Today’s mobile devices offer a world of connectivity and information at your fingertips. Electrical contractors can leverage the widespread adoption of this technology with a well-executed social media strategy. For example, Cupertino Electric, Inc. (CEI), San Jose, Calif., connects with employees, customers, and the community on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Glassdoor with posts that are customized for each channel.
“Because the explosion of mobile devices has changed the way we communicate in short, quick bursts of texts and photos, people in a business setting expect fast, relevant content served up as well,” says Autumn Casadonte, senior director, corporate communications for CEI. “Social media sites allow us to reach customers and employees in a timely, impactful way on a platform they’re already connected to — and at a much lower cost.”
Following are seven tips that may help electrical contractors find success on social media.
1. Be selective.
Before diving into every social media channel available, Casadonte encourages electrical contractors to first gather analytics about the traffic to their website, their industry, and their target demographic. Next, they need to find out where people are already congregating and focus on the one platform that has the most traffic.
“Don’t try to boil the ocean,” Casadonte says. “Focus on building a presence on one or two social platforms and branch out from there.”
To start, electrical contractors can repurpose content already used in other areas of their business, such as a corporate newsletter, an all-company meeting, or sales presentation. Contractors can feature this content online to leverage what they are already doing for another channel.
“Anything that you can create once and publish multiple places will get you more bang for your buck,” Casadonte says.
Because the demographics and focus of each social media channel varies, CEI customizes its messages to resonate best with the audience on a particular platform. For example, some platforms are more formal or more visual than others, so CEI adjusts its posts accordingly.
At MYR Group, Rolling Meadows, Ill., the marketing team uses platforms that tend to be the most popular for their target audiences — Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
“This variety of platforms can be used for slightly different audiences and for different purposes, so the combination provides for a wide array of communications methods and tactics that can be used to reach our various audiences, whether they be potential employees, clients, partners, or investors,” says Paula Frisina, senior communications specialist for MYR Group.
2.Explore the benefits of each channel.
After selecting the most appropriate social media platforms, electrical contractors must then learn what content works best on each channel. For example, Facebook is the most popular social network with more than two billion users nationwide. It provides a strong platform for creating community, Frisina says.
“We have a lot of employees and friends and family of employees who follow us on Facebook,” says Frisina. “It’s versatile — we can share photos, hold contests, ask questions, post videos, etc. It is also a strong recruiting tool for us. We can reach a wide variety of recruits, create interest in the trade, and showcase our company culture.”
MYR Group also uses LinkedIn for recruitment purposes and to share business-related content on a more formal, professional level.
“Decision makers and influencers are active on LinkedIn, so it’s a great way to showcase thought leadership, extend brand awareness, and share important industry-related news and other content,” says Janelle Schultz, marketing coordinator for MYR Group.
Another social media channel — Instagram — provides a more visual way for electrical contractors to share their stories and photos.
“We perform exciting, thrilling projects in every region of the United States and western Canada, and have some incredible stories, project pictures, and videos from the work we do every day,” Schultz says. “Instagram has been a fantastic way for us to visually communicate the ‘wow’ factor in what we do.”
Over the past few years, MYR Group has also been using Instagram to target younger audiences.
“We are working to attract new recruits into trade professions, and Instagram is a strong medium and part of this strategy,” says Megan Hermreck, marketing coordinator for MYR Group. “It also integrates with our Facebook platform so we can share the same content and photos across multiple platforms.”
Like Instagram, YouTube also has a visual appeal and allows MYR Group to showcase its projects and capabilities and educate its audiences.
“Video tells a much more compelling story than print, and we can promote our YouTube videos across other social platforms,” Hermreck says.
Another social media platform, Twitter, is focused more on short, concise messaging than imagery. For MYR Group, Twitter provides a quick way to provide updates to its audiences on its company and industry happenings.
“It basically extends the messages we want to share as well as brand awareness,” Frisina says. “It provides a quick and easy method for doing so.”
For MYR Group, social media provides the easiest and best way to communicate with stakeholders.
“The ability to visually showcase content allows the best ‘view’ into your organization,” Frisina says. “It allows you to obtain feedback from the folks with whom you’re wanting to reach. It’s the next best thing to being there.”
3.Craft relevant messaging.
Over the years, electrical contractors have refined their social media strategies to better meet the needs of their audiences. Case in point: MYR Group now strives to provide shorter, more visually appealing content due to individuals’ short attention spans.
Also, for MYR Group, social media has evolved into the primary external means to communicate with its various audiences due to its speed and simplicity. At the same time, however, the company is now more strategic about the content it promotes.
“We ensure that our messaging aligns with our overall corporate and marketing strategies,” Frisina says.
For example, recruits and clients are placing greater value and importance on corporate social responsibility efforts.
“We’ve done a lot more promotion in this area of the steps we’re taking to give back to our communities, and how we’re prioritizing sustainability on our projects and throughout our organization,” Frisina says.
