About three years ago, Dan Magyar, owner of Magyar Electric, Inc., a Rocklin, Calif.-based commercial and residential electrical contractor, refocused his company's marketing plan to align more with the new uses of the Internet. A 40-year veteran electrical contractor, Magyar had his website refurbished. In addition, he joined social media sites Facebook and LinkedIn after hearing success stories from local tradespeople.

In the year Magyar tried out Facebook, he found it to be not conducive to advertising his professional services. The interactions were too personal, even among members of a mutual business group. “What I didn't get is that this is my business page — Magyar Electric — and here's a guy who has signed up a different company, but he's talking about his kids, going to the beach, and his cat and dog,” Magyar says.

As of February 2010, there were 400 million Facebook users, according to Mark Zuckerberg, the platform's founder. Some argue that Facebook isn't a strong venue for professional businesses, because it requires the creation of a personal page before it allows a business page to be set up. Therefore, business pages are always tied to a personal page. “It's not business-oriented,” says Magyar, who suspended his account after only a year. “Everyone is posting way too much on their friends' pages.”

Although his LinkedIn account is still active, Magyar isn't satisfied with its services either. Targeting professionals, LinkedIn claims more than 40 million users that span about 170 industries. Members can only contact other members if they are connected to that member or are introduced through a mutual contact. To begin, you create a profile and build a network comprising your contacts. You can also join open groups or request to become a member of a closed group.

Notwithstanding the forums and advertising venues Magyar finds useful for keeping current on events surrounding green energy, the site hasn't brought in any new jobs. In fact, he quickly discovered he was the target of marketing schemes. “I started getting barraged by companies that want to sell training for the green economy,” he says. “They want you to sign up for $1,000 classes, even though it has nothing to do with electricity. It's just a bunch of baloney.”

In addition, compared to Facebook, Magyar saw very little interaction among members of LinkedIn. When he first signed up, he tried to start a discussion on the requirement in Massachusetts that solar photovoltaic (PV) installations require work by a licensed electrician. “I threw it out there as a litmus test,” Magyar says. “I thought it was going to be controversial, and I'd get people to weigh in on either side.”

Instead, Magyar's post received limited response. “A guy in Oakland commented about 10 times, but all of it was off point,” he continues. “You can toot your own horn, but actual participation is almost non-existent. If you want to mobilize against certain legislation, it doesn't happen. The participation just isn't there.”

Social anxiety. A recent survey by Social Media Examiner, a free online magazine designed to help businesses discover how to best use social media tools, revealed that 91% of marketers use social media to market their businesses (Fig. 1). Yet, the “2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report” states that more than half (65%) of responding marketers have either just started or have been using social media for only a few months (Fig. 2).

Social media marketing isn't for everyone, says Marc LeVine, director of social media for RiaEnjolie, Inc., a Plainsboro, N.J.-based web development company specializing in creating websites for small businesses (For services for electricians, visit www.riaenjolie.com/electrician-websites.html). “Whether to engage in social media is a decision everyone has to make for themselves,” LeVine says. “Everyone is in a different situation.”

There are several reasons electricians may not need social media. They may not have the manpower to take on more work. They could be an established firm with a strong word-of-mouth advertising base. Also, those that aren't computer literate and don't want to take the time to become so aren't going to be interested in social media. “Satisfaction with what you've got is one determining factor,” says LeVine.

Many electrical contractors and electricians may find that an optimized website is adequate to serve their marketing needs. They can rely on keyword phrases that include a geographic modifier in conjunction with a description of their services to be easily found by search engines. “Electricians need to focus primarily on the local market,” says LeVine. “The one place they should invest in to a larger degree than anywhere else is their websites. They can easily do this without ever once engaging in a social media activity.”

LeVine refers to this as electricians “short circuiting” the process of social media. “You need to be smart in the ways you employ the Internet in order to be easily found and then to be able to impress your target audience when they land at your website for the very first time,” he says.”If your website passes the effectiveness test (On the Right Page below) — and you've done your homework with regard to geo-search — you'll be very pleased at the additional phone calls you'll be getting from local customers looking for a good electrician.”

For example, Magyar's updated marketing plan included reallocating the $3,600 a year he was spending on Yellow Pages advertising into website services. He invested $500 to have the website previously created by a friend updated and pays a local company around $75 a month to optimize it for local searches. (To read more about search engine advertising, read “Beyond Web Sites” in the April 2008 issue of EC&M or online at ecmweb.com/ops_maintenance/electric_beyond_web_sites/index.html.) “It gets me listed in the top five on any of the different search engines,” says Magyar, who, using data offered by his Internet service provider (ISP), estimates the site receives about 1,000 hits a month. “Obviously, it doesn't all translate into jobs, but it's pretty decent,” he says.

The matrix. However, companies wanting to grow — and willing to spend time or hire a service from their advertising budget — could benefit greatly from social media. “Electricians' social media can focus primarily on the local market,” LeVine says. “There are many avenues people have to it that they may not have had before.”

Google Buzz, Google local search, and Foursquare are all examples of geo-targeted social networks. In addition, social media can be used in conjunction with a website. In fact, all roads from social media should lead customers back to the website. Videos, white papers, blog entries, and articles posted on the website can be simultaneously tweeted on Twitter and posted on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example. They also help improve the search engine ranking of the website through the keywords used.

