There are a number of reasons that contractors and other professionals don’t use social media as part of their business. The most common reasons are:
- They don’t understand it
- They understand it on a personal but not business level
- They’re afraid of it
- They don’t have time (in their minds)
- They don’t believe in it
The purpose of this piece is to educate you on three easy social media tools that can:
- Grow your business
- Are fairly simple to understand
- Pretty safe unless you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing
- Won’t take a lot of time
- Have the potential to deliver significant results
First on the list is LinkedIn — a professional network of more than 60 million people. Many of you may already be on LinkedIn, but are you using it to full advantage to generate new leads and referrals? Linking in with individuals or joining a group of plumbing or HVAC contractors can be great for camaraderie and for sharing information on your profession. However, just doing the minimum is probably not going to get you much business.
My advice is to go one step further. Link in with individuals and join groups that have the potential of bringing you business. How about electrical contractors, kitchen and bath designers or other related professionals who may have a reason to send you projects?
Don’t like the groups you have seen? Guess what? It’s really easy to start your own group. If you’re a plumbing contractor, why not start a group for kitchen and bath designers and remodelers to share tips and information on what they need to consider when specifying plumbing fixtures? The key to success for such an effort is to have a conversation. Don’t use it to push sales messages. Make it a true open forum for sharing best practices and networking. Leads will come when they see your expertise.
Next up is Twitter. Twitter is a real-time network that allows businesses of all sizes to stay connected with their customers. Its simplicity has been a big reason for its meteoric rise in users. The network has quickly gone from a place where, “narcissists go to tell other narcissists the boring details of their lives,” to a core communications and lead development tool that is just as easy to use on a mobile phone as it is on a laptop.
We have had great success at our agency Tweeting to the audiences that matter most to our clients. Since we work with plumbing and HVAC-related companies, that means some of the people we’re Tweeting, you should be Tweeting, too.
It works like this. You Tweet about an important piece of news or information and include a link back to where people can get full details. The key to Twitter is to determine the “persona” of your business and keep all your communications within that frame of reference. It makes it easier for you decide what to Tweet. And, it allows your audience to know what to expect from you. They’ll see you as a sharp operator who is on top of things and, voila! — business relationship.
Another thing about LinkedIn and Twitter is that recent research shows that around 70% of journalists use these tools to gather information and identify sources. So, why not find the reporters important to you and feed them information as well. But again, it’s a conversation — not push marketing. Don’t ask for anything. Just be a resource. When the time comes for someone to be interviewed about an issue related to what you do, they will remember and you’ll get some free visibility because they know they can trust you and you know what you’re talking about.
Advantages of Angie’s List
The third tool is Angie’s List at www.angieslist.com. This is a nationwide service that allows consumers to search for service providers in their area. It also allows them to rate the service they receive from different providers. It is free to register your company here. Then, all you have to do is your usual great job every time you get a referral from the site. As you pile up positive ratings, you’ll get more and more referrals.
There are some paid options to beef up your visibility on www.angieslist.com. Some of them are sponsorship-related, but the dollars aren’t huge. Obviously, like most marketing vehicles, you’ll have to do a little promotion on the front-end to get business and start piling up positive reviews. But, once that happens, it becomes a self-perpetuating engine.
Set your strategy
There are a lot of digital tools that can help you promote and grow your business. But for small businesses in particular, experimenting with these no cost to low-cost options discussed in this article has the potential to help you increase your visibility and leads. Generally speaking, you’re looking at about three-five hours a week to effectively stay on top of this activity. It’s an investment in growing your business.
Things to remember when using social media to build business:
- Be consistent — Make sure you check in regularly so people in your network know they can count on you to respond in a timely fashion.
- You have to give to get — It’s not a one-way street. You need to proactively give referrals and valuable information. It’s up to you to prime the pump and get things flowing.
- Don’t be overly promotional or self-serving — as you might imagine, these outlets are often overwhelmed with self-promotional junk. Keep your networks clean and always look to add value, not sell yourself.
- Keep the focus on business — Don’t share personal information or talk about things that are completely irrelevant to the group and the purpose. If you create personal relationships, and you probably will, migrate them over to your regular channels.
That’s it. It’s really not difficult to utilize these channels and get value back. It just takes a little time and a solid commitment.
Dick Wolfe is VP of Gibbs & Soell Inc., a leading independent public relations agency that specializes in the residential and commercial building and remodeling industries. As a leader of G&S' Consumer Lifestyle and Building Solutions Practice, Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications advisor to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the building and contracting community. He can be reached at [email protected].