Everyone from your dentist to the TV weather forecaster is
tweeting, blogging, and inviting you to “friend”
him or her on Facebook. Worse, armies of “social media
marketing experts” have popped up like toadstools,
claiming that if you’re not spending some time every day
on social networks, your business will soon be toast. But how
can anyone be so sure about something that didn’t even
exist a couple of years ago? Do you really need a
“blog” for every house you start or a
“Twitter feed” telling your prospects what you had
for lunch? You just got your Web site up and running last year
— isn’t that good enough?
The short answer is that social media presents a real
opportunity to market your business like never before —
but it can become a complete distraction if you’re not
careful. The trick is to focus on the services that will get
you the most visibility for the least amount of effort.
What Makes It
“Social media” is any collaborative publishing
platform on the Internet that is designed to develop a
“community” of users and can be easily shared with
others. Your existing marketing Web site probably isn’t
social — yet — because only you can publish
information on it. But add a photo gallery with a comments
section where anyone can add his or her two cents and voila!
— social media. The fact that your prospects or clients
can “spread the word” by reposting your article or
sharing a photo or video is what makes social media so
Of course, that knife cuts both ways. Someone who is unhappy
with you or your work can damage your reputation just as easily
as your happy clients can help you sell more jobs. That may
make some builders gun-shy about social networking — but
remember: An unhappy camper doesn’t need your Facebook
page to complain about your work. These days, that conversation
will go on with or without you. You’re always better off
as a participant, armed with your own fans and followers.
There are hundreds of social-media sites on the Internet, but
only a few would be of interest to a contractor.
General-purpose “community” services.
Remember America Online and CompuServe before the World Wide
MySpace (myspace.com) are
the modern-day replacements, offering subscribers a convenient
range of free services like messaging, contacts, photo sharing,
and games all under one roof. With 450,000,000 users globally
and growing, Facebook has become the 800-pound online gorilla;
only Google gets more overall Web traffic. And MySpace —
though nowhere near as popular as it once was — has found
a comfortable niche in the entertainment industry.
Media sharing sites. Flickr
(flickr.com) and YouTube
(youtube.com) are the best
examples of media sharing sites. They allow users to upload and
share photos (Flickr) and videos (YouTube) without having to
maintain their own servers.
(twitter.com) is a
“short message service” that lets users post
140-character “tweets” about whatever is on their
minds. You can sign up to “follow” other users
whose tweets interest you, and accumulate followers for
yourself if your “Twitter feed” proves interesting
Business-to-business sites. LinkedIn
(linkedin.com) is the
best example of a B-to-B site focused on helping people find
work opportunities by networking with their peers. It’s
also a good way to keep tabs on what your competition may be up
Reputation-based referral sites. Angie’s List
are used by homeowners to find competent contractors to work
for them, and by contractors to find qualified leads.
Blogs. A contraction of “Web log,” the
word “blog” simply refers to a two-way Web site.
You publish articles, photos, and videos about whatever is on
your mind, and your readers add comments and content of their
own in response. Most blogs have a theme; yours could be about
building houses or “the life of a remodeler.”
Blogger (blogger.com) are
the two most commonly used blog platforms, and both are free.
Whereas Facebook and MySpace and many other services control
content to some degree, WordPress and Blogger give you complete
control over what’s on your blog.
Start With Facebook
Larger builders and remodelers have the resources to conduct
integrated social media campaigns that combine Facebook,
YouTube, Twitter, and other social media to drive traffic to
their Web site and — ultimately — to real-world
open houses, or into their sales-management system.
While that approach can be very successful, it takes money,
time, and talent. Someone — either in-house staff or a
consultant — has to create high-quality content for each
site, target specific demographic groups, and then monitor the
results from each service, tweaking as necessary. In
researching this column, I ran some numbers on setting up a
Twitter-Facebook-blog-Web-site campaign, and what I came up
with suggests that you’d have to spend almost 80 hours a
month to gain a handful of sales a year. That’s simply
not practical for most small operations.
