There's no how-to book for businesses using social media, but several South Sound companies have created a noteworthy presence online. We at the Business Examiner Media Group chose five companies from a long list that was submitted to us through polls on our own social media accounts, and that caught our eye on their own. These companies, which are successfully engaging with their followers online, offered their insight on how they approach social media and how it's affected the way they do business.

1. Restaurant reels in customers online

Dirty Oscar's Annex

Location: 2309 6th Ave., Tacoma

Employees: About 30

Hours on social media/wk: 7-10

Facebook: Dirty Oscar's Annex, 2,352; DOA: 1,010

Twitter: @DirtyOscars: 426; @DOAon6th: 26

Posts about: Drink and food specials, happy hours, new dishes the chefs are working on, and thank yous to staff and customers

Word of advice: “The more you tell people, the better the outcome.”

Why they're online: “It has provided us with priceless feedback.”

Three years ago, customers who had a less than desirable experience at Tacoma-based eatery Dirty Oscar's Annex might just not return. Maybe the service was slow. Maybe the food was cold. But, either way, the staff would probably never know unless their guests brought it to their attention.

Facebook has changed that, though. Now customers can log onto Facebook or Twitter and leave direct feedback for the restaurant and everyone in their network to read.

It may sound like every restaurateur's nightmare, but it's actually been a blessing, said Jennifer Johnson, who handles Dirty Oscar's social media pages.

“It has provided us with priceless feedback,” Johnson said. “It lets people say how their experience was instantly, both positive and negative, and that has been a very good thing. It's good to have the feedback so then we can know how to change.”

Johnson saves the comments she gets online and brings them into her staff meetings. She publicly responds to the feedback, and, if it's negative, she'll privately message the person to find out what her staff can do better next time.

Beyond ensuring customer satisfaction, Johnson uses social media to spread information and get to better know her customers.

She invites customers into the restaurant through Facebook and Twitter, posting photos of food and drinks and promoting the specials.

But she also shares some of her personality, with posts like, “Late afternoon sun makes me want ceviche. And a blanket in a park to lay on and do absolutely nothing.”

“The more you tell people, the better the outcome,” Johnson said. “I try to keep it lighthearted.”

Johnson has been managing Dirty Oscar's Facebook and Twitter account for two or three years. She began as a consultant, but has since been hired as the restaurant's operations manager, where she spends about an hour each day on the sites.

One of her challenges is dealing with the company's two identities, Dirty Oscar's and DOA, as it's also known. There are separate Facebook and Twitter accounts under each name, in large part because some customers know them as just one name or the other, Johnson said.

Most of her followers are under the name Dirty Oscar's, but she still posts to both accounts and tries to differentiate content for those who follow both.

Her next move is getting the restaurant on Pinterest.

Johnson said she plans to post recipes for her food and cocktails on the site with step-by-step directions and photos.

2. Rainiers hit #grandslam digital strategy

Tacoma Rainiers

Location: 2502 S. Tyler St., Tacoma

Employees: 32

Hours on social media/wk: 5-8

Facebook: 19,092

Twitter @RainierLand: 9,964

Instagram: 979

Pinterest: 175

Most successful post/campaign: An annual Facebook scavenger hunt with State Farm

Word of advice: “Make sure messages you put out are in line with the overarching themes you're trying to present to the public.”

Why they're online: “It's another outlet for us to have some two-way communication.”

With more followers than seats in their stadium, the Tacoma Rainiers understand social media.

Ben Spradling, director of communications, spends five to eight hours a week planning and posting content on the team's Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts. He's also starting to use Vine, an app owned by Twitter that allows users to post video clips up to six seconds in length.

Spradling's focus, though, is Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where he shares play-by-plays and recaps of the games, photos from home games and various events, and information about what's going on at the stadium, special events and contests.

“A lot of it is just geared toward getting people excited,” Spradling said. “We certainly try to put something funny in there. We want to evoke a feeling of fun when people think of us. We hope that kind of extends into our social media endeavors as well.”

Posting photos of the Dash for Cash winner running around is just one way Spradling accomplishes this.

Spradling has also generated a lot of excitement and participation through various other contests with the team's corporate sponsors.

He encourages game-goers to share their photos and videos on their favorite social media site and tag them with #SterlingGrandSlam for a chance to win tickets to a Rainiers game, seat upgrades or diamond club tickets for a Mariners game.

The most successful though is its annual State Farm Scavenger Hunt, where fans use clues posted on Facebook to win Rainiers memorabilia at local State Farm offices.

“We are in the entertainment business, so we try to put off a fun, lighthearted (feeling),” Spradling said. “We hope that it's an extension of a relationship we already have with folks.”

3. Skate store propels presence with local focus

BLEACH

Location: 1934 Pacific Ave., Tacoma

Employees: 6

Hours on social media/wk: 1-2

Facebook: 2,458

Twitter @bleachtacoma: 359

Instagram: 669

Pinterest: 97

Posts about: New products, store events, and articles and events related to snow- and skateboarding

Word of advice: “Try to keep it short. It's nice to have the same amount of content in each post.”

Why they're online: “Just getting the word out.”