For the last eight months, Tim Meiners, owner and president of Meiners Electric, a Louisville, Ken.-based commercial and industrial electrical contractor, has been “fiddling around” with social media. He pays a consultant to post items, such as videos, on the company website and link them up with YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. “I get a lot of comments about it,” says Meiners. “I've had people tell me they like the site, and I've gotten some leads.”

In particular, younger clients are the target of Meiners' social media campaign. “It's something that you can definitely use to your advantage with the young engineers,” Meiners says. “The only way they'll talk to you is through text messaging, and they like Facebook, so that's why I did it.”

However, what has helped his business reach more customers is moving up in the search engine rankings. Meiners credits this success to his holistic approach. Everything posted on the social media platforms is tied to the Meiners Electric website. “You have to post more,” he says. “Articles, videos, and electronic ads get customers to click on the website and contact us.”

Meiners also targets media to specific customers. Recently, the company filmed thermal imaging on some switchgear. The video will be sent to any customers for whom the firm has performed infrared scanning in the past. In addition, when Meiners heard of an expansion to the Ford plant in his area being planned, he took video of his employees standing by their Ford trucks — 29 in all. “I sent it to them and said ‘Hey, we already use your business, when are you going to use ours?’” says Meiners. “They commented right back. I know I at least drew their attention that way.”

LeVine encourages novice social media users to experiment with different platforms to see which may work best for them. “It's all about experimentation and personal preference,” he says. “There are dozens of social media tools, but you can't use them all. Look around and pick the ones that seem to make the most sense. Some will be better suited to your interests and goals better than others.”

Furthermore, using social media means more than getting your branding or message out to new customers. It's also a way of listening to your past customers. “You approach social media, understanding the challenges and understanding your customers' needs, by being a good listener before you start adapting your marketing plan to your customers' needs,” says LeVine.

Social media is a way for businesses to eavesdrop on their customers. “Your business may be getting bad ratings and reviews,” says LeVine. “You could possibly be losing business and not know why.”

Social media may offer a venue to address these criticisms and correct problems or misconceptions customers may have had with your service. “You may not even have an opportunity to answer the critics as they continue to throw bricks at you in front of hundreds or thousands of potential customers searching for reviews on your service,” says LeVine.

DIY or not? The low cost of social media marketing is a high factor in rapid adoption, according to the “2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.” Based on the survey results, only 14% of marketers outsource their social media marketing efforts (Fig. 3). Smaller businesses, which use social media for marketing more than large businesses, are even less likely to outsource, with only 10.6% of sole proprietors claiming they would outsource social media marketing efforts. “It doesn't cost anything but your time,” says Magyar. “I would never pay someone for something I could do myself if it takes just a little bit of time.”

Still, some businesses prefer to outsource. Social media marketing can be a large time commitment, especially if you run your own business. According to the survey, 56% of marketers use social media for 6 hours or more each week, and 30% for 11 or more hours weekly.

However, choosing a consultant or representative can be a daunting task. Meiners found his social media consultant through a softball league, but others may not personally know someone with the skills and social media savvy. According to Patrick Curl, director of social media at MarketingOC Studios, there are some criteria to follow when choosing a consultant.

To start, effective social media marketers will be running their own social media marketing campaign. You can find this out by performing an Internet search. “If there aren't very many results for their name or business name, then they're obviously not very popular, definitely not very successful, and certainly not worth the money,” says Curl.

Also, check the number of followers on their Twitter or Facebook pages. Although this isn't a guarantee of the value, according to Curl, it's a good indicator. Always ask for references unless you're taking a gamble on a new person or firm. “It's not always a bad choice to go with someone who is new to the industry if they show potential,” says Curl.

You may even be getting a bargain in the deal, he says. Nevertheless, the consultant should still have a successful blog that will also highlight the person's search engine optimization skills.

You should meet with the person face-to-face or at least have a phone conversation, says Curl. This may give you a feeling of whether this person can adequately represent your brand. Even in the digital age, rapport means a lot. This is also a good way to make sure you both understand expectations for the work and go over the budget.

Finally, make sure the consultant is able to hand the reins over to you. You may choose to use them one time to set up a strategy for your social media marketing, or you may choose to hire them full-time to be your company social media community manager. “A good consultant is one who not only does the social media optimization, but also teaches the client how to fish,” says Curl.

Keep in mind that if that person sets up your Facebook account under his or her registration, you may not have access to your own business' page. “I know business owners who paid a lot of money to have a site made for them,” says Magyar. “Then, they have no access to the site, because the guy who made the site has it locked and guarded by password. Then, the guy goes out of business or moves out of town, and they have no way to get to their site.”


Sidebar: On the Right Page

A website may be the only Internet platform you need to sell your electrical services. However, is yours up to the standards set by Marc LeVine, director of social media for RiaEnjolie, Inc., a Plainsboro, N.J.-based web development company specializing in websites for small businesses? “If you are going to be easily found on the Internet, it is your website that will appear ahead of your name, address, and reputation,” he says. “If your website does not look professional at first glance, most people will abandon it before ever reading on to determine your suitability as an electrician.”

To find out if your website is up to task, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your website's design aesthetically pleasing?
  • How intuitive is your website to navigate?
  • Does your website have a clear statement of purpose near the top of its homepage?
  • Is your website copy concisely written and richly informative?
  • Do you update your website content regularly?
  • Does your website have a call to action on every page for customers to respond to?
  • Does your website's index page draw visitors further into its content — and to where you contract your services?
  • Is your website designed to encourage future visits, such as a newsletter, blog, or RSS feed?