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Social media: an effective tool for the trades

Key best practices for using social media to drive your contracting business

Social media can drive your business. To some, that is an obvious statement. To others, perhaps it seems a bit over the top. After all, it wasn't long ago that "social media" was considered a way for high school girls to tell each other what they had for breakfast. However, our experience suggests it is a vibrant, and viable, communications channel.

Contractors using social media make sense for two reasons — your customers and your competition. It is an efficient way to create engagement with customers. A presence combines the reach of a website with the personal touch of an in-person visit. Your competition is likely already there. In Fort Worth, Texas, a contractor claims he gets 50% of his business from Facebook. Our research shows 49% of contractors have a social media presence. More than 10% use Facebook to advertise, and 20% say YouTube is an important part of their businesses.

If you are going to engage in social media, there are some key best practices that should be adhered to.

Social Media is not just Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube — focusing only on these sites is dangerous because some social media sites may not be around in five years. A company should begin with objectives and a communication strategy, and social media is just another tool in the marketing mix. As with any communication, choose your target audience, hone the message, and then use the media platform (in this case, social media) where you'll make the most impact. If the platform changes, you can adjust while still keeping with your strategy.

Be prepared to engage. People like social media because it creates a direct relationship. If you are successful, you'll have potential customers asking questions and making comments. If you fail to respond, they'll lose interest in your company and your services, and you might miss opportunities. Also, when something goes wrong, be prepared to take your medicine in plain view, because you cannot control the comments you get from users. This is, however, an opportunity to address the issue. As we say, that conversation is going to happen regardless. It is better to be in it, than not.

Don't just advertise on social media sites. It's as annoying as somebody giving you a sales pitch at a cocktail party. While marketing is part of the rationale for participation, a constant bombardment of obvious advertising can get old very quickly. Pass on good information such as tips and tricks, business experiences or local news that your customers will find useful. Social media is not a selling tool, but rather a new outlet for communicating with your audience. If you have the relationships and the conversations, then sales will follow.

If your company is willing to make the effort, social media is an effective tool for attracting and engaging customers. It is not just for small companies or big brands. It is surprising whom you may find on Facebook or Twitter. At the end of the day, social media is simply another means to strengthen relationships — and that is the real business value.

Wyatt Kilmartin is director of RIDGID branding for Ridge Tool Co.

TAGS: Technology