Social Media

Social Media

Social media for the home improvement and construction industry is where you can get involved in the conversation with your customers. Contractor need to be on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and G+.

What is Social Networking?

Social networking, also referred to as social media, encompasses many Internet-based tools that make it easier for people to listen, interact, engage and collaborate with each other. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, message boards, Wikipedia and countless others are catching on like wildfire.

People use social networking to share recipes, photos, ideas and to keep friends updated on our lives. In many cases, you can use social networking tools from mobile devices, such as Blackberries and iPhones, as easily as from a PC or Mac.

By its very nature, social networking is interactive. You can tell anyone (that you want to talk to, and that wants to listen to you) anything about your opinions and experiences—and vice versa–through blogs, Facebook pages, videos and even 140 character messages called tweets. You can also build communities based on common interests, causes and concerns.

While we don’t have room to discuss all of the social networking sites, here’s a sampler to help you get your head around today’s most popular social networking tools:

  • Blogs are sites that people set up to provide information and opinions about events, ideas or anything else they want to discuss. Blogs can include links to other related sites, photos, videos and sound as well as text. The number of bloggers is growing exponentially; eMarketer estimates that in 2007 there were almost 23 million U.S. bloggers and more than 94 million blog readers.
  • Twitter is a micro-blogging site. Twitter members post text messages called “tweets” of 140 characters or less, using either a computer or a cell phone. Other Twitter users can “follow”” your posts, but you can decide if you want to let them follow you or not.
  • Facebook is a social networking site where you can set up a profile, join different communities, and connect with friends. More than 175 million people currently use Facebook—and the fastest growing demographic is people over the age of 35.
  • LinkedIn is a social networking site with about 38 million members. While it shares a lot of the same features and capabilities you’ll find on Facebook, LinkedIn focuses specifically on helping people build career and business communities.
  • Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Articles provide links to related information. In 2008, Wikipedia had 684 million visitors, and 75,000 contributors working on more than 10 million articles.
  • YouTube is a site to share and watch videos. Anyone can record a video and then upload and share it via the YouTube site. Everyone can watch the videos on YouTube.  In January, The U.S. Congress and YouTube announced the launch of official Congressional YouTube channels, which gives each member of the House and Senate the opportunity to create his or her own YouTube channel.

The world of blogs, tweets and wikis can be confusing for many people. Even if you are comfortable using Facebook, YouTube and other services in your personal life, you may be wondering if social networking can be a useful tool for your business.

The answer is a resounding yes. Small businesses can use social networking for many practical purposes. You can use these tools (which are usually free) to locate experts and find information, pose questions and get answers. Thoughtful use of social networking services can help you move beyond conventional, one-way marketing, such as advertising, and tap into a more interactive marketing approach. For instance, you use social networking tools to:

  • Research ideas, and learn more about what customers and prospects are saying about their needs and experiences, and about your products and related areas.
  • Gain new market and competitive insights to improve your products and services.
  • Create and join conversations with customers, prospects, partners and other constituents about key issues and concerns.
  • Create positive word-of-mouth about your products and services.
  • Grow your company’s reputation as a thought leader.

What to Consider

Navigating through the social media maze can be overwhelming at first. If you’re just starting out, remember you can start small. In fact, I’d recommend taking smaller steps first, before you tackle writing your own blog or creating an online community. Here are a couple of easy ways to get started.

  • Monitor relevant online conversations in social media. Tuning into online conversations can provide you with insights for marketing and new products and services. Google Blog Search and other tools can help you find relevant blogs, and you can set up an RSS reader, like Google Reader, to get content delivered to you automatically.
  • Join conversations. You don’t have to write you own blog—you can comment and respond or answer questions in other blog posts, or on Twitter. Follow the same rules of etiquette you’d use in the physical world—make your comments relevant, behave ethically and be authentic—and remember to identify yourself and your company.
  • Use relevant communities for market research. On LinkedIn, for instance, you can join relevant professional communities to discuss what’s going on in your industry and ask questions. Or try Facebook Polls to poll targeted Facebook users, based on demographic data. With this tool, you can field a single-question poll in a few minutes, and get responses from hundreds of people in less than hour.

Social media management solutions can help you manage outbound and incoming online interactions — along with other small business marketing activities — in a more efficient manner. They streamline and consolidate how you listen to and participate in relevant conversations in the different places they’re taking place — blogs, social networks like Twitter or Facebook, and other public and private Web communities and sites.

They also help you to more easily monitor what people are saying about your business, and by automating the process of delivering your outgoing messages through multiple social media outlets simultaneously, help you to amplify your social media presence across several social networking sites.

Social media management tools can also help you to integrate social networking activities with your other marketing programs. These can include other online activities, such as Web sites, search engine marketing campaigns, contact management systems, and email marketing, as well as offline marketing, such as events or white papers.

Why Should You Care?

We all know how important word of mouth is, and social networking is like word of mouth on steroids. As a business, it’s vital to tap into and join online conversations not only about your brand, but also those about your competitors, your industry and your areas of expertise.

Even if you haven’t launched an outbound social media strategy, you to keep a pulse on what people are saying — good or bad — about your company, competitors and major trends. And, by representing your company in a positive, authentic way, you can build credibility for your expertise and business and link to customers and prospects quickly.

You can also help mitigate damage should negative conversations about your company emerge by quickly responding to complaints. Social media can also steer people to your other marketing programs, where it’s easier to individually track and manage individual customer and prospect interactions.

Done right, social networking sites can help you better understand prospective and current customer needs, increase visibility and generate leads. But it takes a lot of time and energy to stay on top of all of this in a manual, piecemeal fashion. Think about the time it takes just to cover some of the basics, such as:

  • Creating content in multiple places, such as a blog, Twitter, a Facebook page, etc.; monitor and scan the views, decide what comments to approve, and respond to replies on these sites
  • Scanning Twitter followers for conversations you may want to join, or checking your RSS reader subscriptions for relevant articles and new ideas
  • Checking Google Alerts to see when and where your business is mentioned on the Web
  • Creating and monitoring a community and topics on a site such as Facebook or LinkedIn

Now think about the fact that the social networking to-do list is only going to grow. And while you are building goodwill, relationships and awareness, it’s difficult to measure short-term payback on social media efforts. And you can’t abandon your other marketing activities — Web site, search engine marketing, email marketing and contact and sales management.