Business Owners Speak Out on Impact of Social Media

May 23, 2011
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Social media is the media - if you believe what some people are saying these days. Online networking has replaced the traditional methods of marketing such as newsletters, postcards, and “happy calls.” At least, that is what online marketers want business owners to believe. The age of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn - to name a few Internet social networks - has threatened to wipe out centuries of commonly used visual and audio marketing methods.

AND WHY NOT?

Social media has become a common tool for people to market themselves and their businesses, with millions of impressions and click-throughs made every day from prospective customers and social acquaintances. The question is: Has the HVAC industry embraced social media as a way to connect to new or existing customers? In a recent online poll at LinkedIn, 84 people - mostly HVAC contractors - responded to this question: “Has social media had ANY impact on your business?”

Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents answered in the affirmative (see figure.) The poll had five multiple-choice answers: (1) Yes; (2) Somewhat; (3) No; (4) Don’t use it; (5) What is social media?

Forty percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question. Jason Hunter, an office manager with Jacksonville Heating & Air (Jacksonville, Fla.) was one of 34 respondents who responded affirmatively. “It has helped and I see it only getting better in the future,” he said. “I’d like to be able to promote my business more, but it takes time to really generate a following. It’s been a good tool for people that may not view us on our home website. We hear from several customers every month that they found us on Facebook.”

“We have had a nice response from social media and social networking,” said Chloe Pullen of Pullen Air Conditioning (New Orleans). “It’s a free and easy way to reach out to your customer base and introduce yourselves to new clientele. I highly recommend it.”

Combined with 24 people who responded that social media had somewhat affected their business, a total of 69 percent of all respondents said that social media had some impact on their business. Greg McAfee of McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. (Kettering, Ohio) said, “We’ve had a handful of service calls and a few estimates from our Facebook. We are looking to improve on this in 2011.”

R.W. Kicklighter of R.W. Kicklighter Inc. (Daytona Beach, Fla.) agreed. “If a business owner does not jump on board with social media, they may get left in the dust,” he said. “I’m still working on refining my presence through social media.”

Other answers from poll respondents included:

“For customer retention, yes it has. For new customer and referrals, not yet. And if I need to go over the character limit I just use notes.”

“I have had an impact on my business from ALL social marketing. It’s all in how it’s leveraged.”

“As of today, social media has really just had an impact on our contact lists and brand awareness. A few sales have been made because of it, but social media is an investment that I believe will pay off over time.”

“I do see the energy and speed with which these social networks are converting into major global windows for ideas and opportunities.” 

Jeff Somers of Monsen Engineering Co. (Fairfield, N.J.), and a member of The NEWS contractor panel, was one of the 18 respondents (21 percent) who didn’t think social media had an impact on his business. “I am not sure if a social media presence can help an industrial/commercial only contractor,” he said. “I can see how it would for residential.”

Another 9 percent said they don’t use social media, adding up to 30 percent who have not seen its impact yet.

Other non-contractors from the HVAC industry gave their opinions, too.

“Literally, social media got me where I am today,” said Robin Boyd of American Air Distributing (West Chester, Pa.). “Now that I understand what social media is, it has been of a great benefit for me. Through social media I was introduced to the company I currently work for. I also am able to have a better understanding of my customers who are in social media groups. Having a better understanding of my customers allows me to service them better.”

Alicia Bradshaw of Warm Thoughts Communications Inc. (Seacaucus, N.J.) said, “Social media is a very important component of our industry’s future communications strategy. I am a friend of two HVAC contractors who have launched Facebook fan pages. All business owners should make a 2011 resolution to develop a social media strategy!”

Kurt Wessling of Jackson Systems LLC also believes that marketing via the social media is in its infancy still and added, “Social media by its very nature is supposed to be social. Add value with content instead of regurgitating your sales pitch all over. The best bet is to be honest, open, and have some fun. Humor gets some great responses.”  And there are still some who say it’s wise to consider social media with caution, like Adams Hudson of Hudson Ink (Montgomery, Ala.), a frequent contributor to The NEWS. “Open communication builds relationships, which is the goal,” he said. “However, the ‘time to value’ ratio is currently tilted in the  wrong direction. Blogging works and e-zines are still valuable. Yet my long-term fear is that if we’re heading toward 140 characters of meaningful thought, we’re just supporting cast for ‘Day of the Zombies.’ Count me out.”  Using social media to market a business is not something that will just happen overnight. It takes a plan, a working knowledge of social networking, and time to devote to this new media. As Wessling said, “It is a work in progress.”

Publication date: 05/23/2011

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