Luckily, you can get many of the same benefits with a fraction
of the effort by using just Facebook, which is very
small-business-friendly. It has a ton of built-in features you
can use to establish your brand and, at the same time, protect
yourself from reputation assassins. Facebook is convenient to
use and “sticky,” which means it allows users to do
everything they need to — such as sending and receiving
e-mail — without leaving the site.
It’s estimated that half of all the people online in the
U.S. are using Facebook, and that half of those are on the site
on any given day. Once there, users tend to stay for almost an
hour on average (10 to 15 minutes is considered good for the
typical Web site). The fastest growing segment of users is
women aged 45 to 54 — a demographic group that often
makes key decisions in building and remodeling projects.
Facebook gets more than 50 percent of all social media traffic.
YouTube is next with 14+ percent. By comparison, Twitter
receives barely 1 percent.
Flexibility. You can set up as many Facebook business
pages as you want: one for your company and a separate one for
each of your projects. Instead of collecting
“friends,” which is how a personal Facebook profile
works, business pages get “fans.” You can’t
invite them directly — as you can friends — but
fans will find you in a variety of ways, including through
recommendations from other fans they know, searches, and
“nudges” from your personal “wall.” To
become fans, viewers click the “like this” button
on your page. While the general public can see your page or
become a fan, you have control over who can make comments or
upload photos and videos.
Most important, Facebook — though global in reach —
is absolutely local in usage and scope. It’s not uncommon
to find “everyone in town” using it — people
building community groups and other local-interest features
that are an extension of their real-world activities, where
they post meeting notices and report on whatever is going on.
That’s perfect for builders and remodelers who need to
attract prospects in a particular age group and in a particular
Personal profile first. To set up a Facebook business
page, you first need a personal account established in your
name. That account will then become the administrator account
for other business pages you build. Many people don’t
realize this and try to create their business page by building
it on a personal profile, using, for instance, the name
“John’s Carpentry” instead of “John
Doe.” If you make that error, it won’t take long
for you to realize that something isn’t right —
plus, it’s a violation of Facebook’s terms of
service. Every personal profile has to be an actual person; it
can’t be a business name or a fictitious character.
Once your personal profile is set up, you can create an
“Official Page” for a “Local business,”
“Brand, product, or organization,” or
“Artist, band, or public figure” (see graphic).
There’s actually very little difference in the setups.
Default features may vary, but you can change them later. Check
the box indicating that you’re the official
representative, give your page a name, click “Create
Official Page,” and your official page is created.
Facebook is small-business-friendly, but don’t try to use
your personal profile for business. Instead, set up an
“Official Page” for your business using the
“Create a Page” dialog. You reach it from the
“Ads and Pages” link on the left side of your
Facebook personal profile page.
Next, you have to “edit” the page. This is where
you’ll add or subtract features and configure who can add
things to it. The process is pretty much self-explanatory.
There are half-a-dozen content categories (Discussion Boards,
Events, Links, Photos, Notes, and Videos); feedback features
like Insight and Review; and dozens of third-party
applications, like data feeds from other social media
applications, calendar displays, and more.
Dayton, Ohio, custom builder Dan DeVol used his Facebook
business page to promote a “muddy boots” open house
— a tour of a partially completed custom spec.
Facebook business pages also include a development environment
called “Static FBML” (Facebook markup language),
which you can use to customize your pages even more.
Facebook “Official” business pages are highly
customizable. The stock features shown here include links,
photos, and videos, as well as discussions and surveys. More
advanced users can take advantage of the “Static
FBML” application to create completely customized
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a five-minute video of
your actual customer giving you a glowing review — or of
your lead carpenter showing how you ensure watertight window
installations — is worth a thousand still photos. In a
Web video, you can distribute information in a few minutes that
would otherwise take hours of writing and Web-site-building to
convey. Nobody expects Web videos to be slick productions; for
the most part, you can get away with point-and-shoot.
