Committee Studies the Social Media Revolution
If Facebook users made up a country, it would be the world's third largest. An estimated 80 percent of companies use social media websites as a recruitment tool. More than 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every four minutes.
Still think social media is a fad?
That was the question the video "Social Media Revolution 2 (Refresh)" asked - and answered - for members of HARDI's Supply Chain Technologies Committee at its Oct. 25, 2011, meeting in Hawaii.
Set to a pulsing dance beat, the four-minute video produced by Erik Qualman and his company Socialnomics is designed to lay aside any doubts about the power of this medium by inundating viewers with fast-paced facts.
Billy Prewitt, vice chairman of the supply chain committee, said he got the idea to show the video after attending an Air Conditioning Contractors of America conference in Nashville, Tenn., that featured social media experts.
Although manufacturing in general and the HVAC industry in particular may have been slower than some other sectors to embrace social media, it's not something that can be ignored anymore, many experts say.
In its report on the state of social media last fall, worldwide research firm Nielsen said social media sites have taken over the Web. Nearly four out of five Internet users visit social networks such as LinkedIn or regularly read blogs. Facebook is easily the most popular website on the Internet, and over half social-networking adults follow company brands. Users over age 55 represent some of the fastest growing users of social media, especially accessed through smartphones, Nielsen added.
After attending ACCA's meeting, Prewitt, who works as the marketing manager for Carlisle HVAC Products, said he was impressed with the social media prowess of some of the association's members.
But it makes sense, Prewitt added. ACCA is mostly made up of residential HVAC contractors whose success depends on the public knowing about them and being able to find them quickly online.
What some wholesalers and suppliers may not know is many of the same concerns apply to them. Like contractors, they're trying to get people to buy their products.
"I was trying to show our committee, as well as discuss, that we have the same story to tell," he said. "To me, the supply chain is everything."
Cameron Perkins, the supply chain committee's chairman, agreed. Perkins is vice president of vendor management and marketing at the Ware Group, one of the largest members of the Johnstone Supply cooperative, based in Jacksonville, Fla.
Perkins said social media is going to be vitally important to the HVAC industry.
"It's where our customers are, and especially our younger customers," he said. "Many people are engaging today, whether it's personally or businesswise, through social media."
Like Prewitt, Perkins said he believes the industry has a little catching up to do.
"I definitely have that feeling that the wholesaling community today is behind where some portion of our customer base is. It tends to be fairly age-related, but we have a lot of younger customers and technicians who are using smartphones and social media for every aspect of their lives."
In the case of the Ware Group, it has been working on social media for a while.
"We're in between being active and dipping our toes, " Perkins said. "We've had a Facebook and Twitter account for about two years now, and we've been actively working them. But we have not completely dived in the pool to interact anywhere near the full capacity of what can be done.
"I think we are going to have no choice but to grow."
As for Carlisle, Prewitt said they have been slowly trying out the social media waters.
"We've been tweeting (@CarlisleHVAC) for a few months, somewhat sporadically. We have set up a Facebook page," he said. "We're using a college intern to do a lot of it."
The websites are not designed to heavily sell the company's products, Prewitt pointed out. They're used to inform and create online relationships among potential customers.
The future of social media, both men say, is that it will become the communication preference for an ever-growing segment of the HVAC industry's customers.
Prewitt said this trend was demonstrated to him at another conference he attended, this one sponsored by the Adhesive and Sealant Council. (Carlisle is a major manufacturer of duct sealants and insulation adhesives under the Hardcast name).
Many of the group's members are using online search engines such as Google. And the longtime practice of sending technicians out with clipboards and pricing books is being replaced by having them carry electronic devices, he added.
"I met a ton of contractors who are sending out their technicians with iPads and Droids," he said, referring to Apple's tablet computer and Google's popular smartphone platform.
The adhesives group expects members' use of social media to double in the next year, Prewitt said.
"As the 20-somethings start taking over in the business, this just starts taking over," he said.
Already, studies show many young people prefer to communicate in shorter messages via text or by posting to Facebook and Twitter.
"Email is pass‚ to them," Prewitt said.
It's a trend that the Ware Group is already starting to see.
"We realize there are going to be multiple levels of communication that need to take place," Perkins said. "Some customers we will still touch base with through a faxed or mailed promotional activity. Some customers we are going to have to do those same things through social media."
Prewitt isn't sure where the HARDI committee will go with the issue - there has been some discussion of HARDI establishing a separate social media group - but said he wanted to gauge their opinions.
"Just to begin the discussion," he said. "I would think that next year, they're all going to at least dip their toes in (social media)."