Posted on 15 April 2011.
By Olivia Damavandi
Companies around the world are using online social networks to personify their brands and enhance their images. Three Bronx natives are harnessing the digital frontier not just to promote their small business, but also to give their hometown a virtual makeover.
The co-founders of Mainland Media —brothers Paul Ramirez, 29, and Anthony Ramirez II, 32, along with John Martin, 32—say their business, which produces the website FromtheBronx.com, is aimed at changing outdated perceptions of what they call New York’s proudest borough.
“When people think of the Bronx, they only think of burned out buildings and the projects,” Anthony said. “Even though the Bronx is 24 percent parkland, some people are amazed we even have electricity. People have asked us if we have running water. They don’t think about the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo or Edgar Allen Poe’s cottage. They just think about the borough’s history and assume it’s a bad place to be.”
After working with a Bronx nonprofit in youth services and economic development, Anthony and John say they noticed the negative perception of the borough was affecting its younger generations.
“When I was working with young people telling them to pursue their dreams, they would say to me, ‘what can we do? We’re from the Bronx,’” Anthony said. “They feel the negative stereotype. When we work with kids we need to make them really proud of where they’re from.”
When it launched in 2005, Mainland Media began as a small project. The co-founders rented a helicopter and took topographical photos of the borough, which were then sold as posters and postcards.
But thanks to social networking, Mainland Media’s website has grown to include Bronx souvenirs, apparel, custom prints, graphic design services, local artist management, event organization, social media and marketing. The company has become the go-to spot for everything Bronx. It even recently designed a Bronx-themed McDonald restaurant on E. 149th St. and Morris Avenue.
Mainland Media this week re-launched FromtheBronx.com, which now serves as its exclusive online store. The website was originally created as a social network for Bronxites. But with more than 77,000 “likes” on its Facebook page, the co-founders realized that page was more powerful than any social network they could have generated on their own.
FromtheBronx.com was up and running right before Facebook launched in 2004. It got up to 670 fans before the co-founders decided to advertise the site through social networking on Twitter and Myspace as well.
“By doing that, our Facebook page got incredibly popular and it took off,” Paul said. “Instead of trying to force people to go to a different site, it made sense to just have fans on Facebook.”
One of those fans is Steve Nallan, a seventh generation Bronxite who recently started The Bronck’s Beer Company. He says personal branding on the Internet is everything.
“I wouldn’t be a company today if it wasn’t for social networking,” Nallan said.
On Facebook and Twitter he goes by the alias Jonas Bronck, a 17th century Scandinavian immigrant after whom the Bronx and The Bronck’s Beer Company are named. Thanks to Nallan, Jonas Bronck now has more than 3,300 friends on Facebook and more than 5,033 followers on Twitter.
“As a result of Facebook and Twitter, I think I have tens of thousands of people who now know who Jonas is and the original spelling of the Bronx,” Nallan said. “It has helped market my business tremendously. To gain more connections I ran a contest a month ago through my Facebook page, giving away Yankee tickets. That got a lot of attention.”
Nallan also attributes a portion of his success to Mainland Media.“They have a really good fan page, lots of connections, and gave my company lots of support,” Nallan said.
“They’ve done several postings on their fan page about my contests and my beer tastings, which has been very helpful in having people find my page and making them able to contact me,” he continued. “I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from local Bronx media. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Nallan’s company is one of several businesses that have reaped the benefits of social networking through Mainland Media.
“Our FromtheBronx.com Facebook page is the strongest way to connect the borough. It’s our platform,” Anthony said. “Through Facebook we have a better ability to help change negative perceptions of the borough to the rest of the world. The page is a place for Bronxites to connect and talk and share stories. It helps the world understand why they’re proud to be where they’re from.”
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