Spotlight: HDBuzz

Willis Whitlock, the man behind HDBuzz

Willis Whitlock, the man behind HDBuzz

In my local business spotlight, I interview business owners who are trying to stake their claim to success here in the High Desert. For a change, I recently had the pleasure of meeting the man behind a movement with no profit motive whatsoever (for now anyway.)

Willis Whitlock is a local high school teacher who was inspired by a talk he heard from Gary Vaynerchuk at CES 2009 (find Gary on Facebook and Twitter) and many conversations with his brother Warren Whitlock, a social media marketer. (Find Warren on Facebook and Twitter, too.) Dipping his toe into the social media waters, Willis began listening, learning, befriending and retweeting. “I was just being really friendly,” Willis explained. “Not selling anything.”

Many High Desert residents will know Willis as HDBuzz on Twitter, Facebook and his blog, HDBuzzBlog. As he followed more and more people, he began to see what was happening and where, promoting public events, recommending people follow interesting High Desert residents and generally keeping up with the buzz.

His persona as HDBuzz has grown organically, without too much strategy. “My plan right now is to work at HDBuzz for a long time and then wait for Google to buy me!” he joked. The fact that this local social media personality is not trying to make money from it frees him up considerably. It allows flexibility and patience as he discovers what works, what doesn’t, what is popular and what is just hype. Whatever the plan, it is working as he continues to gain followers and discovers that people turn to him for up-to-the-minute news for the High Desert. He lives up to his tagline: Promoting the High Desert and creating the buzz about what’s good!

I asked Willis for his take on how the internet and social media in particular have changed social interaction. “A lot of things on the internet are a lot like real life: say hi, thank you, share good things. But without context, without body language, you have to be careful.”

And his thoughts on how businesses should approach social media? “Think of the internet as one big mixer. Business owners don’t come in wearing a sandwich board… you’re not walking into a mixer shouting ‘SALE!’ It’s a conversation. Yes, deals are done, but all in the context of relationship. Online, its easy to forget you’re dealing with real people.”

He went on to share that the ROI may be less direct, but it can be a valuable way to listen to what customers are saying. If feedback is negative, you can deal with it. If they’re not talking about you at all, you can use Twitter or Facebook to get people talking about your product or service. I shared with him that I will occasionally follow the Hesperia town meetings on Twitter, although I don’t live in Hesperia. “Exactly,” he agreed. “It catches your interest and informs you, even if you would never go to a town meeting.” With such power, most organizations would do well to take advantage of social media. He also uses keywords to track what is important to people. For example, the biggest Twitter trend for Barstow is usually the traffic complaints from people coming back from Vegas. Knowing this pain point allows savvy businesses to reach out to those in traffic with up to the minute deals if they make a stop in Barstow.

It isn’t all fluff and fun, though. Willis had some cautions to businesses too. As individuals, we must take care when mixing personal and business. “When in doubt, leave it out!” he urged. Social rules are put into a new light when they happen in such short and public bursts. He also felt that his fellow teachers have a responsibility to teach internet literacy. Students who are not equipped to do more than download songs and watch videos on YouTube will be at a disadvantage as they go on to college and career.

As a confessed social media geek, it was great for me to sit down and learn more about HDBuzz and the man behind it. Indeed, Willis Whitlock is creating a great buzz for the High Desert, supporting nonprofits, small businesses, larger businesses and everything in between with positive posts. If you don’t follow him already, make sure to check out his blog, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter!

If you would like to see your locally-owned business highlighted on this blog, please contact Alyssa Penman by email at AlyssaPenman {at} RelyLocal {dot} com or call her at 760-246-5400. RelyLocal.com is a locally-owned business that connects local consumers to local businesses for a thriving, robust and vibrant local economy.

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