twitter for letting clients know about last-minute appointments or special discounts. Within hours, she reports, her open appointment slots are filled up.

All generations are buying into this trend. CNN reports that the popularity of Facebook, for example, is growing exponentially with women over 55. There are approximately 1.5 million females over 55 using the site today, a 550 percent increase in just six months. Are these your clients? Are they waiting to hear from you?