|Social media provides contractors with a good way to interact with existing and potential customers. (Photo courtesy of Champion AC)|
When Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media platforms burst onto the scene, they quickly grabbed a significant audience. Companies soon followed, hoping to attract consumers in new, unique ways. But new media brings both new opportunities and new challenges.
Simon Alexander, part owner of Furnace Rental, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, said, “Social media provides HVAC contractors with a good way to interact with existing and potential customers, can be a great way to improve a company’s credibility by providing useful info, and can generate business via discounts, promotions, news, and so on.”
Jonathan Sellers, lead social media strategist for EMSI Public Relations, Wesley Chapel, Florida, said: “Social media gives HVAC contractors an ideal platform to showcase their professionalism, reliability, and cleanliness. Companies can showcase their quality of work in pictures or videos, highlight special promotions, and offer a direct line to customers to resolve customer service issues.”
Ben Hubbert, co-owner of Champion AC, San Antonio, said, “Social media is a way to stay in front of current customers, potential customers, and the community, at all times.” However, he noted, “The value is not always monetary.”
Adams Hudson, president of Hudson Ink, Montgomery, Alabama, a creative marketing firm for contractors, agreed, “Social media is more a relationship tool than a revenue generator,” he said. “It can indirectly lead to sales — the same way as truck signage or billboards attract consumers — but it’s a poor choice for direct transactions.
“Too many commercial sites forget the word ‘social’ and misinterpret it as ‘sales opportunity,’ earning themselves a spammy and avoidable reputation.”
Hudson added: “Contractors must consider a heightened relationship as the primary goal with secondary benefits of increased revenue. Anyone who advises you to sell upfront on social media is recommending a very short, very painful fall from social grace.”
What social media platforms are essential?
“Facebook and Twitter are essential because of the sheer membership on each network,” said Sellers. “Also, these networks are most popular, by far, with the target demographics of homeowners that many HVAC contractors are trying to reach.” He added, “If your company has some unique service offerings, you may find value on image-specific networks such as Pinterest or Instagram.”
Alexander concurred “Facebook and Twitter are probably the most important. Almost everyone has a Facebook account and Twitter is a good way of sharing news, updates, promotions, etc.”
Hudson said, “Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus are the big three. Facebook, by far, is the leader. Twitter is more popular with younger demographics and on the West Coast. Facebook is for a more mature audience.”
As far as other platforms to consider, Hubbert said LinkedIn could be very helpful for commercial contractors. “LinkedIn is a great place to connect with other businesses.”
Alexander said LinkedIn “could be useful for hiring purposes.”
Sellers also pointed out the emergence of industry-specific networks. “In 2015, I expect consumers and companies to continue to shift to more niche-focused social networks. Houzz.com is a great choice for HVAC contractors looking to reach the most targeted group of social media users because this network is specifically for people interested in home design and improvements.”
Looking at recommended best practices, Hubbert said, “First and foremost, don’t make every single post about your low prices, specials, or how to change an air conditioning filter.
“Sometimes, you want to post on relevant educational material like allergies or the weather. Other times, post about your local sports team, a fun event, or a tradition of the city.”
Alexander commented: “The most important thing is to provide actual value to your followers, customers, and potential customers, whether it’s useful guides like tips on saving energy or sales, discounts, or promotions. If you just spam people with one similar offer after another and never post anything of value, people will unfollow you.”
Hudson said you should only sell/pitch 15-30 percent of the time. Engage, entertain, and inform 70-85 percent of the time. To engage, “ask your audience questions and solicit feedback; get them talking.” To entertain, include quotes or funny pictures that can be tied to your topic. To inform, give your customers advice on how they can maintain their systems, offer IAQ facts, and wow them with statistics.”
Alexander said to also consider “how to get people to share what you post.” This can be done in any number of ways, he said, from posting something funny or entertaining, such as a simple instructional video with a humorous twist, or a giveaway or contest where people can get something free for sharing.
For Facebook, Hubbert said you should pay attention to the response. “If you post about safety-related tips and get 10 comments and 30 likes on the post, take note that this is an area of interest for your audience.”
Hudson said you should post on Facebook a minimum of two to four times per week, optimally five to seven times per week. Post visual content, photos, and videos. Also, post on a schedule.
“Twitter creates opportunities for conversation, so talk and learn about your followers and those you are following,” said Hubbert. “Respond. Don’t let tweets go unanswered. It shows a lack of interest and care.”
Return on investment (ROI) can be measured in several ways depending on a company’s goals. If a goal is to sign up clients to service contracts, “you can offer a special promotion code on social media and track the number of responses with that code,” said Sellers. “You can also create a unique landing page on your website and drive all of your social media traffic to that landing page to track how much traffic your social media efforts are driving to your business.”
Hudson, however, believes that, because of its social nature, “social media is a cocktail party, not a trade show, so ROI is not its focus.” The value of social media, he said, is that it advances relevance, extends your audience, boosts your image and top of mind awareness (TOMA), generates leads when linked to your website, builds community, builds reviews, and improves SEO.
“All HVAC contractors should have some sort of social presence,” said Hubbert. “It’s not a matter of whether or not you have time; it’s a matter of making time. If you don’t have the time, hire someone to assist in the role or delegate the responsibility to a current member of your team. Being on social platforms and remaining a part of the conversation is of the essence.”
When implementing a basic social media program, make sure to provide value above all else, said Alexander. “Actually provide something interesting and worth looking at, or, if it’s promotional, make sure it’s a really good deal. The last thing you want is for people to tune you out and just stop paying attention because you bombard them with stuff they don’t really care about.”
Hudson noted that someone should monitor posts daily to respond to any questions and comments. “Answer all negative comments/reviews. Be polite, admit any fault, and move the conversation offline,” he added.
Sellers said, “Don’t try to do too much. It’s much better to do a great job on one or two networks than a bad job on five.”
SIDEBAR: More Info
For a comprehensive overview of social media, Alexander recommends the “2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.”
To help contractors keep up with social media best practices, Hudson offers “10 Tools to Help You Manage Your Social Media.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the free report.
Publication date: 1/26/2015