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Chilliwack teens start social media business

Grade 11 Sardis secondary students Brendan Reeve, Louis Retief, and Max Gardner run Plugged_In, a social media business aimed at boosting the online profiles of small businesses in Chilliwack.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Grade 11 Sardis secondary students Brendan Reeve, Louis Retief, and Max Gardner run Plugged_In, a social media business aimed at boosting the online profiles of small businesses in Chilliwack.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Social media has become a business for a trio of teenagers.

Six months ago, Max Gardner, Brendan Reeve, and Louis Retief started Plugged_In, a social media management company designed to boost the online profiles of small businesses.

"Social media is such an important part of having a business today," said Gardner. "You win if you know how to do it, and lose if you don't.

"We want to help small businesses in Chilliwack be as successful as possible with social media."

And they would know.

Gardner, Reeve, and Retief are all in Grade 11 at Sardis secondary; they've grown up with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email and websites – it's a main component of their lives.

"If you grow up on a farm, you're going to be experienced at being a dairy farmer, and if you grow up living, breathing social media, you're gong to be good at social media," said Gardner.

When the teens were in middle school together, they used to dream up business ideas and talk about how cool it would be to start one of their own. Then last summer, when Gardner was bored and noodling around on Craigslist, he got inspired.

Social media could be their business, he told his buddies.

"Social media is where everybody is," said Gardner. "You can get consumers right there on the couch without having to spend a whole whack of money."

But you need the savvy and the time to do so.

That's where Plugged_In comes in.

"Business owners are so busy and don't have the time to get on Twitter and Facebook, so we thought, why not bring it to them," said Gardner.

"If you want to run a successful social media campaign for your business, you have to commit at least one hour a day to build a network. You have to follow people, like their pages, add and invite people to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and on top of that, you have to interact with people – it's a good 40 hours a month at least."

"If small business owners are able to allocate that time elsewhere into their business, they're going to be better off," added Retief.

These aren't just a group of kids looking for a hobby, or to just make money. They're serious about the business venture.

Because they're still in school, it's a fine balance between operating a good business and keeping up with their grades.

Every lunch hour, they can be found in the school's computer lab completing school assignments to ensure they have evenings free for Plugged_In. They've given up social activities and lounge-around days to work on the business. They stay up until the wee hours of the morning Skyping, talking on the phone, text messaging – all for the business.

"Our friends don't really see us anymore," said Retief. "It's not easy, but you do what you have to do to be successful."

"We're not just 16-year-old kids, we're business owners," said Gardner.

They have spent extensive hours researching how social media can improve businesses, and have picked apart different companies, looking at what has worked and what hasn't with regards to social media. They've looked at the benefits of developing Facebook pages and websites, and have even figured out the number of daily tweets required to capture an audience. They also regularly attend business and networking conferences, local and provincial.

During the recent municipal and school elections, their clients included city counselor Sue Attrill and school trustee candidate Dan Coulter, a relative unknown before the election, who was just 384 votes shy of winning a seat.

They've also worked with a couple of Chilliwack businesses helping them boost their profiles online, and are working on a "major" social media business proposal they believe will increase foot traffic for businesses in the downtown.

"We're just filling a niche," said Reeve.

For more information on Plugged_In, visit their Facebook page at Plugged-in, their Twitter account at twitter.com/be_plugged_in and their Google+ page at Plugged In.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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