Social media made news last year. According to Pew Research Center’s December “Social Media Update 2013,” an estimated 73 percent of adults now use a social networking site of some kind. Facebook remains by far the dominant platform (71 percent), but 42 percent of adults now use multiple sites. While the young have embraced it, other age groups are clearly coming around to social media. Pew reported that Facebook’s largest growth in 2013 was in users aged 65 or older. Matt Sonnhalter, president of Sonnhalter, a B2B marketing firm based in Brea, Ohio, that serves construction industry-related businesses, said that Twitter saw its fastest growth in users between 55 to 64 years old. Users ages 45 to 54 also began migrating to Google+.


The growth in social media e-commerce was also noteworthy. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg reported that 20 million small businesses have created Facebook pages. Gigya, a social customer management and tools company, reported Pinterest surpassed Facebook for e-commerce-related sharing by 7 percent. Gigya also found three social networking platforms made up 91 percent of all social sharing. Facebook led with 41 percent, followed by Twitter (30 percent) and Pinterest (20 percent). LinkedIn, though largely a professional networking site, trailed at 4 percent.


“Amplify” your presence


“Social media is one more tool in your efforts to build brand awareness, engage your present or potential customer, and ultimately, generate sales,” said Susan Kimball, marketing coach at Nexstar Inc. Based in White Bear Lake, Minn., Nexstar is a membership-driven business consulting firm serving residential subcontractors.


Mark Robert Johnson, principal of MARKITECT.me, a Michigan-based marketing firm that assists the building and design industries, said he uses his website as the “mothership” to his social media efforts.


“My website has the most up-to-date content. I use social media to promote that content, driving people back to it. The site features the icons of the social media platforms where I can be found,” Johnson said.


Sonnhalter, Johnson and Kimball agreed that successful social media efforts can amplify a company in a way traditional marketing can’t, but it takes some thought and strategy.


“Being relevant in your posts is so very important,” Johnson said. “Keep promotional content to a minimum. Too much overt promotion is a turn-off. I’ve gotten as many as 80 clicks on a link within a tweet but only because the tweet, its link and the hashtag were relevant and interesting to that audience.”


To be effective, contractors should consider success stories, thoughts and links to useful information that relate back to the industry. Share experiences on the latest lighting trend, the value of being a consultant or a team leader on a design/build project. Learn what works on different platforms.


“You may think you know where your audience resides on social media, but it’s best to test and see where they hang out,” Johnson said. “Then consider the ‘psychographic profile’ of your audience to better target [it]. For example, discover who might be following topics such as lighting control. That may lead you to early adopters, a great group to reach.”


Sonnhalter also recommended going to social media sites to learn who is targeting your audience.


“Find out what’s being said about your services, your profession,” he said. “Use a broad search term such as ‘electrical contractors’ as a starting point, and see where it leads.”


“You can set alerts in your location for when tweets occur,” Kimball said.


Setting goals


Sonnhalter also advised that contractors gauge social media success by the quality of their followers versus quantity. That will be a truer measure of influence.


“Isn’t it better to start with a modest network of 100 followers on Twitter or 100 ‘likes’ on Facebook that are your target customer and build from that group,” Sonnhalter said. “Does your business really need 20,000 followers?”

And while social media marketing can save some money on, say, printing costs, there are soft costs in time and investment. Starting out, you may want to adopt social media in stages. Don’t try to be on six sites at once. Focus on the social media platform (or platforms) where you get the most engagement.


All three experts suggest setting up a social media calendar.


“Plot out what you are going do, what you are going to cover and on what platform,” Kimball said. “It will keep you organized, strategic and efficient with your time. Maybe one month, you are talking about lighting quality, then the next, energy efficiency. Be specific and list your tactics for the month, be it a contest or poll on Facebook, a blog topic, or a Twitter post to the blog.”


[sb]Feeding the beast


If you have a social media page or presence, you have to keep it current, keep it engaging and always monitor it to gain momentum. That can be time-consuming.


“Check your social media site(s) every morning or evening,” Kimball said. “If you blog, do it regularly. Some studies say you should devote six hours a week to social media. That might not be realistic for you, so start out every other day. Posts can be as simple as alerting ‘customers’ to stormy weather warnings and possible power outages. Then, provide some advice regarding protecting delicate electronics with surge protection or having a backup plan for products requiring refrigeration.”


Sonnhalter said that ECs must evaluate the approch and frequency they need to “feed the beast” that is social media content.


“If you are a smaller firm, assign a social media leader, someone who can manage the process,” he said.


Repurposing content is another way to add efficiency to your efforts, but use caution. Don’t post the same information in the same way across platforms.


“How you write for Facebook isn’t the same for Twitter with its character limit,” Kimball said. “Also, images work better on Facebook than say Twitter.”


There are programs and companies (see sidebar) that can help you manage the day-to-day social media process, some loading up posts based on your timeframe. However, Johnson said to be wary of so-called “Twitter experts.” Vet them to make sure they are not spammers.


“If you go out to hire social media contractors, see if they have followers. If not, they may lack credibility,” Johnson said.


Finally, don’t be tied to the office computer. Apps, many of them free, enable you to manage your social media content from a smartphone or tablet (see sidebar).


Some favorites


In looking at the popular social media sites, Sonnhalter, Kimball and Johnson offered some tips and thoughts.


“If your goal is to build relationships, I think Facebook is the place to be,” Kimball said. “It’s also a great site to find customers. Once you establish a business page, Facebook offers search tools to help you find and connect with possible customers including an ‘insight page’ and demographics of people in your region. I also like Google+ because you can build circles to target, segment and communicate with different types of customers. You can also post reviews of other businesses and be their advocate. I believe Google+ is something you need to include in a search optimization plan.”


Kimball finds success on Twitter, as well.


“I rarely bookmark an interesting website anymore, but I will use their Twitter icon and follow them,” he said. “I also want to see who else is following them. If the conversations are pertinent to my business, I’ll alert my followers. It adds to my value and credibility. Of course, I can start the conversation, too. For me, I find Twitter to be a better management database for tracking where my potential customers are and who might show some interest in my company.”


From Sonnhalter’s standpoint, while key social media sites remain Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, he recognizes the value in other sites as well.


“Know who you are trying to reach. Pinterest is a very popular site right now, notably with women. If you service a residential market, Pinterest might make sense,” he said.


“Women are key decision-makers in the home. Maybe you post some images of beautiful lighting or intriguing tech that reflects a company project or capability,” Kimball said.


In the end, discover which media platform(s) work best for you and your customers. The frontier of social media is now an established territory for you to reside.