The social media strategy behind the Tacoma-based clothing store, BLEACH, boils down to its tagline: Clothing. Culture. Connect.

It uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to share information about local events and its products, a number of which are Tacoma branded, with people in the Puget Sound region and across the country.

“People love local events, and what we try to go by is 'Clothing. Culture. Connect,” said store manager Jordan Neslund, who runs the retailer's various social media accounts. “We're all about local things.”

She utilizes Pinterest to share photos of clothing, accessories, and shoes she sells, as well as images of South Sound icons, like the Tacoma glass bridge and the coffee pot-shaped building, Bob's Java Jive.

BLEACH's Instagram account features more timely and personal pictures, including those of events and new products in the store. Many of these photos are posted on Facebook too, where she also invites people to come into the store and shares local news items related to the company and flyers for its events.

Neslund said she spends one to two hours a week updating and responding to users on social media. She said that it's nice to be the only one who oversees the accounts, because it allows her to be consistent and develop a personality.

4. Raceway gains fans on the track, online

Pacific Raceways

Location: 31001 144th Ave. SE, Kent

Employees: 15-200, depending on time of year

Hours on social media/wk: 10-40

Facebook: 12,759

Twitter @thaplacetorace: 644

Instagram: 1,400

Most successful campaign: A 12 Days of Christmas in July series, where fans can win prizes, like mugs, hats, t-shirts, and free passes to events. The company gained more than 1,500 Facebook likes over the 12 days.

Word of advice: “Don't forget to use it. It's better to not have a Facebook page than to have one and not post.”

Why they're online: “People feel very comfortable sharing things they like (and) things they don't like on social media. We like to hear those things.”

In the last two years, Pacific Raceways has increased the number of likes on its Facebook page by 124 percent.

The racing facility hired its vice president's marketing company, Roundup Media, to manage its social media presence in January 2011. At the time, it had less than 100 likes on its page. Now, it has more than 12,000.

“We feel that it's an important way to connect with our fans,” explained Alicia Hall, owner of Roundup Media. “People feel very comfortable sharing things they like (and) things they don't like on social media. We like to hear those things.”

Hall and her employees manage more than half a dozen social media accounts for the Kent racetrack, but they focus their efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

She posts to each of these sites at least once a day, but diversifies the content between platforms.

Hall uses its Facebook page for broader communication. She'll publish anything from random racing photos and information about racing, to whether the raceway is open or closed and ticket information.

She uses Twitter primarily to communicate with fans during events, when she might tweet 25 or 30 times in a day. But year-round, she tries to make at least one post a day.

On Instagram, where she also tries to do a post a day, she mainly shares photos from events and activities at the facility.

Using social media to send out special offers has increased sales for Pacific Raceways, but not all posts should be used as selling tools, Hall said.

“One thing we feel that's really important is to not just post about our business,” she said. “If the idea is to get your fans to interact with you, you have to connect with them on many different levels, not just on what you do.”

Hall said she keeps the followers engaged with contests and giveaways and by adding a call to action to everyday posts, such as “like this status if you like this picture.”

“Another do is asking questions,” she said. “Keeping posts open-ended.”

The company's most successful post was a photo of a Mustang painted in Seahawks colors that Hall published to Facebook on a game day last winter. It got more likes, shares and comments, because it was something Seattleites and football and car enthusiasts could all relate to, Hall said.

5. Hotel fosters bonds outside its doors

Hotel Murano

Location: 1320 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma

Employees: more than 200

Hours on social media/wk: Couldn't specify

Facebook: 4,185

Twitter @hotel_murano: 4,937

Instagram: 194

Pinterest: 116

Posts about: What's going on in Tacoma and at the hotel

Word of advice: “If you only have a specific amount of time, think about what channel is best for you business.”

Why they're online: “It expands our ability to have a conversation beyond just being at the front desk.”

Tacoma's Hotel Murano has been utilizing social media as another way to interact with its guests since 2008, when it opened downtown.

Staff at the Murano and in the public relations department of its hotel management company, Provenance Hotels, post to its six Tacoma-based accounts daily, but concentrate on where it believes most of its customers are: Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

“We've always focused on social media as a way to engage with customers and the local community,” said Kate Buska, director of public relations for Provenance Hotels. “It expands our ability to have a conversation beyond just being at the front desk.”

What they publish is really driven by the platform, she said.

“We don't post the same way,” Buska explained. “We try to really talk to people and share information that's appropriate for the channel.”

It posts photos it takes on Instagram, and it pins photos from other places and articles about the hotel and the city on Pinterest.

Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are where they publish what's happening at the hotel and in Tacoma, and any news articles that are written about the hotel. Even though it shares the same subjects on these accounts, it further tailors the post to the platform. Those on Twitter, for example are made shorter and punchier, Buska said.

The hotel also tries to convey some individuality through what it puts out.

“Have it be conversational,” Buska said. “Be listening as much as you're talking on the channels. Try and show the personal side and the personality of the hotel.”

Although Buska has a team to help share content on the hotel's different social media accounts, she understands the importance of focusing efforts online.

“If you only have a specific amount of time, think about what channel is best for your business,” she said. “It's better to have a really engaged Twitter base or to be really engaged on Facebook than have 20 accounts and not check them all.”