Angela D. Harris

The world was built on crazy ideas. Take Columbus for example, he thought the world was round. The rest of the flat-world adherents thought he was nuts. The harebrained ideas didn’t stop with Columbus. Committed, yet arguably half-crazed, explorers set off to find water routes to India, uncover the fabled Fountain of Youth, and seek new worlds and riches, to name a few.

It was the attitude of these brave, crazy explorers that paved the way for a new type of explorer - inventors. Edison lit up a dark world. Ford motorized the horse and buggy. And Bell opened the lines of communication with the telephone. These ideas were inherently batty, and creating them required a commitment and dedication not only to the idea but also to the purpose of the item. Anything less would have yielded failure.

There are quite a few crazy ideas in the HVACR industry’s history as well, but it’s the future that contractors, manufacturers, and distributors are trying to understand. For the HVACR industry, social and digital media aren’t the future though; they are the crazy ideas of today.

SOCIAL EXPERIMENTS

Privacy invasion and image concerns relating to social and digital media have intimidated much of the public, especially business owners, keeping them from accessing the branding power of Facebook, Twitter, videos, etc. Sadly, those abstaining from participation have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

There are, however, some distinct advantages to being online, and the first thing you must do to participate is experiment in a safe place and with a safe subject. If you don’t understand how the technology works, then you won’t understand how you can safely and successfully apply it to your business. If you decide to start a Facebook account or blog about your company, don’t start with your company as the subject; start with you. Make your mistakes blogging about your hobbies, cars, dogs, etc. Be sure to pick something that if it doesn’t work out, the most trouble you have on your hands is a little embarrassment.

NEW MINDSET

You must relinquish the idea that you are protected or that you have any privacy online. It sounds simple and almost silly, but shifting from thinking you are protected to understanding you aren’t, no matter what the security settings say, is an important step to being free in the social and digital media space. You become a type of public figure. You don’t have to censor everything you say, but you do need to put it through a public-figure filter. It may keep you from spouting a few tactless quips or deserved blow ups, but that is the point.

As always, it is imperative that you are careful what you say about anything, anybody, and especially any company. The Internet is something of a permanent record, and it doesn’t matter how much you delete or implement damage control, once it is out there, it’s out there, and you’re responsible.

Having learned how the technology works and developed your own personal code of Internet conduct, it is time to change your way of thinking one more time. Instead of looking at what a social or digital tool was designed to do, consider what it is capable of doing. How can it be applied to your business? Could you use Facebook as a place to update customers on sales? Is Groupon something that might help ensure some business in your area? Just because no one has ever used the technology that way before, doesn’t mean that you can’t. Take the crazy idea back to your safe space and test it out. If that won’t work, test it out in a small market before implementing broad scale.

The most important things as a member of the HVACR community that you can do are broaden your horizons, embrace new platforms of communication, and entertain a few crazy ideas. Standard media is not going away, but the user rates are showing some decline. You may have the digital immigrants covered with your current technology use, but it is going to take a few crazy ideas to engage the digital natives.

It’s not necessary to run out and buy an iPad for every individual staff member in order to be social and digital media savvy, but if you’re still rockin’ your Pentium II processor, it’s past time to upgrade. I plan to turn mine into a jukebox - what a crazy idea.

Publication date: 10/04/2010