Social Media Sites and the HVAC Contractor
Contractors need to know best practices for each platform
It’s just a fact today that people use social media. According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, about three-quarters of all U.S. adults are on some social media platform. And the main platform is Facebook. Around seven in 10 adults use Facebook in the United States. Facebook also leads with the most desirable demographic group for contractors — older users who are more likely to own their homes.
Colleen Keyworth, sales and marketing director for OnlineAccess, said Facebook is the easiest platform to use, offers the best return on investment for contractors, and is the friendliest toward businesses. Elania Burdick, a consultant with EB&L Marketing, recommends contractors spend 10 percent of their total marketing budget on social media, with most of that going to Facebook.
But what about the others sites — Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.? How much time and money should contractors invest in those sites? The answer, according to experts, is some, but less than they do in Facebook. It helps to know how to invest those resources as well.
Facebook bought this popular photo sharing app in 2012. Instagram currently has about 110 million users in the United States. It’s a mobile-only app and attracts a younger demographic than Facebook. Burdick said this makes Instagram a good tool for promoting products such as mini splits and smart technologies. Posts are easily shared between Facebook and Instagram, so Keyworth said that contractors who are already using Facebook might as well use Instagram, too. A contractor will need a Facebook business page in order to open a commercial Instagram account.
Keyworth said building an audience on Instagram requires more effort to attract a local audience than Facebook, where the algorithm does most of the work. It does little good for a contractor in Arkansas to have followers in Alaska. She recommends connecting with other local businesses. For example, if the crew likes to eat at a local sandwich shop, tag them in Instagram posts.
“You’re trying to find a common ground to build an audience, and once you’ve built an audience, then people are seeing your content more regularly,” Keyworth said. “But it’s always a constant battle to see what hashtags will interest people who are local.”
Photos of staff work best for reaching residential customers, she said. For example, take pictures of employees in goofy sunglasses for National Sunglasses Day. On the commercial side, the best posts feature a contractor’s truck parked next to the client’s marquee.
For those looking to buy ads on Instagram, Burdick said Facebook charges on a cost per 1,000 impressions. That means that a contractor will pay the amount bid on each post for every 1,000 people who see it. Burdick said the advantage of an Instagram ad is it looks just like any other post, so it’s not as obvious that it’s advertising, which can lead to a higher conversion rate.
On the flip side, Twitter demands constant posting, and the posts that attract the most attention are usually either political or comical, said Justin Jacobs, marketing coach at Hudson, Ink. Both can be off-putting to a contractor’s customer base.
“The more you talk, the greater chance you’ll upset the people whom you depend on for your livelihood,” Jacobs said.
There is one other way to draw attention on Twitter — contests and promotions. Burdick said these are easily retweeted by the contractor’s audience and work best in major cities.
This is where opinions become the most divided. Burdick said every contractor needs a LinkedIn profile.
“LinkedIn is the business side of social networking,” she said. “It doesn’t cost anything to put up a profile, and you’ll find many of your customers networking there. It gives you a professional edge that sets you apart by positioning you as an established businessperson — not just that guy/gal who
LinkedIn also offers plenty of useful content, including posts from HVAC associations, manufacturers, and distributors. The investment can be minimal, Burdick said, with little need to check in more than once a month.
Keyworth sees less value in LinkedIn, saying few people go on the site looking for a contractor. Jacobs said it works better for attracting employees than for attracting customers.
Google tried and failed to create a social media platform twice. First, there was Google Wave, which lasted about a year. Then came Google+, which hung around for nearly a decade and attracted a few hundred million users.
Google’s latest attempt is Google Posts, which allow businesses to share messages on Google search results and Maps. The company’s greatest social media success, though, is a platform not always included in these listings — YouTube.
YouTube offers a fairly easy way to build SEO and connect with customers, Keyworth said. Videos can range from technical advice to silly videos featuring technicians lip-syncing to “Ice, Ice Baby.” Changes in usage rules make keeping these types of videos uploaded much easier. Jacobs said contractors can even post customer testimonials.
Keyworth recommends creating a content library and connecting a contractor’s YouTube channel with its Google My Business account. Quantity matters more than quality, Jacobs said, and every notification of a video posting keeps the contractor in the customers’ minds.
Social media platforms keep emerging, with a handful of them drawing sizable audiences. One site with potential use for HVAC contractors is Pinterest, which mostly features ideas for crafts, decorating, and home remodeling. Keyworth said there is a whole generation of women who grew up watching home improvement shows, which can include some HVAC upgrades, and this site targets that audience.
Then there are the sites generating a lot of buzz these days, like TikTok and Snapchat. These sites attract mostly younger users, not homeowners or buyers, Keyworth said. It’s worth keeping an eye on them, since Facebook started with only college students.
When older users do move to those platforms, Jacobs said, the kids leave. He recently heard of a teacher incorporating TikTok videos in her students’ presentations.
“As soon as adults try to get into a trend, it dies quickly,” Jacobs said.
He warned against contractors getting too far out of their element when experimenting with these sites.
Marketing coach Hudson Ink
So what are the best practices to get the highest return on investment in social media? One is stick to the social aspect. Burdick recommends following local community services, such as Habitat for Humanity or an animal rescue, and occasionally sharing their posts.
Burdick places the emphasis on “occasionally,” warning contractors against posting too much.
“You want to stay top of mind, but also not become annoying,” Burdick said. “If you’re posting too often, people will begin to hit the ‘hide’ button or stop following your company. And that damages your relevancy and boosts the cost of your advertising.”
Burdick recommends two or three posts a week, balancing sales promotions with regular posts. All comments, especially the negative ones, need a response. If a contractor finds this too much for staff to handle, Burdick recommends hiring an outside firm.
If a contractor does keep the work in-house, Keyworth recommends using a tool such as HootSuite or Social Pilot that posts across social media platforms.
“You can drive yourself crazy trying to post into five different accounts,” she said.
While sharing a post in more than one spot works, Jacobs said contractors need to understand the audience of each platform. They also need to understand that social media is more about branding than a direct response.
“With any social media platform, you’ve got to know its place,” Jacobs said. “Most folks are not on social media looking for a contractor, but once you’re in front of them, you do have a chance.”
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