When Pool & Spa News got its first computers in the summer of 1984, the writers struggled to learn how to use the new technology and yearned for their trusty old typewriters. At the same time, computers were moving into pool sales and construction, and industry professionals were learning how to use them for business needs.

We’ve come a long way since then.

Now computers are such an integral part of business that it’s hard to imagine life without them, and our use of social media is widespread. Indeed, in a recent PSN survey of pool and spa professionals, only 11 percent said they have never been active in social media, while 67 percent have been actively promoting their firms online.

To get a sense of where we are today on the use of social media as a business tool, PSN polled readers in December 2013, then compared the results with a similar survey conducted 18 months earlier.

In both cases, respondents were service technicians, builders or retailers — and, of course, a number represented multifaceted operations.

When the surveys are reviewed side by side, the similarity of the responses is striking. Percentages may shift, but the answers tend to fall in the same order. Let’s see what these polls reveal about industry members’ attitudes toward social media — and the ways in which they use it.

Change in the wind

While many respondents in the 2013 survey say they don’t have blogs, others certainly do. Nearly one-fourth have blogs, and a slightly higher number plan to start one.

It’s not surprising that blogging is on a number of to-do lists. Bloggers say it’s a good way to establish yourself in the community as a pool or spa expert.

“If you’re blogging, you can talk about jobs you’ve done, products you have at your store, provide how-to’s — and it doesn’t have to be long,” says Tim Graham, owner of Crystal Clear Pools and a blogger on his company website.

Other issues of interest to industry professionals, of course, are leads — aren’t they always? — and online retailing. While nearly half of the 2013 survey respondents estimate they get less than 10 percent of their total leads from the Web, 53 percent are doing better, ranging from those who get 10 to 25 percent of their total leads online to a hefty 50 percent-plus.

Interestingly, respondents are almost evenly split on the question of whether online retailers pose a danger to their businesses and, if so, how much. It has been a hot topic in recent years, but maybe brick-and-mortar store owners are feeling less threatened.

Taking Charge

Most 2013 survey participants promote their companies online; however, 11 percent have never been active in social media. Among the latter group is John Partelow, who says that he and his staff are too busy in season to keep a social media site up to date. The president of Aqua-Pro Inc., a pool service/construction/renovation firm in Ossining, N.Y., explains: “It’s something else in this crazy business that will take precious time that I don’t see getting rewards from.” Nevertheless, he does say his website “works great” and likes that it doesn’t take much of his time during the busy season.

Tim Graham’s experience has been much different. He started his business online and promoted it there, later opening a brick-and-mortar store. The owner of Crystal Clear Pools in Lafayette, Ind., has advertised in traditional media such as radio and print, but says social media, with its millions of users, is best for advertising. “That’s where the people are,” he says, and his most effective social media tool is Google AdWords, then Facebook and Twitter. Websites are very important, too, Graham adds, noting that in the spring, his site generates 10 to 15 leads per week.

Speaking of websites, pool and spa professionals tend to leave the designing in the hands of professional consultants. But site maintenance is another matter: True, half the respondents rely on professional consultants, but the other half either handle it personally or, in some cases, charge a friend or family member with the responsibility. Sounds as if people are feeling a little more comfortable tinkering with their corporate websites.

What works

A rather surprising finding from the 2013 survey is that many pool and spa professionals rarely update their websites, yet consider them to be one of the most effective Web tools. The poll shows that most respondents only update their sites monthly. Still others update even less — quarterly. At the other end of the spectrum are those who refresh their sites every few days, and their numbers almost match the number of quarterly updaters.

What are we to make of the disconnect between attitude toward websites and maintenance of the sites? According to the poll, those who seldom update often worry about the time involved. That’s a similar concern for those who aren’t active on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. They also cite a lack of knowledge about social media, or they believe their customers, many of whom are older, wouldn’t be using social media anyway.

Of course, those active online are keenly interested in which social media sites produce leads for the pool and spa industry. Facebook reigned supreme in the 2012 and 2013 surveys, proving that the interaction between companies and fans works. The next-biggest lead producing category is the mysterious “other,” which includes everything from Hometalk and MerchantCircle to Angie’s List, Yelp, MailChimp and Constant Contacts. Ranking No. 3 is Google+ — shades of Facebook!

Everyone has to go with the social media that works for them, but these results seem to suggest that if you’ve been focusing your promotional efforts on a site that is not a top lead generator according to the most recent survey, perhaps you’ll want to reassess.