Those who participate in social media are beginning to see the benefits with more leads generated from the use of Facebook and Google+ than any other networking site available.
Who do you rely on to maintain your Website?
These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a swimming pool business that doesn’t have its own Website.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of companies that launched Websites jumped from approximately 10 to 95 percent, says Ken Rogner, vice president of networking and education for Carecraft, the collective buying group out of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
“I’m sure there are a few people left who don’t have [one], but that’s rare,” he says. “It’s like if you don’t, you’re not legitimate.”
But having a URL isn’t enough, say experts.
A recent Pool & Spa News survey regarding the industry’s online behavior indicates that nearly a third of retail, service and pool building companies update their Websites monthly, while another 25 percent refresh their pages every quarter. Still, 10 percent say they never update them, a figure that to many is unacceptable given the nature of today’s consumer — and economic climate.
“There are so many sites I visit and say, ‘Wow. We know you do better work than this. If you were to have had a better Website, people would have realized the work you did, and you probably wouldn’t have gone under,’” says Drew Crowder, vice president of commercial design for Chantilly, Va.-based NVblu, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.
“There are some who have sites that are very sleek, modern and easily clickable. They have a nice gallery, a nice showcase. Then you see others who do good work but their sites have a static image and a contact button. It’s really unfortunate.”
This issue is compounded further when you factor in social media, a platform that is growing at a snail’s pace in the industry compared with other sectors of the business world, Crowder says.
“People really need to step it up as far as technology is concerned because they are going to get left behind,” he observes.
Of the 172 respondents, 72 percent say they have a Facebook page. Forty-one percent are registered on Twitter, and another 33 percent upload videos to YouTube. A few, like Christopher Carthy of Pools of Perfection in Armonk, N.Y., say they’ve hired a consultant to help with the undertaking. Despite these efforts, many cited lack of time, knowledge and staff as reasons for not adopting the technology. A select number even suggested that social media is a passing “fad.”
While it’s not completely in the dark, the industry clearly has some catching up to do. The following analysis illustrates how several companies have utilized social media to generate leads, market their businesses, push their brand forward and stay modern.
When space shuttle Discovery made its final pass over the metro Washington, D.C., area in April before settling into its new home at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum annex, Crowder took a photo.
Within minutes, he posted it to NVblu’s Facebook page, a simple decision that immediately proved beneficial.
“All of a sudden we had 300 new likes,” explains Crowder, who handles the firm’s social networking initiatives. “We feel a very close-knit [sense of] community on our page because I post a picture and five minutes later 10 people or 100 people like it, and that’s just expanding our reach virally.”
As of this report, the company had been liked by 1,192 users, a number that shines in comparison to a typical page by most builders.
But achieving these likes is only part of the puzzle. Consistent interaction, particularly in densely populated areas, is crucial, says Crowder, who believes brand awareness is key to social media. Typically, he spends a few hours a day promoting his company via social media, but even 15 minutes a day is effective.
Last winter, he hosted “The Waterside Chats,” a two-hour online session every Friday and invited people to write in any pool-related questions. People responded positively because they enjoyed corresponding with a live professional, Crowder notes.
Occasionally NVblu runs a Facebook advertising campaign to target a particular demographic or those with certain interests or titles listed on their profiles — such as swimming, pools or CEO — as a method to reach a broader audience and promote the NVblu brand. In doing so, they increase their likes, but they also generate new leads.
So far this year, between five and 10 new leads a month come from Facebook, while another 15 to 20 are from Google, and at least one in every six of these total leads translate to a sale, says Crowder.
“The more you hear about it, the more you see it, and if you see it on more of your friends’ pages, the more apt you are to like it,” he says. “It’s really all about people being more socially aware and using online tools more often.”
Twitter and YouTube
Jim DeBerry primarily divides his efforts between YouTube and Twitter, the latter of which now has an astounding 94,000 followers. This number includes close to 500 verified celebrities and athletes who follow Aqua Pool Dealer on Twitter. DeBerry returns the favor by following more than 7,000 back. Including an individual’s Twitter handle (user name) in a tweet further strengthens the outreach. For example, if a pool builder mentions Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps’ official handle in a tweet, each of Phelps’ followers will have an opportunity to view the post. This system results in an exponential and continuous potential for a boost in numbers.
“When someone retweets something from us, we get 20 new followers on a slow day and depending on what we tweet, we can get up to 5,000 followers,” says the Orlando-based company’s managing partner.
DeBerry wanted to achieve the same success with a striking visual component for his social media campaign, and creating a powerful YouTube channel was at the top of his list. To do so, he turned to an unlikely group of people to head the digital film crew.
By hiring interns with backgrounds in technology and the arts from local, four-year accredited universities, he created a team of experts who viewed swimming pools from an entirely different perspective.
“Our videos aren’t boring,” he believes. “That’s one of the great things about hiring individuals who are not from the industry. They are fresh and ambitious.”
AquaPool Dealer’s YouTube channel features 47 public videos, including the popular “puppet video,” which has been viewed more than 102,000 times. Total, people have watched the videos more than 255,000 times.
Typically, the firm uploads one or two videos a month. In addition, it creates private videos, such as the personalized holiday greeting that went out to customers last year.
“I can’t tell you how much goodwill that created,” DeBerry notes. “YouTube has really made a big difference for us.”
Unlike many of his peers, DeBerry doesn’t view the site solely as a way to make a sale. Rather, he’s using it as a marketing tool.
“We’re essentially campaigning,” he says. “If you keep it simple, smart and savvy, you will find success.”
Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and more
Each morning, Christian Spoerl runs an analytics report to determine how visitors got to his company’s Website, what words they used to get there, what Website took them there and how long they were engaged.
“It’s key to have as many avenues leading back to your website as possible,” says Spoerl, owner of Magic Pool Services in Orlando.
“People visit from Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook,” he adds. “They will watch a video on YouTube and then go to our Website.”
While Facebook and Twitter topped the survey’s list of preferred social networking sites, others, including LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest are gaining ground. In fact, LinkedIn ranked third on the survey, beating out YouTube by a narrow 3 percent.
Many companies now have a presence on LinkedIn, which is considered the Facebook for professionals. Crowder and DeBerry each have profiles on LinkedIn and encourage their employees to create accounts, too.
“Individuals who are more business-minded buy more, and a salesperson tends to buy more than a non-salesperson, and we have been able to get LinkedIn users to look at our resumes and then they want to do business with us,” DeBerry notes.
Another option is Google+, a multilingual site launched last June that boasts 250 million subscribers. Spoerl, for example, has utilized the hangout feature to host an online, open house pool school using the live chat service. So far, he has held two experimental sessions on a local level and hopes to expand the idea nationally in the future.
Pinterest, a relatively new addition to the world of social media, is catching on fast and in March became the third largest social networking site in the United States. But the pinboard-style, social photo sharing site has yet to make an impression on the industry.
According to the survey, only 9 percent currently use Pinterest. However, a handful of industry leaders highly recommend pinning.
Rogner, an advocate of the site, recalls an incident that exemplifies the power of Pinterest. While visiting a pool contractor in Austin, he demonstrated how to use it by posting one of the builder’s photos to Carecraft’s Pinterest board. When Rogner arrived at his next stop two-and-a-half-hours later, the photo had already been repinned by seven women, each of whom had approximately 60 followers.
Rogner, who was introduced to Pinterest by his 19-year-old granddaughter, says women — who often make the purchasing decisions in a household — predominantly use the site, a fact that should pique the industry’s interest.
“The most important part about every pool builder’s Website is a photo gallery, so if you have a way to pin pretty pictures, what other tool could be any easier than that?” he asks.