Social media has also provided a more instantaneous means for sharing important content about the company. Before, the team relied on email communication or posting news on its website to share content. At that point in time, they had to be selective due to the limitations of the website and email.
“Getting audiences to our website was a challenge without another mechanism in place for doing so,” Frisina says. “Most everyone is on social media, so you’re able to reach audiences much easier than before.”
Another key benefit of social media is that it allows for instant two-way dialog.
“We never had that capability before,” Hermreck says. “We get great feedback from our audiences, and it allows us to interact with them in real time.”
MYR Group is not only connecting with its audiences, but the individuals are also connecting with one another.
“There’s more sharing and synergies on a nationwide level,” Hermreck says.
4.Use social media to connect with employees.
With one-third of its workforce not set up to receive company announcements via internal communication/email, social media has changed the way Valard Construction, a large powerline contractor based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, communicates with its own employees.
“We can’t over-emphasize the benefits and importance of this type of communication when it comes to connecting with our own workers or potential workers — a group that’s traditionally hard to reach by normal internal communication methods,” says Carrie Willemsen, corporate communications manager for Valard. “We believe it also enhances transparency for our clients, stakeholders, employees, and the communities we’re working in.”
Valard currently uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. For the company, Facebook is a ground-level way to interact with its clients in a casual, comfortable space, while Twitter is a public space to share industry and company news with clients, industry experts, and influential stakeholders like politicians and local/regional leaders.
“We tweet virtually every day, but we only populate the other channels when applicable information is available,” Willemsen says.
On LinkedIn, the company can share career or industry-related news. Instagram, by contrast, is a spot to share photos.
“As our industry is one of awe-inspiring imagery, this site is a natural space to share our own,” Willemsen says.
Facebook and Instagram have also gradually become vehicles for internal and external communication. Because employees regularly converse with the media team on the channels, it becomes a great place to share employee pride items.
“This is particularly valuable as one-third of our employees don’t have email/computer access to our announcements,” Willemsen says.
Like Instagram, YouTube is a natural place to share videos of projects and clients’ successes if they are approved by the client.
“Regarding updates on clients and their activities, we share anything positive that shows up on our radar publicly,” Willemsen says. “New projects must be handled carefully as clients are often slow to announce publicly when we’ve been awarded the project; we don’t post anything before they do.”
Storm-related updates posted by clients, however, can be instantly shared on social media.
“This prompts our own people to chime in,” she says. “We believe this reinforces the ‘we’re all on the same team’ concept.”
Before social media, a project milestone or a newsworthy storm update would have to be important enough to warrant a press release that needed to be approved by all parties.
“This was time consuming and often had less meaning, since it would be issued days or weeks after the actual milestone,” Willemsen says.
When it comes to social media, Willemsen says her company approaches it like pet ownership: If you don’t feed an animal, you can’t keep an animal.
“We’re on social media 24/7, 365 days a year, regardless of where we are ‘in real life,’” Willemsen says.
Over the years, Valard has come up with some best practices for social media. For example, the team doesn’t post any photos of recognizable individuals unless it has signed photo consents for them. Exceptions happen, however, if they retweet or reshare something that is already in the public domain. The team also monitors posts by employees or contractors and reports violations of social media policy to the correct supervisor. For further visibility into its social media, the media team reports to the president and CCO at the end of every month on measurables, including social media.
5. Create and post videos.
Prior to social media, Irby Construction Co., a Mississippi-based powerline construction company, had no way to connect to customers aside from a letter or phone call. Now, the contractor can post photos and videos of its workers out on a storm, turning the lights back on safely.
The company started with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter due to their popularity. About a year into its social media journey, Irby began creating videos and made a YouTube page, which has played an integral role in the company’s social media success.
“We did not know what type of audience we would gain, but we thought we could target the right people through these channels,” says Sara Whalen, marketing specialist for Irby. “Then we decided to pursue LinkedIn to reach a more business-savvy, executive-level audience.”
So far, Irby’s Facebook page is where it has seen the most traffic. On this social media channel, the company can reach anyone from family members and loved ones of Irby employees to customers and potential Irby employees.
“We are making deeper connections with employees and their friends/families,” Whalen says. “It is important to highlight their hard work and recognize our employees. Some challenges can be reaching the right audience for what we want to accomplish, but practice makes perfect!”
Irby has been using its Facebook page as a recruiting tool for the past couple of years, and has hired several linemen from this page. Irby’s social media strategies have changed, however, based on its needs. The company uses different channels based on the audiences to push what it wants to get out on social media.
“As we have gained a larger following, we can recruit heavier and rely on our audience to share,” Whalen says.
When first starting out, Whalen says it’s important to look up other contracting companies and follow them — especially your competition. Next, an electrical contractor should send out emails internally showing employees how to be part of the process. That way, they can promote social media and help to drive traffic to the website. Finally, she says it’s important to interact with others on your social sites by replying to and liking comments instead of ignoring those interacting on the page.
