The changing landscape of the HVACR industry continues to introduce new business and marketing tools challenging contractors to move beyond the traditional. Social media, the Web 2.0 buzzword of the millennium, is one of those tools that not only offers contractors a way to advertise, but offers a way to interact with their customers. Although it is not completely clear what the successful social media application package for the HVACR industry will look like, it is contractors like Rich Morgan, owner of Magic Touch Mechanical Inc., Mesa, Ariz., and Jay Boyd, owner of Home Air Direct, Anna, Ill., that are leading the charge.
Morgan, one of The NEWS’2008 Best Contractor to Work For winners, has taken his heating and cooling message to the Internet via MySpace. The one minute and 17 second video spot he posted puts a personal face on the company to the large and diverse user population inhabiting this social network.
Boyd is testing out his marketing theories on Facebook, which is a social networking site similar to MySpace. He is glad to get his company name and Website address into any medium possible. According to Boyd, social media potentially increases the viral spread of his business to traffic that would otherwise be unavailable.
“When it comes to business practices, anyone who turns a blind eye to potential advantages that technology - specifically the Internet - offers for advertising and communications, is heading down a deteriorating path,” he said. “The ability to be in your potential customers’ computer 24/7 will pay dividends.”
MIX IT UPMySpace and Facebook do not encompass all that is social media. As defined by USA.gov, social media and Web 2.0 are umbrella terms that define the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and content creation. Some forms include blogs, microblogging, podcasting, RSS feeds, social media releases, social networks, wikis, and virtual worlds. Despite its diversity and vast applications, the key to social media is the interaction. Standard media traditionally broadcasts its message via television, newspapers, and radio. It is a one-sided conversation. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-sided conversation. It not only educates the audience, but it also allows the audience to participate in the discussion.
Within the realm of social media are the growingly popular social networks. These are Websites that connect people to each other and allow them to create online communities.
Clark Buneta, owner of Buneta Heating and Cooling, St. Louis, is currently learning how to apply the features of his social network of choice - Facebook - to his marketing mix. He pointed out that word-of-mouth is consistently his most successful marketing avenue and he is finding that this networking application is allowing that word-of-mouth strategy to spread farther and faster than it has in the past.
Social media tools are not necessarily the be all and end all of marketing campaigns, however, they are the next step in the marketing mix. In an interview with Mike Sachoff of WebProNews, Sandy Carter, author of The New Language of Marketing 2.0, encouraged companies to start getting involved in social media. She also stressed the importance of having the proper motivation for diving into the social media market - communication.
“The best way to communicate isn’t about using new media types to be hip and cool; it is about understanding your customers and how you can immerse yourself into their conversation,” she said. “The ability to be nimble and move quickly in the market will be the key element in successful marketing … social media allows your company to be more nimble.”
FACING CHALLENGESUnderstanding social media is the first step in successfully leveraging these new technologies. Applying social media tools and implementing them is the next challenge. One of the greatest benefits to utilizing social media is the cost - usually there isn’t one. Most social media applications are free. Some offer upgrades for nominal fees, but normally the basic versions are more than sufficient, especially for the beginning social media user.
Another benefit is the flexibility in which the programs can be applied. With social media applications, contractors can start a conversation internally with staff and employees, as well as externally with customers. Multiple communities can be created simultaneously. The application possibilities are limited only by the contractor’s creativity.
One shortcoming of social media can be the amount of time required. Some of the applications are quick and simple, requiring little effort. Others take more time and effort in order to keep fresh solid communication occurring between the contractor, employees, and customers. As with any new business practice, measuring direct ROI can be a struggle, and contractors must consider the amount of time invested against the substantial and potential returns, remembering that monetary profit is not the only measure of success.
The federal government is venturing into the social media arena, and it is exploring the ups and downs of all that this entails. In a report released on Dec. 23, 2008, the Federal Web Managers Council identified several specific issues that may cause the government problems as it implements its own social media strategy.
Among them were some general concerns that company’s considering social media strategies will most likely face as well. The government concerns include among others:
• Allowing employees access to these social sites will cause IT security concerns, provide the ability for employees to waste time, create bandwidth concerns.
• Advertising that pays for the free social media sites can be inappropriate and appear as though they are endorsed by the user of the social media application.
• There is a lack of strategy for using these new social media tools. It is often viewed as a technology issue, not a communications tool.
It was decided that despite the concerns, social media usage was a good thing for the federal government that should be pursued. The report deemed that solid, clear policies and a commitment to openness and transparency would help alleviate many of the issues raised. Overall, it was decided that the benefits of communicating with its customers - the American public - outweighed the risks.
Are you using MySpace, Facebook, or another social networking site? Have you found a way to leverage social media in your business? Clark Buneta and Jay Boyd have. If you are, Buneta said, “It is about time.” And if you aren’t Boyd’s advice, “Just do it.”