Until 2011,Dolphin Pools & Spas in Phoenix relied heavily on print ads and used very little social media. Then came general manager Kevin Woodhurst, who inverted the company’s strategy. Just 14 months later, business is up 65 percent.
Are Facebook and Twitter a panacea? Definitely not, Woodhurst says. He agrees the jury is still out on the effectiveness of many social media sites, but argues it’s a mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
“Putting your information on many social media platforms will help you share your message with more people,” says Sandi Frizzell, a national trainer who focuses on social media. “You don’t know which audience will find you, where, or at what time, so it’s important to use more than one site.”
Here, our experts pick the best social media options and share how to use them effectively.
1. The 1,000-pound gorilla
With 450 million active users, Facebook has a larger population than the United States. If you use just one social-sharing site, most experts agree this should be it. “We build Facebook into everything we do,” says Pam Vinje, CEO of The Pool Marketing Site, which provides Internet marketing for the pool industry.
To use Facebook well, ask customers to “like” your page as soon as they sign your contract or buy a product. With more “likes,” people researching your firm are more likely to see a trusted friend among the group — a modern take on referral marketing. Use satisfied customers’ testimonials on your page and in inexpensive Facebook ads, which can be highly targeted, down to a particular ZIP code. “With Facebook, your customers become your brand evangelists selling your product,” Vinje says.
Where small businesses often falter with Facebook (and all social media) is in failing to keep the site fresh. “People have such short attention spans that you must give them reasons to stay and come back,” Woodhurst says. “They won’t if it’s the same old stuff all the time.”
2. The visual experience
Video is a powerful business tool. YouTube is free and easy to use, integrates nicely with Websites and other social media, and has a vast audience.
“Some people think YouTube is just for silly videos,” Frizzell says. “But it’s actually one of the fastest-growing search engines, and it reaches a very different audience than other sites.”
Firms can produce videos that introduce their team, offer product demos, teach a lesson or show a completed project.Dolphin Pools’ YouTube channel has about 20 videos, and has directly resulted in new sales. “YouTube has been helpful, and I haven’t even used it to its full potential,” Woodhurst says.
Honorable mention: Flikr is like YouTube for photos. When loading images onto your Website or Facebook, it’s smart to drop them here, too. Add a description that includes your company name to boost your site’s search-engine ratings.
3. The local social
Go to Google and search “Pool Builder” (or whatever term best describes your company). The top results are probably all local companies. Are you on that list? If you are, do you have any reviews?
“Local search” is geographical-based search results delivered using a computer’s IP address or a phone’s GPS. Results are further weighted based on the number of consumer reviews a business receives.
The first step? Get listed on the big players: Google Places,Yahoo Local and Yelp. Then,ask customers to write reviews. “Having those testimonials online where the world can see them is huge,” Frizzell says. “If someone writes a good review, that’s like gold.”
4. The professional choice
LinkedIn isn’t the most active of all social media sites, but it serves an important (and too-often overlooked) purpose.
“It’s the Yellow Pages of professionals,” Vinje says. “Your customers are on LinkedIn and often search there for professional companies.”
Connecting with lenders, homebuilders, designers, etc. can help generate leads. However, don’t spend too much time here, experts say. Make sure to have updated profiles for your firm and key staff. If time allows, ask subcontractors and others for recommendations to include with your profile. Also, join industry groups to show you’re connected.
5. The next big thing
If you haven’t heard of Pinterest yet, you will soon. The fastest growing site, Pinterest is a “content curation” service that allows users to “pin” photos to “boards” that can be seen by their subscribers. The photos link back to their original location on the Web.
The site is being embraced by many visually driven businesses (such as interior decorators) and could be a logical fit for the pool/spa industry. Prove your value to consumers by sharing ideas for backyard living, including a mix of your own projects and other interesting visuals.
Honorable mention: Google+ is the latest social networking site, but it hasn’t reached critical mass. Don’t write it off, however. Google has very few failures to its name. Stake your claim now, but don’t invest too much time on the site … yet.
6. A final choice
You have all your other social media sites running smoothly and still have time? Only then, most experts agree, is it time to use Twitter. The small-bite site moves at a faster pace than other sites and requires a greater investment of time on a regular basis to do right.
“I think it can work well to promote retail, and there are probably people that have good results with Twitter,” Vinje says, “but our clients are busy, and if I can only get them to do two things, Twitter isn’t at the top of that list.”