Many companies will remember 2011 for its ups and downs, but history might also label it as the year electrical contractors (ECs) embraced social media. Cupertino Electric Inc., San Jose, Calif., got into the game in a big way last year.

“In early 2011, when we completely overhauled our corporate website, we knew that we wanted to leverage social media as part of our effort,” said Autumn Casadonte, Cupertino’s director of corporate communications. Her team started updating the corporate Facebook page, launched a Twitter feed and boosted the resources available through the company’s LinkedIn page. “Our social media efforts have been well received, and we’ve found customers and employees to be extremely welcoming of our expanding online presence.”

Premier Electrical Corp., Brooklyn Park, Minn., also increased its online footprint in 2011.

“Here at Premier, we never really had a marketing plan per se,” said Tony Pervenanze, the company’s marketing coordinator. “This all really happened in the last year.”

After giving the Premier website a makeover, he said the team decided to capitalize on the redesign by moving into social media.

“If we’re going to redo our website, we should have a Twitter feed, and we should have a Facebook account to direct traffic back to our website,” he said of their rationale behind the move, adding the company also maintains a LinkedIn page. Pervenanze said the strategy is working. He’s seeing a growing number of visitors coming to the site from the company’s social media feeds.

Revamping the company website is often a launch pad for new or reinvigorated social media efforts, as it was at Meiners Electric in Louisville, Ky. Once its main site had been spiffed up, company president Tim Meiners wanted to use social media to direct more visitors to the site. An active Twitter feed full of industry news and project updates has done just that, and customer traffic is definitely up.

“I ask customers why they call us, and a lot of times they say it’s because of our website. Something’s driving them there,” he said. He tries to post information that’s helpful to visitors, whether it’s a link to an interesting article in a local newspaper or the answer to a customer’s question.

“I want to be a good source of information, even if they don’t do any business with me,” Meiners said. “Having junk is worse than having nothing at all.”

What to post?
Companies new to social media may be reluctant to start because they aren’t sure what to post. Red Shoes PR in Appleton, Wis., helps electrical and other specialty contractors develop robust social media programs.

“When posting to social media, we usually suggest a mix of content,” said Karen Schlieve, senior account executive. Industry information typically garners a lot of views and “allows you to be looked to as an industry leader.”

Contractors should share news about the company, its projects and efforts within the community. These posts allow your followers to get a feel for your company’s culture.

“One of the most important tips is to not just post away,” Schlieve said. “To be successful, you need to engage with your fans or followers by asking questions and [soliciting] feedback.”

Pervenanze often retweets from other Twitter feeds.

“A lot of stuff I usually tweet about are the industry as a whole, the electrical industry, and then also the construction industry in Minnesota,” he said. “Also, if we have a huge project we’re working on, we’ll tweet about it, and then we’ll direct them back to our website.” On the site, visitors will find additional details on the project, along with more of the company’s news.

Match your needs to the platform
Determining the appropriate platforms for your business will depend on what you want to accomplish. Schlieve recommends ECs find out which sites their target audiences are using and then focus their efforts on those particular platforms.

“There are social media platforms that are more popular than others that are good for general brand awareness,” she said, “but you should also look at online forums that are more specialized, such as specific LinkedIn groups that might focus on a certain area.”

Platforms such as Facebook have been great places to promote Cupertino’s philanthropic efforts, Casadonte said.

“Not only do our good deeds attract good employees who do good work, but they also attract customers who enjoy following our progress online.”

She also leverages Twitter regularly, along with posting information on career-focused sites such as LinkedIn.

“We’re seeing a steady increase in the number of employees, customers and industry organizations who ‘like’ our corporate page and tweets based on the content we’re providing,” Casadonte said. But after noting the pervasiveness of social media, she warned ECs to be careful not to post anything that might be covered by an NDA or other agreement.

Selecting the social media channels that best fit your company’s culture may take some trial and error. The key, according to Pervenanze, is persistence.

“You have to be committed to it. You have to test it out and see if it works, but you have to be committed at the same time,” he said. While he has established a robust Twitter feed and also uses LinkedIn, he is still experimenting with Facebook’s format.

Whether you want to post photos, videos, links to articles that interest you or quick updates on current projects, there is a social media platform with just the right features.

Make time
Carving out time on a regular basis is often a challenge, along with selecting the right person to manage postings.

While Meiners finds good content for the company’s Twitter and blog feeds, he relies on a consultant to put everything together and get it online. He said his social media expert interviews him and then writes the information for the different posts. By combining the right outside resources with Meiners’ industry expertise, the company’s posts are relevant, helpful and timely.

“Starting a social media program is no easy task for any company,” Schlieve said.

When people don’t have time or are feeling overwhelmed, she recommends starting small. In addition, dashboards and other options are available that allow you to schedule posts or have email alerts when someone posts on your social media network. Using these tools to streamline the process will help reduce your time investment without diminishing the effectiveness of your social media efforts.

On the fence?
If you’re still not sure how involved you want to be with social media, remember that you don’t have to jump in with both feet. Schlieve offered some advice for contractors looking for a more metered approach.
“First, we would suggest that they go out and just watch and listen. You can learn a lot from others and see what types of content they are posting,” she said.

She strongly encourages businesses to start with a plan before launching any type of new social media program.

“Find out where your audiences are and what type of information they are looking for so you are being strategic in your efforts,” Schlieve said.

According to Meiners, his company’s 2012 business is already up significantly over last year.

“I think one of the reasons we have as much work as we do is because of the social media,” he said. “I believe in it.”

He has found Twitter and his blog to be good ways to connect with customers, and also with potential employees, who are likely to check out a company’s online presence to see what kind of employer they’ll be. Meiners sees social media as something ECs will someday view as ubiquitous.

“It’s not a matter of if they’re going to do it,” he said. “It’s only a matter of when.”


KNUDSON worked in facilities and telecom management before becoming a freelance business writer. She can be reached at www.julieknudson.com.