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Howie Cohen (Bartell Drugs Buyer): Today’s Kaufer Follow Friday Feature Profile

Posted by on January 21, 2011 in Follow Friday Profiles, Seattle, Social Media |

Wow – what a week! My days have been totally consumed by jury duty in Snohomish County while evenings have been busy with family/twins stuff and trying to catch up on all the work I wasn’t able to do during daytime hours.

BUT – I was fortunate enough to find yet another great Follow Friday Feature Profile subject this week: Howie Cohen.

As is the case with nearly everyone I feature here, I met Howie through Twitter initially. We both shared an interest in local sports – especially the Seahawks and Mariners (although he’s a Husky fan) as well as politics, parenting and general Seattle news and gossip. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met Howie in person a couple of times and he is truly a great guy – and very committed father (which I appreciate as a fellow Dad).

Enjoy the post and have a great weekend!

Like me, @HowieCohen loves to Tweet and Post about his son - especially funny things he says (almost daily)

Twitter Name(s):

@howiecohen and I also co-tweet for @bartelldrugs along with Jennifer from our marketing department.

Which social media networks do you use consistently?

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursqure and I recently did my first post to Intersect & really like potential of that site. Also, I love blip.fm.

What was your “Aha” moment regarding social media (when/why did you decide to become engaged)?

I started out on Twitter to explore the possibilities for making business networking connections and to explore the potential for creating a corporate account. I would say the “Aha” moment came as I began to interact with a few of the self-proclaimed #sisterladyfaces, especially @lalayu. That kind of propelled me into how easy it was to find and connect with people on Twitter who share common interests and personality traits.

How has Social Media impacted you personally? How about professionally?

Personally it’s become a big part of my life. In college at the UW (Go Huskies!, sorry David) I was very active on an early unix bulletin board system known simply as “bb.” Twitter really isn’t a lot different than that, just on a bigger scale, so it has really become a lot like bb to me as a fun way to connect with people who share my interests. I’ve met some great people and had a number of opportunities to meet up with them in real life too. @wayway8 drove across town in Arizona to have a beer with me when I was at a trade show there, and I really enjoyed my first ever tweetup organized by @gabbycat at Mac & Jack’s brewery in Redmond which became known as the #MacandJackup

Professionally it’s become a fun side-job that provides a nice mental diversion to the everyday stress of my job. I’ve made a lot of professional friends through our business account that have proven valuable as connections for our company and great friends on a personal basis. I think my interest in social media has helped me become more valuable to the company as someone who can help us continue to evolve as a modern, locally connected business.

What is your current job/role? How long have you worked for Bartell’s?

I am currently the general merchandise buyer for Bartell’s. I buy a lot of categories. My favorites are As Seen on TV just because they come up with such fun, goofy items but also so many that really do work and solve some problem for people, and photo, which is a challenging but fun and quickly evolving category. Photo is particularly interesting in how it is becoming more and more intertwined with social media everyday and Kodak is right at the forefront of companies that I think do a great job with Social media. I particularly like the job that @KodakCB @KodakKiosks and KodakCL do with their accounts. I think a lot of Kodak’s success with social media can be credited to the job @JeffreyHayzlett did while he was with Kodak. I love that our Kodak Kiosks can access Facebook photos now and see a lot of potential there. There will be some fun stuff evolving with that in 2011. I’ve worked for Bartell’s since 1985 as a cashier, manager and now as a buyer.

How has social media changed your job?

It’s interesting because my main job is buying and category management, but I keep Tweetdeck and Facebook open throughout the day on my computer. I don’t actively manage the Facebook account but I help out if needed, and we tie in some posts and tweets together. Sometimes, if I just need a mental break from spreadsheets, negotiations and contracts, I’ll check in on the social media accounts. I’ve noticed a growing trend for people to contact us on our Twitter or Facebook accounts first for questions about something rather than calling a local store or the corporate office, and we’re happy to jump in and answer questions that way. I always think it’s important to point out that for a very old company-the oldest drugstore in the nation-we were relatively quick to embrace jumping into social media as another avenue to connect with our customers. Being truly local, not some out-of-state owned company, but a truly local company that is still run by the 3rd generation of the family based right here in the Puget Sound, we really have a unique ability to understand and interact with our local customers that are active on Twitter and Facebook. Having access to the buying department merchandise tools and information allows me to quickly respond to customer questions and comments.

How is Bartell’s using social media? How do you see that changing or evolving over time?

Primarily we use it as a way to listen to our customers. We use a number of searches on Twitter to listen for conversations about our brand and we’ll jump in and respond or add to the conversation.  We also will jump into conversations on various local topics or current events or discussions having to do with our industry. We see a pretty fair number of questions or comments about Bartells where the tweeter is unaware we are on Twitter-they’re usually pleasantly surprised to see us respond. Facebook we use more for posts about products, promotions or community events we’re involved with. We get a fair number of customer comments on our wall too that we respond to as well. We used it early on for a photo contest too that was a lot of fun and generated some great photos from our community. We’ve been testing offers on Foursquare as well. I see us doing more offers in the future and internet/social media exclusive promotions. We’ve got a great free print offer on Foursquare right now. We solicited feedback recently on our Facebook wall on what people would like to see from us; special offers was mentioned a few times.