While Facebook has its own way to embed videos on a business
page, you don’t have to use it. You can embed videos from
other sites like YouTube, which in my opinion is the best way
to go. You’ll have to set up and maintain another site,
but the results are worth the effort. YouTube is by far the
most popular video-sharing site, and its search engine is used
almost as much as Google’s. For that reason alone,
it’s to your advantage to store your videos there.
YouTube videos wind up being indexed by Google in the same way
as other Web pages (Google owns YouTube), so you get that much
more search-engine exposure. YouTube also lets you create your
own “channel” that can be customized to maintain
your branding and colors.
YouTube does have a few limitations — for example, your
videos are limited to 10 minutes in length. That has proven to
be adequate for just about everybody I know, but if you needed
to create longer videos, you could use one of the more
specialized sites, like Viddler
How About Blogs or Twitter?
Gary Katz, who’s a regular presenter at JLC
Live, publishes a great blog called “This is
In fact, it’s really more than just a blog —
it’s a true digital magazine, or “e-zine,”
with a wealth of guest content, interesting photos, and
interactive Web videos featuring nationally recognized experts.
A high-quality Web publication like that can be very successful
in positioning someone as a “thought leader”; some
e-zines and blogs have readerships that rival those of national
publications and even broadcast media.
But achieving success with a blog depends on establishing,
growing, and retaining a steady readership. And if you’re
using your blog to supply your sales pipeline, you’ll
want those readers to be people who are qualified (ready,
willing, and able) to purchase something from you, or who are
willing to refer someone else who is. It’s also helpful
to attract the attention of even bigger, better blog authors;
they may be willing to republish your material for still larger
Even though you’re not charging anything for your
blog’s content, it’s still costing your readers a
precious commodity to read it — their time. It’s
not hard to get someone to check out your blog once or twice,
but nobody’s going to keep coming back (or refer others
to it) unless what they find there adds value to their lives.
You need to give them more than they’re
“spending” to read it, like important construction
information they didn’t already have or even just a good
laugh once or twice a week. And once you start, you’re
committed. You can’t publish your blog a few times and
then stop for a while; your readership will dry up quicker than
a mud puddle in July. So here’s my bottom line on blogs
(and Twitter): If you want to publish a blog for your own
enjoyment, that’s great. Just don’t expect very
much from it in terms of building a sales pipeline.
Some builders use blogs as a project-specific Web site —
a semiprivate collaboration site with pictures, discussions,
links to manufacturers for their selections, and so forth.
Likewise, Twitter can be used to send a short text message to a
group of your subcontractors or to send notice about an
upcoming parade of homes. Those are worthy purposes, but
they’re very different from trying to use a blog or
Twitter to drive sales. For most small-volume builders, I think
a “marketing blog” or daily Twitter feed is a
futile effort — more trouble than it’s worth.
Be on Your Best Behavior
Whether it’s a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or something
else, once you bring your business into the picture,
you’ll need to be on your best behavior 24-7-365 —
and that goes for your personal accounts as well as your
business pages, since they’re all connected. A Facebook
page “storefront” that’s screaming for
maintenance (weeding out posts and photos uploaded by others)
will leave the same bad first impression as a real storefront
with dirty windows and peeling paint. And the same off-color
post on your Facebook “wall” that your golf buddies
thought was hilarious could trigger a firestorm of negative
criticism on your business page.
Finally, if Angie’s List or any other contractor-referral
sites are active in your area, join them and participate
— whether or not you expect to do business with them.
This is important even if you’re only going to keep an
eye on what’s being said about your business. Your best
bet is to be proactive and to build a good fan following on
both Facebook and the referral sites. You can use your Facebook
“wall” along with the discussion and review
features of both Facebook and the reputation sites to
counteract the reputation assassin who’s bound to pop up
from time to time.
Joe Stoddard is a contributing editor at JLC and moderator
of the business technology forum at