While imperfect, Facebook and other services remains vital
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
The business press is complaining a lot these days about the ineffectiveness of social media, and marketers might be questioning whether it makes sense for them to invest time and money in Facebook and other channels.
While the complaints are legitimate and the problems are real, social media continues to provide essential influence for certain kinds of businesses. Home comfort companies depend heavily on the unique benefits that social media can provide and can gain significant competitive advantage by using these channels effectively.
Recent complaints about Facebook center on a lack of “organic reach.” Businesses are finding that their Facebook posts are barely reaching any of their fans, and they are upset because they worked hard to build those followings that now seem unreachable.
Businesses cannot connect effectively with fans because Facebook is filtering their posts out of users’ news feeds. Facebook Vice President of Advertising Technology Brian Boland explained the changes in a recent blog post. “There is now far more content being made than there is time to absorb it. On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. For people with lots of friends and Page likes, as many as 15,000 potential stories could appear any time they log on,” he wrote. “As a result, competition in News Feed … is increasing, and it’s becoming harder for any story to gain exposure in News Feed. In addition to the growth in content, people are also liking more Pages. … With each new Page like, competition in News Feed increases even further.
“The second reason involves how News Feed works,” Boland continued. “Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them. Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300. To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”
These changes are causing a stir among businesses that rely on the channel, prompting one blogger to publish a post entitled You Should Delete Your Facebook Business Page. Here’s Why. The common theme is that Facebook encouraged businesses to rely on its reach, and then it pulled out the rug.
Pay to Play
The universe of Facebook users remains accessible, in fact, but businesses must pay for the access with sponsored posts that will appear in News Feeds. Boland explains: “Like TV, search, newspapers, radio and virtually every other marketing platform, Facebook is far more effective when businesses use paid media to help meet their goals. Your business won’t always appear on the first page of a search result unless you’re paying to be part of that space. Similarly, paid media on Facebook allows businesses to reach broader audiences more predictably, and with much greater accuracy than organic content.”
While any contractor or business would love to access a low-cost, long-reach marketing channel, that is a pipe dream, and we should not begrudge Mark Zuckerberg and Co. for wanting to profit from the incredible environment they have created. Companies that use the channel to connect with paying customers can accept the notion of paying for the value delivered, just as we do in other channels. Once we view Facebook as just another advertising outlet, it actually becomes easier to compare the cost and benefits of social media usage to other marketing efforts such as traditional advertising, e-mail and newsletters.
This is not to say that Facebook is strictly for advertising, because it isn’t. It is also an important source of “social endorsement,” which is a must-have for home comfort businesses. Social endorsement is the vote of confidence that businesses get from positive online reviews and testimonials, and these days no local business can get very far without it. G/O Digital, a provider of digital marketing solutions, recently surveyed 1,000 consumers and asked them, “What are the top three criteria you use to select home service providers?” Seventy-nine percent said friends, family and co-workers; 72 percent said online search engines; and 39 percent said reviews on Yelp. It’s fair to assume that many of the family/friend/co-worker recommendations in that 79 percent are found on Facebook, rather than through conversations.
They Check You Out
The new reality is that between Angie’s List, Facebook, Yelp and dozens of local business directory sites, consumers can vet a service provider to their satisfaction in just one search session, and that is precisely what they do. Decisions regarding home contractors are particularly dependent on social endorsements, because consumers want to avoid the unscrupulous operators.
Knowing how today’s consumers make choices, it is clear that home comfort companies need to cultivate positive feedback online. That can be challenging if the customer service record is checkered, but as long as most of your customers are satisfied you can get the positive reviews that you need if you ask nicely. Create attractive, informative company listings on Yelp, Angie’s List, Google+ and Facebook and encourage your customers to post reviews of your work. Consider setting up a customer reviews portal on your website that includes direct links to the social media sites, and then directing your customers there.
Undoubtedly you will receive a mix of positive and negative reviews, and that’s OK. Negative reviews are everywhere on social media, and as long as they are offset by more positive reviews, you’ll come out ahead. Monitor the review sites regularly and respond promptly to all reviews. Think of negative reviews like emergency service calls: They provide an opportunity to showcase your company’s great attitude by responding constructively and treating your critics with respect.
On Facebook, your fans deliver social endorsement by “liking” your company page and interacting with your posts. Focus on increasing your number of Likes, and develop a posting strategy that uses high-quality information to beat the odds and get into your fans’ news feeds. Facebook VP Borland wrote in his recent post: “Organic content still has value on Facebook, and Pages that publish great content—content that teaches people something, entertains them, makes them think, or in some other way adds value to their lives—can still reach people in News Feed.”
High-quality content that reflects your expertise is a great marketing tool, and it works effectively across different marketing channels. Let’s say your company has spotted an opportunity in heat pump sales and would like to capitalize. You can prepare a couple of short articles on heat pumps—how they operate; how they perform in cold climates; how they function year-round—and publish them in both the company blog and the company newsletter. Link to the blog posts from all your social media pages and your website, and promote them selectively (i.e., advertise them) on Facebook. Your content will help sell heat pumps while at the same time improving your image everyplace that customers and prospects look online, because expertise is attractive.
Create Once and Repurpose
A strategy of creating content once and repeating it across different channels meshes very well with many business goals, such as recruitment, growing new services, and selling more services to current accounts. If you wish, you can combine your informative content with coupons to incentivize your products and services.
The same strategy also meshes perfectly with what Google and the other search engines are doing, too. Google is fine-tuning its search algorithms to ensure a “great user experience,” and that favors substantial, meaningful information over less substantial types of content. Once you are publishing valuable information and disseminating it effectively, you are a supporter of Google’s goals of delivering great user experiences, and you will likely see your search performance improve.
As you plan your outreach campaigns, consider adding Facebook advertising to the mix. The advertising platform allows you to select a strictly local audience and even to create a “lookalike audience” in your service area that is demographically similar to your fan base. Pew Internet recently reported that 71 percent of American adults use Facebook, and that surely includes most of your customers and prospects.
There are a host of social media platforms beyond Facebook and Yelp—Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.—and you can incorporate any of them in your outreach strategy simply by publishing the same content there. It’s also safe to ignore them for now, if you prefer, because most people will use a combination of Yelp, Google reviews, Facebook and Angie’s List to check out service providers. Also, optimize your Web presence by posting a comprehensive business listing in all local business directories that serves your area.
If you are considering improving your company’s use of social media, PriMedia is happy to help. Please contact me at 800-796-3342 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.