Do you see a time in the near future where social media plays an even more direct role in your relationship with customers? Can you give any examples of potential scenarios you foresee?

It’s already growing rapidly as a means of communication with our customers. There are some fun things we’re working on now with social media in our photo business that will roll out later this year with Kodak’s assistance. I can see us developing more social media avenues to use to connect with out customers. Anything that helps us connect at that truly local level we would look at. I think a blog could be a possibility or possibly an account on a site like Intersect. We’ve put a couple of videos up on our YouTube page as well and have favorited some customer videos.

Some professionals are leery about becoming “friends” on Facebook with customers, peers, co-workers, etc. – how do you handle this? Do you “friend” professional contacts or keep things separate?

For the most part I keep professional contacts only on LinkedIn. I use my Facebook account for personal friends but I have added some people I’ve become friends with through Twitter and our corporate account. I had my personal account a while before our corporate account so a number of people treated my personal account as the Bartell account until we created that one. I definitely like to keep the personal and business side of things separate though.

How do you use Twitter? How about Facebook? Do they serve similar or different roles for you?

Facebook is more of a static account-sharing of links and comments. Twitter is more conversational for me but I also like to share links there. One of the funnier but also more accurate descriptions of the difference I’ve heard is that Facebook is for connecting with the people you went to high school with, and Twitter is for connecting with the people you wish you went to high school with.

Where have you found or learned the best/cool social media tips?

By watching other accounts that I enjoy and respect, both large and small companies and personal accounts. I mentioned Kodak earlier and I really love what @KodakCB does. I think Starbucks, PCC and Alaska Air all do a great job. Little Theo Chocolates is great. My favorite of all though is easily King 5 and @gabbycat.  Evonne is amazing. For websites, I think Mashable is a great place to start for social media tips.

What’s this I hear about you being a leader of some kind of Snuggie cult? What’s that all about?

I’m not sure who, but someone proclaimed me the Snuggie Cult leader a while ago. Of course, I am the Snuggie buyer. Yes, I own a Snuggie, the UW print. I love it. It keeps me warm, and keeps my hands free. And yes, it’s just a backwards robe.

How do you decide who you’re going to follow?

On the personal account, I follow people I find interesting. I don’t automatically follow back if I have no connection with the person. On the corporate account we follow back all customers that follow us. We don’t follow back too many other companies unless we have some sort of connection with them.

You tend to be pretty interactive with your followers – how do you decide who you’re going to engage with and who you’ll simple “lurk”?

We’ll interact with most customers. We respond to most comments, positive and negative. The negative comments are the most useful-when people can help you find areas where you can improve, it is really helpful, and Twitter is wonderful for removing all traces of restraint in negative feedback. But seriously, those are some of the most useful comments.

You have a killer commute daily, don’t you? How far do you drive on most days?

I drive about 35 miles or so each direction. Not the longest local commute by a long shot but it can wear you down some days, and the gas prices are making it less feasible as the days go on.

Does Twitter ever help you with your commute?

@King5TracyT is my hero. She has helped me so many times on my commute including finding me a way around a huge blocking accident one time. Her traffic tweets are concise and really helpful. She also likes good beer and the Seahawks, so she is an all around amazing person in my book.

Do you think professionals should be thinking about using social media to help build a  “personal brand?”

If that’s what’s important to them. Some professionals are more about their own brand than their company. That’s fine if it is aligned with their long range personal goals. For me, I’ve been with Bartell’s most of my life so I’ve never been interested in a personal brand.

Who is a better tweeter – you or @jennihogan?

Jenni rocks. I think it’s that Aussie accent. No one can get a Seahawk twitter wave going like Jenni. Also, her daughter, @lilpookette Sienna, is a cutiepie.

What is your most memorable social media experience?

My first tweetup at Mac and Jacks, meeting @gabbycat, @SudsyMaggie, @billgillam, @dingbatkaren and so many others.

You’re a UW grad and sports fan. Do you Bark for Sark?

Absolutely! We’ve had fun with the Duck/Dawg rivalry and I tip my hat to the incredible year the Ducks had. I’m so glad that Sark is here though and the Huskies seem to be solidly rebuilding their program.

What do you think about today’s announcement that Alaska Airlines purchased the naming rights to Hec Ed Pavilion?

I love Alaska and fly their planes all the time. I assume this will mean that the seats at Hec Ed will now have barf bags and Skymall magazines in front of them. Also, you’ll need to turn off your electronics 20 minutes before the end of each game.

Funniest Social Media moment?

Probably a tie between two times I mixed up the personal and business accounts. Tweeting from the Bartell account “My son is kicking my butt at Monopoly” and also “Some drunk guy just spilled his red wine all over me.”

Biggest Social Media pet peeve?

Auto DMs when following someone. Grrr. Especially from self-proclaimed “social media experts.”

Any parting shots?

I love your Follow Friday features. I’ve never been a big fan of just long lists of usernames to follow on Follow Friday. I enjoy your in-depth features with people and am very flattered you asked me. You were one of the very first people I followed on Twitter and I’ve learned a lot from you so thanks for having me!

You’re very welcome Howie! You’re OK (for a Husky!)

Thanks for participating!

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