I am the first to admit I am not a techie, and I am certainly not an early adopter of new technology. It took lots of prodding from my younger sister to get me to join Facebook three years ago. It also took me quite a while to figure out what the heck Twitter was and even longer to start using it effectively.

Since my slow start, I have become a complete convert to the world of social media, but I’m certainly not an online social butterfly. I never post status updates on Facebook (well, maybe once or twice a year), and while I religiously read Yelp reviews of local restaurants, I have never posted one of my own.

In other words, I am a lurker. In most online social situations, I tend to observe but never contribute and participate.

However, I started to realize this past year that lurking may not be the best way to go. Especially when I thought about how much the vocal people on my online networks are influencing me.

Honestly, because of online comments from virtual strangers, I have done all of the following: picked a different hotel, avoided one restaurant and made reservations at another, and decided not to order a dress from somewhere in Britain.

What I realized is that I am allowing all of these people to greatly influence my choices, but I am not influencing anyone else. Because I’m not saying anything.

What about you? Are you saying anything online? Or are you lurking?

In case you didn’t notice, all the examples I gave of the power of online influence involved my consumer choices. And those consumer choices easily extend to selecting an HVAC contractor. So contractors should be particularly concerned about the online conversations that are influencing their potential customers.

Get Fired Up

Smart contractors have already chosen to actively engage in the online conversation about their companies because they want a say in how their potential customers are being influenced. During the summer, I wrote a cover story about how some of those contractors are responding to online reviews about their companies. I enjoyed writing that article because the contractors I talked to were really fired up.

You’d be fired up, too, if someone posted this about your company: “Don’t believe all the buzz about how good their customer service is. When we tried to call customer service, they were always unavailable, and only called back and left us voicemails during our closed hours.”

Or if someone posted: “After I paid, the tech kept trying to talk me into this warranty that he wanted to sell me. It was very high pressure — he kept going on and on after I said no about 10 times. I WILL NEVER USE THEM AGAIN.”

[Note: If you are not currently tracking what is being said about your company online, please let these comments scare you into checking it out. Stop reading this article now and don’t bother coming back to finish it until you’ve Googled your company name. Then learn how to set up Google alerts that will email you every time your company is mentioned online.]

Comments like these get contractors riled up, and quickly convince them that observing online is not enough. They must also start contributing to the online conversation so they too can influence customers — in a more positive way.

Many have chosen to respond not just to negative comments but also positive posts. This brings more attention to reviews like: “Am I a highly satisfied client? Without a doubt. They just do it right, and everyone with whom I worked simply exceeded every expectation I brought to this purchase experience.”

Joining the online conversation and expressing appreciation for a positive post like that one will only help more people to see it.

Lurk No More

If you, like me, have initially been a little shy online, I invite you to join me in entering the online conversation. Let me know if you decide to say more in the online networks you belong to. I’d be interested to hear if it makes a difference in your online social status — and, ultimately, in your company’s online status.

I’m starting with baby steps, and just posted a comment to a restaurant blogger I follow. I thought she should know that her review of my favorite tavern neglected to mention its amazing house-made orange-cranberry vinaigrette. Plus, now it’s possible that my little comment will influence someone else to try it on their salad.

Publication date: 10/17/2011