Professional Remodeler magazine examines why remodelers should care about social media and what they should consider before jumping in.
|Social media sites have grown rapidly over the last year.|
Social media has seen explosive growth over the last year (see graphs at right), but that doesn’t necessarily translate into business success.
According to a Knowledge Networks survey released in May, 83 percent of consumers 13 to 54 participate in social media, 47 percent on a weekly basis.
For the echo boomer generation, the numbers are even more stunning: 99 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have a profile on at least one social media site, according to a Participatory Marketing Network survey from June.
Social media is no silver bullet to solve your declining sales, but it should be part of an overall marketing strategy — another way to market to a client that is increasingly difficult to reach, says Scott Kolbe, owner of KolbeCo Marketing Resources  in Dardenne Prairie, Mo. KolbeCo has many clients in construction and remodeling and specializes in helping small businesses market themselves better.
Marketing and advertising used to be all about “big hits” — messages that reached as broad an audience as possible. Now, businesses have to focus on the “small hits,” reaching out to the audience through a diverse number of methods, Kolbe says.
“We believe it’s not an alternative for us not to participate,” says Ed Cholfin, president of Advanced Kitchens in Marietta, Ga. “You can only do so much repeat business. We have to look for ways to grow.”
Advanced Kitchens uses LinkedIn and Twitter to drive traffic to its Web site by posting articles that would be of interest to consumers, such as how they can use the stimulus package. That strategy has lead to increased traffic to the company’s site, but Cholfin can’t point to any specific project that came from social networking. In that way, it’s similar to traditional networking: a way to build relationships that Cholfin hopes will eventually pay off in future business.
|The major social media sites now draw more visitors than most traditional media outlets.|
A key decision a remodeler has to make is how much they want their personal and business lives to intersect in the social media world.
A reluctance to have his personal life open to the masses is one reason Cholfin waited as long as he did to get involved in social media. It’s also why he doesn’t use Facebook — and why the company’s efforts on Twitter and LinkedIn are identified as the company and not “Ed Cholfin.”
Taking a different approach is Greg Rittler, president of Kanon Group  in Towson, Md. Rittler and his employees post updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn regularly, as well as maintaining several blogs to keep its customers informed about what’s going on.
“I’m friends personally on Facebook with many of our customers,” Rittler says. “I’m not at all worried about that. I think in a healthy relationship the two always mix anyways.”
Rittler believes that personal relationship helps the company because clients see him as a friend, not just as someone they do business with.
“I find it just engages people with us,” Rittler says. “We can’t talk to everybody on the phone every week, but we can post things on these social media outlets.”
Besides being a way to reach potential clients, social media sites, especially business-focused ones such as LinkedIn, offer a
great networking opportunity, Cholfin says. Members can join groups and exchange questions and answers about common problems. There are dozens of construction-related groups on LinkedIn, including the Professional Remodeler group, NARI and NAHB.
To get the most from social media sites takes time and effort. The sites may be free to use, but there is a commitment in staff time to execute a successful strategy.
“A lot of people log on, use it for a day, then never use it again,” Rittler says. “It’s only going to be as effective as what you put into it and the time you spend developing a community.”
In Rittler’s case, it’s something he spends several hours a week working on. Although he feels it is important to his company’s success, remodelers need to make sure they are willing to make that commitment if they are going to do it.
“My advice is first figure out what your capacity is,” he says.
It’s been a significant investment for Advanced Kitchens, as well. Cholfin spends five to 10 hours a week on social media sites for business but also has a full-time employee that spends 90 percent of her time working on the company’s Web site and social media efforts.
Twitter Tips for Builders
Listen to a Podcast on Social Media
You can follow Advanced Kitchens on Twitter at @AKRenovations and Greg Rittler at @grittler and @kanonclarity. Rittler is also on Facebook.
You can follow Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet on Twitter at @SweetEdit or join our Professional Remodeler groups on LinkedIn or Facebook.