By Marc D. LeVine, Director of Social Media
I recently read a local plumber’s self-demeaning response to a blog post on Social Media Marketing (SMM) for business geared to plumbers, which got me shaking my head in wonder. The fellow posting a response seemed convinced that he and most of his colleagues lacked the knowledge and ability to go online; using Social Media for marketing. In fact, he seemed to believe that most plumbers didn’t even own a computer or know how to use one.
This gentleman’s post spiked my interest in researching the situation on the ground much more in depth since the company I work for specializes in small business web page design for plumbers, electricians and other trades people. I was particularly interested in knowing whether this local plumber’s view was shared by many others and also to see just how many small and medium size plumbing businesses have actually ventured into Social Media to promote their services.
I started out with Google and immediately was provided with several results that mentioned the keyword phrase; “Plumbers AND Social Media.” Of course, many of this links may have lead me to places where the information on hand supported the view that Social Media is not for plumbers.
Conversely, they didn’t. They said just the opposite – that Social Media is alive, well and actively used by plumbers throughout the world. Not only were there links offered to train plumbers in the use of Social Media Marketing, but more importantly several links to local plumbing companies that already have successfully leveraged the power of Social Media Marketing to build their local businesses. Take for example, Papa Plumbing (www.papaplumbing.ca) in Vancouver, Canada. This plumbing and heating company has a Social Media enabled website with YouTube videos and links to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and their Blog. When you’re using Flickr and have a Blog in the plumbing business you have obviously stepped up to the next level in Social Media and respect its value to your business. The nearly obligatory Facebook and Twitter presence in most small businesses doesn’t generally convey this level of enthusiasm for Social Media Marketing.
Perhaps, the case our skeptical plumbing friend may have been trying to make, in his blog post response, was that most of his work comes from word of mouth over his mobile phone. He and his local competitors may currently have plenty of work and just don’t see the need for any new digital tools. That’s fair, but what may he and others be missing out for the near future and in hopes of expanding their businesses further?
Say someone needed a plumber to replace a leaking hot water heater on a cold Christmas day. Most plumbers take that day off and are not available even for emergencies. So who does one call? I, myself have been in that position – and fortunately – found a Jewish plumber, just back from his annual Christmas Day “Chinese (food) and a movie” family tradition.
I happened to locate a blog post by Pete Ashton on the Web that shared a similar scenario with a malfunctioning boiler just three “bitter cold” days before Christmas. Apparently, many of the plumbers he called were booked until January. Obviously, waiting was simply not an option for his family and him. He was very wise to trying putting out the following “cry for help” on Twitter and got great results, it seems.
Within 10 minutes Ashton had the following response:
David Spark is the founder of Spark Media Solutions, a San Francisco-based firm that helps companies tell their story through Social Media. Spark seems to agree with the foundational belief in all of this – that plumbers and other trades people need to be found on the Web, so they must be sure that they are doing all the right things in order to show up in their customer’s web search engine results.
"Type in keywords and phrases that people would use to find you, like 'plumber' and 'San Francisco. ‘If you don't appear in the top percentage of pages, take a look at the website of those plumbers that do show up," says Spark. "Look at their pages, and usually they will have a lot of content on their sites."
To increase a business's presence on the Internet, Spark advocates companies create blogs, newsletters and other articles on their sites to bolster the number of keywords -- terms that Web search engines recognize -- to boost their ranking in all-important Web searches.
"That's the way people discover you," he says. "Take that plumber in San Francisco. The right search terms might just be 'clogged toilet and San Francisco.'"
This is not all just theory, either, Alan Cline, President/CEO of 1-800-Plumbing solidly builds Social Media support into his marketing for all 1-800-Plumbing affiliates. In this YouTube, you will see and hear Kline explaining how Social Media is incorporated into his business marketing plan. This is all sound advice any plumber can take to the bank.
Rod Alexander of PlumbXtra, Glasgow Scotland explains how one of his plumbing clients emailed him “out of the blue” asking him to complete an on-line questionnaire regarding Social Media.
“It seems that fate has asked me to investigate Social Media tools to develop my business marketing," he writes. “Finally, from my initial research this article seemed to back up what I thought that I wasn’t effectively marketing my business. Please look out for me on twitter. I am open for any help or suggestions that can guide me through the Social Media maze. My business website will now be changed to accommodate the likes of twitter et al.”
Smart plumber this Rod Alexander. He is changing his website to accommodate the requirements of Social Media, as he and others like him should be doing to be found and to be interactive with their customers.
Blogger, Matt Hames, sums things up rather well when he says, “I think that if you happen to be a plumber, then your digital presence locally can really be an asset to your business. I did a whole presentation on it. But if the company is larger than Fran the Plumber, then consider Social Media as part of an overall communications strategy.”
Andy Gaur, CEO of RiaEnjolie Inc., a New Jersey web page design company specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for general contractors and other trades people, is very well attuned to the world of traditional and Social Media Marketing (SMM). “It is much better to be preparing a well conceived and comprehensive marketing plan and getting ready to use an appropriate mix of outreach strategies rather than just sticking with just one or two that haven’t been working so well lately for many general contractors,” says Gaur. “If you don't jump on different things – like Social Media - that show promise, you may end up in a struggle to retain your current customers and fail to gain new ones that are unaware of your business and what you can offer them in quality workmanship, good service and affordable pricing.”
Your Website is the Key Part of Your Overall Communications Strategy
Before you make your way to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, the one place that you should invest yourself in to a larger degree than anything else is your website. 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. 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.
So take a look at your website and ask yourself the following questions about it? Does Your Website Pass This Test?
1. Is your website’s design aesthetically pleasing?
2. How intuitive is your website to navigate, with a strong web menu design?
3. Does your website have a clear statement of PURPOSE near the top of its homepage?
4. Is your website copy concisely written and richly informative?
5. Do you update your website content REGULARLY?
6. Does your website have a “call to action” on every page for customers to respond to?
7. Does your website’s index page draw visitors further into its content and to where you display and sell your products and contract your services?
8. Is your website designed to encourage future visits (i.e. is there a newsletter; a tell-a-friend feature; a blog with an RSS button to subscribe with?)
Plumbers, you can definitely “pipe in” the process of Social Media and still get the business results you are looking for. You need to be smart in the ways you employ the Internet in order to be easily found and then, to impress your target audience when they land at your website for their very first time. If your website passes the effectiveness test and if you have done all 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 plumber.
Marc LeVine is the Director of Social Media for RiaEnjolie, Inc. a NJ-based web development company specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for small businesses.