6. Have a dedicated team.
Sumter Utilities, Inc., a South Carolina-based power contractor, has only been engaged in social media for the last few years, but it continues to evolve its strategies to best meet the needs of the business. Before diving into social media, the contractor says it’s important to decide on a dedicated person or team to focus on social media and provide any needed training or resources. To be effective on social media, it takes time as well as talent in composition, graphics, editing, and marketing. At Sumter, the human resources team is responsible for social media.
Sumter Utilities uses its social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as vehicles to highlight its employees and their families, safety-first culture, and social responsibility efforts. Although the company does not recruit directly via social media advertisements or job postings, the company is aware that potential hires follow its social media efforts when evaluating it as an employer.
By design, social media invites or encourages commenting and replies from the audience. While this is generally positive, it is not without its challenges, says Jason DuBose, director of human resources for Sumter Utilities. For example, as a contractor, Sumter is often approached with needs or concerns that are better directed to the customer. In such cases, it is critical for the contractor to be responsive and quickly transition such matters from the open social media platform to private, direct contact aimed at resolving specific needs.
“Be prepared for how you will address unexpected feedback, negative commentary, etc., and most importantly have fun highlighting your company,” DuBose says.
7. Leverage social media for branding.
Oftentimes, electrical contractors have in-house marketing, media relations, or human resources teams that handle social media. At smaller businesses, however, the responsibility to manage a company’s social media presence may fall to the executive team. As such, these companies may turn to an outside agency to help manage social media accounts.
For example, Relevantly Marketing Services, a North American marketing agency based in Waterloo, Canada, helps electrical contractors create, build, and maintain their social media presence and manage custom social media campaigns. Oftentimes, electrical contractors use social media to drive traffic to their websites and establish a brand presence.
“Social media is a great way to grow your online presence, establish a community, and increase traffic to your website with the end goal of increasing qualified leads,” says Elizabeth Foster of Relevantly Marketing Services. “This may be through a booking form on the website or a click to call option for more information.”
In addition, social media is also key for branding, she says. In today’s world, consumers expect that the businesses they work with — including electrical contractors — have a presence on their favorite platforms.
“This is indication that the business is legitimate, trustworthy, and personable,” Foster says. “Customer reviews on social are key to establishing this trust.”
While social media has clear benefits, it’s no longer considered a good strategy to build an online presence on every single social platform that evolves, she says. For example, she says platforms like Twitter may one day decrease in popularity or cease to exist.
Instead of choosing every platform, electrical contractors should find the one that their customers are using and have a presence on that particular platform. Foster urges electrical contractors to start with the customer base that they already have and do their research about what platforms they’re using, how they like to be engaged with the channel, and what content would be useful for them.
“Feedback from your ideal customer is the best way to drive your strategy in finding future customers,” Foster says. “Ask these clients to follow you first, and make highlighting your social profiles a key part of your interaction with current and future customers.”
Like anything, however, there’s a catch: You have to give them a reason to want to follow your company. To do this, contractors can provide value to followers through engaging content like helpful tips or interesting information regarding their services. The biggest don’t is to not be overly promotional.
“Social media is designed for networking between friends, so your brand should feel like a friend to your customers,” Foster says. “Don’t use it solely to promote your services — this will lead to unfollows.”
Instead, contractors should try to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of its content should inform, educate, or entertain their audience, while the other 20% should directly promote their business.
When done properly, social media can help contractors to build their online presence, diversify platforms, build brand authority and trust, establish a community, and rapidly relay information. The key challenge is growing a following, which makes it critical to incorporate social media platforms into conversations with current and new customers. It’s also essential to post content that is worth engaging with.
To increase engagement over a long-term period, electrical contractors should create consistent content that is worth sharing on social media. For example, companies can share in-house helpful blog posts on topics of interest to customers like the causes and fixes for a tripped breaker.
Currently, most electrical contractors use Facebook over the other platforms, says Foster. Depending on whether an electrical contractor specializes in commercial or residential, her recommendation for a social media platform varies. However, she typically advises Facebook on a residential level and LinkedIn commercially.
“With 2.4 billion users, Facebook is still the largest and most utilized social networking platform in the world, and its targeting capabilities allow you to target the end consumer you’re hoping to reach — whether this is new home buyers ages 30 to 40 looking to install fixtures in their homes or individuals located in older neighborhoods that are likely in need of some repair or maintenance,” Foster says.
On a business-to-business level, the firm recommends LinkedIn, which lets people connect on a professional level and allows for granular industry targeting. For example, if a contractor wishes to target companies with one to 500 employees in the Atlanta region with its electrical services, this level of targeting is available via LinkedIn.
Regardless of the platform, social media enhances the ability and the rate for electrical contractors to relay important information to customers.
“What once required a website update, e-mail blast, or phone call can now be achieved in real-time with live updates,” Foster says.
Fischbach is a freelance writer based in Overland Park, Kan. She can be reached at [email protected].