Social media platforms: open for business

Social media platforms, most notably Twitter and Facebook, provide HVAC and plumbing contractors with an immediate way to converse with customers and potential customers who might welcome advice on HVAC and plumbing issues and find online interaction a convenient method of communicating with a professional. Facebook and Twitter have, for many companies, become a potent marketing tool. Contractors with business-based Twitter and Facebook accounts can build brand and boost image, reputation and sales.

Twitter was created as a platform for sending short messages and is basically a microblogging site. It is used by about 13% of adults in this country, the majority under the age of 35. Facebook is used by more than half of all adult Americans, with a larger percentage over the age of 35.

While Facebook is a potentially expanding group of people or businesses you know or who know you, Twitter is open and enables you to reach people you don't know, facilitating a company's broadening reach.

For best results, use both Facebook and Twitter and create links to both on your company website. And also link Twitter to Facebook, so when you post on Twitter the posting automatically appears on your Facebook page.

Twitter is an easy way to connect interactively with a large number of people (followers), along the lines of a public group conversation. Tweets are easily digestible factoids limited to 140 characters. They can carry links that can move recipients on to a lot more information you would like them to have (though the links themselves count in the overall character tally).

Tweets are supposed to relate, in snippets, to what you are doing or thinking at the time of the post. Use Twitter to generate traffic to your company website, Facebook or a blog. One commercial message out of every four, six, or eight tweets is supposedly acceptable though many businesses ignore that unwritten rule entirely.

Social marketing gurus emphasize how important it is to respond to followers' tweets by commenting positively or answering questions quickly and politely, hopefully keeping the conversation going. One recent study of 9,000 respondents designed to assess attitudes and behavior regarding social media showed that positive conversations build offline sales almost twice as often as negative conversations discourage sales, 83% versus 44%.

Here are some Facebook and Twitter messages some proactive contractors have posted:

  • "Ask your plumbing questions here..."
  • "Gone green? We offer eco-friendly plumbing services."
  • Photos of new van or truck, or staff outside place of business, or at a booth at a community street fair.
  • Snapshots of challenging repairs or other recently completed camera-worthy projects.
  • Special discounts on products and services.
  • "We're hiring"...send resumes to: (list e-mail).
  • "What can we as a company do better?"
  • "Here are some energy saving tips for commercial buildings."

You can also post brief seasonal or immediate weather-related suggestions on Twitter that might result in some new business from homeowners:

  • A lot of rain lately, need a sump pump to save your basement?
  • Winter blahs? Perk up with a bathroom remodel this spring.

On Facebook, you don't have to be so succinct. You have a lot more leeway to share information, show off recent projects, introduce contests, or offer special promotions or specials. You might also want to post photos of new or long term employees, so visitors can see who is running the business. Many companies note their participation in local sports and community-based projects. Get your customers to "like" you and want to revisit your Facebook page often.

Invite your customers to be your first fans of your Facebook page, suggests David Kerpen, author of “Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and other social networks).”

According to Kerpen, "The ‘like’ is more important than the link," he notes, because when someone clicks like the first time, that person subscribes to your updates and, unless he or she un-subscribes, each and every like endorses your company to that person's Facebook friends, growing your social media network exponentially. And, Kerpen points out, the more valuable the content you share with your followers, the greater the trust and reputation you will build with them.

Other books that you may find helpful in establishing a positive presence on social media platforms:

“The New Rules of Marketing & PR” 3rd edition by David Meerman Scott, that gives an overview and explains how to use social media, online video and other electronic tools to reach customers directly with content that drives them to positive interaction with your company.

“facebook me! A Guide to Socializing, Sharing, and Promoting on Facebook” 2nd Edition by Dave Awl, which provides interesting reading on how to maximize returns on time spent on Facebook both in and out of the office.

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at [email protected].

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