Laura Fletcher reports on the growing demand for social media training by businesses looking to harness the power of Facebook and Twitter.

One month after Ireland was officially declared in recession, Gary Gubbins opened his business, Red Nose Wine, in Clonmel Co Tipperary.

Despite what was arguably poor timing, Gubbins' business is still growing and he says its thanks in no small part to social media.

He attributes his wines appearing on wine lists in Ballymaloe House and the Michelin starred Cliff House Hotel to building connections on Twitter.

Similarly, he says social networking helped him to find better ways of doing business.

"I've forged some really good relationships. I import a lot of wines together with others, including Curious wines in Cork, Cases in Galway, and Simply in Dublin and all of that came about through Twitter."

Gubbins blogs, tweets and posts on Facebook in order to further his business connections. Many other businesses are doing the same, and hundreds more want to learn how.

Almost two thirds of the country's City and County Enterprise Boards are currently offering some version of social media training to businesses.

In South Tipperary alone, around 300 entrepreneurs have availed of the workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions offered by the local Enterprise Board, since it introduced them three years ago.

"We saw huge demand for social media training, especially for using Facebook and Twitter," says its Chief Executive Ita Horan.

"Initially they started as training workshops where people came in for a full day's training, but within the last year we noticed that people preferred one to one clinics."

One of the participants is Bernadette O'Donnell. With her husband Kevin, she runs Kilmaneen Farmhouse B&B in Newcastle in Co Tipperary.

"With the threat to B&B accommodation, we've decided to add value and to offer courses, so people can come and do a bee keeping or vegetable growing course for example. I'm using Facebook to try and promote all that," O'Donnell says.

"When we started off in the Bed and Breakfast business, which is about 17 years ago, we joined the Farmhouse Association, we paid are membership, they did the marketing and we took in the bookings, that was it. Nowadays you really have to keep up with all of the new tools that are there.

"I've set up a business page [on Facebook], and I'm trying to build quality likes. I don't just want a whole pile of my daughter's friends coming on [and liking my Facebook page], and then gradually blocking me out."

According to Dynamic Web Marketing's Sandra Hennessy, who provides South Tipperary Enterprise Board's training, stumbling blocks experienced by those who are new to social media include "the fear of sounding stupid", building connections and learning to be sociable on social media.

"The hardest part of social media is getting people to connect with you, but once they're connected the idea is that you build on that relationship." Hennessy says.

The list of business owners who are attending the free social media training sessions currently being offered by the South Tipperary Enterprise Board is diverse.

In addition to B&B owners, they include hair salon owner Vicky Corbett and vintage bicycle repair specialist Tim Esplan.

Corbett says she "was terrified of computers" up until five years ago, but since then she has done a number of courses with the South Tipperary Enterprise Board.

"They've slowly coached me up on how to turn on a computer, how to do marketing and now how to do social media."

She's currently using Facebook to offer hair care advice and promotions to customers.

"Every year I make resolutions for my business that I can keep to. The personal ones, I'm not so good at." Corbett says.

"Twitter and LinkedIn are for the later part of this year, once I get Facebook under my belt."

Bike enthusiast Esplan has just opened his new business, and described the course as "a bit of a revelation."

"It has given me more of an idea about how I shouldn't be targeting customers per se, but interacting with people," he said.

In addition to the training offered by County and City Enterprise Boards, courses are being offered by Failte Ireland (almost 250 tourism related businesses availed of their social media training in 2011), Skillnet and private companies across the country.