By Kyle Schwarm – ABC of Wisconsin Marketing & Communications Director

At SuperCon in March, one of our sessions was on the subject of managing Twitter for your business. At the end of the session, after the speaker had provided a number of strategies on when and how to tweet, one attendee had a simple question: “How do you do a tweet?”

It was an honest and humbling question, and one that’s likely being asked by many other contractors. 

Overall, construction companies do not place a strong emphasis on social media marketing. It’s just not what you do, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Many 
contractors create social media accounts with the best of intentions, but then do nothing with them.

Getting started
Social media continues to grow in usage with no sign of slowing down. Colleges and universities are establishing entire degrees around the use of social media for marketing and business development. You can ignore it and hope it fades away, or you can try to leverage it to benefit your business. There are many good resources available online to help you get started, but unless you choose to experiment, you’ll never get beyond the “Create an Account” page. 
The good news is that social media doesn’t cost anything but a few minutes of your day. 

“When it comes to social media, everyone starts off on a (fairly) level playing field. That’s good news for smaller businesses competing for attention,” said Francis Lowe, senior manager for digital communications at ABC National.

There’s no need to become an award-winning social media expert or be on every social media platform. All you need is to become comfortable enough to engage with your customers and prospective customers and dedicate a few minutes to it each day. 

There are several reasons why:

Build brand equity
Corporate and organizational social media is essentially new-age public relations. The media landscape has changed into one where we don’t have to rely on traditional news media and their very limited resources. Now, brand equity can be built through social media activity, with no advertising expenses required. 

Your brand is not what your letterhead or logo look like. These contribute to your brand, but your brand is what lies beneath this window dressing. It’s the personality of your company. 

All humans have brands, so think of your brand in terms of a person. We all have friends or family we see and immediately want to be near or immediately want to avoid. This is because we hold well-established impressions of these individuals based on our experiences with them. Whatever the impression is, he or she has branded themselves in your mind, and that’s not easily changed. 

Brands are emotional, and so is social media. Emotions, which can be positive (happy, satisfied or delighted) or negative (angry, irritated or upset), have a direct effect on your brand. Giving extra attention to your brand through social media can contribute to this positive emotion. When done right, social media activity can help build on these positive perceptions in the minds of others. 

Stay in the game
If you’re not on social media, there’s a chance your competitors are snatching up your prospective clients. 

It used to be the major social media strategy was to drive traffic to your website, but not so much the case any longer.

“Even if you have an amazing website and you're very proud of it, don't expect anybody to come to your website,” said Josh Klemons, digital storyteller and strategist of Reverbal Communications, Madison. “They're on your Facebook page; meet them where they are.”

Your website is still important, but many prospective or current clients who are engaging online may not even make it to your website. Social media platforms are becoming search engines in themselves. Individuals can now use platforms like Facebook to easily search for services in your discipline. If you’re not listed, you’re missing out. Try it yourself. Go on Facebook and enter in “electrical contractors near me” in the search and see what comes up. You may be surprised. 

Provide useful content
Social media offers businesses the opportunity to informally connect with customers and show the human faces behind the company logo, according to Lowe. This comes by providing them with useful content. 

Many contractors are sitting on a gold mine of good content, but they don’t realize it or they don’t act on it. It’s ripe for use on social media because contractors are the experts in the field. Share your knowledge on social media to build your brand and provide high-quality customer service. 

For example, take common questions customers ask most often and formulate the answers into content for social media. This adds authority and credibility to your brand and helps consumers appreciate you.

“The companies that perform the best on social media are the ones that share quality content, show personality and give their audience a window into their corporate culture,” according to Lowe. 

“Not surprisingly, staying in front of customers means they’re more likely to think of the company when they need a product or service,” Lowe added. 

Remember to strongly resist the temptation to promote your services on social media, which happens all too often with contractors. Consider it like spam.

“That's not why people are logging on,” Klemons said. “In order to be successful at social media, you can’t approach it like salesmanship. You have to approach it as a connection to a community to build your brand.” 

Klemons recommends using an “80-20” rule, where no more than 20 percent of your content is about your company and 80 percent is about what the audience would like to see.

Build trust 
We are all aware of how emotions can trigger our own buying decisions. Many consumers, including in business-to-business  environments, mull over relationships with businesses from a cynical perspective, with very little trust established. 

When you go to a car dealer to shop for a car or truck, you likely have some reservations as to whether or not the salesperson is being totally up front with you. That’s because no trust has been established. This could be entirely different if the salesperson happened to be someone you saw providing honest, free advice at a recent seminar on car buying.

Social media can allow you to go out there and be the resource to the person that might one day want to buy a car, or in your case, use your construction services. 

Seek to build authentic connections through interactions, however. Just like in our own lives, social media needs to be transparent. When you’re not authentic, the audience will see right through you. 

Don’t relegate all social media to the young person on staff or to the person who has the time, Lowe advised. 

“Entrust someone with the company’s social media channels who can connect with clients on a daily basis and convey the firm’s values,” Lowe said. “A social media manager should be the brand’s finest ambassador, a communications guru, the company’s part-time cheerleader and full-time customer service representative all rolled into one.”

It is also advisable to get as many members of your management team involved as possible, including the CEO. eMarketer reports that more than 75 percent of buyers said they would purchase from a company whose CEO is on social media. 

Listen and engage
Social media is a great way to build your brand, but it is also a great way to protect your brand through listening and engaging. Listening on social media is as important as sharing content.

If somebody is saying something good or bad about you, you want to know about it. It would be akin to somebody calling you at your business and you ignoring the phone call or the phone message. It’s a customer service issue. 

Listening includes monitoring your social media handles/accounts and searching keywords related to your services. Show you’re out there and ready to be accountable. Diffuse any negative PR with quick action and commitment to remedy the situation. 

 “If somebody says something nice about you, when you came out and built a project and they love it and they go out and share something on Facebook, don't just like it,” Klemons said. “Say, ‘We're so glad you love it. As much as we're so proud of that work, we're so glad you love it, but better yet, shared (it).’ That was a testimonial somebody just created for you. Content from your audience is great content.

“Doesn't matter how great that new project is, how great that new team is … if you don't post it on social, it’s like it didn't happen,” Klemons quipped.

Of course, this isn’t the reality for all generations, but if you’re not on social media, how are you going to know if customers are complaining about you? Customer complaints are a gift because these opportunities can often turn into great testimonials when customers are handled with care. 

It should not always be about you. Value doesn’t always have to be industry related. It could be of entertainment value. Follow your customers and promote their activities and accomplishments. 

When it comes to that 20 percent about your company, make sure you show your company personality, including your involvement with community and charity, which people love to see. Ask questions, take polls, share pictures, and videos that tell stories about what's happening in your world. 

Posts about products and services are important, but posts about the people behind those products and services are invaluable. Creating content is about finding the story that's in your day-to-day life. 

Conclusion
Engaging in social media provides companies an opportunity to build brand equity without having to do expensive marketing. Perhaps more importantly, it’s necessary to build and protect your brand.

“Not having an online presence threatens a company’s credibility, visibility and future growth,” said Lowe.

It’s time for contractors to take social media seriously.

With content from Construction Executive, September 2018, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.