Today’s social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become so intuitive and user-friendly that any business can establish a presence in a matter of minutes — and that’s exactly the problem. Many water treatment dealers establish Facebook pages and Twitter feeds without much planning or strategic thought about what they will post and how they will use their online properties for customer engagement and business development. Too often, these social media experiments end in frustration after just a matter of weeks.

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are some simple, practical steps you can follow to develop powerful and engaging social media properties that will develop real, measurable value for your dealership.

 

What’s the opportunity?

The number one question small business owners ask before embarking on a social media strategy is whether social media can close sales. The simple answer to that question is no. Anyone who claims that a Facebook post can sell a $2,000 water softener either doesn’t understand POU/POE sales, or doesn’t understand social media.

Water treatment equipment can powerfully affect the health and well-being of customers, and selling it will always be a deeply personal experience. High-performing POU/POE salespeople are paid a great deal of money for one reason: They are worth it. While you can’t rely on Facebook posts or Twitter updates to close sales, there is some good news — your Yellow Pages listing has never closed a sale either. The same goes for your four-color print marketing materials.

The role of social media properties is not to close sales, but to facilitate the relationship-building process that leads to sales. There are many books written on the sales process, but it basically breaks down to four steps:

1.   Engage the customer

2.   Identify the customer’s needs

3.   Develop a solution

4.   Close the sale. 

When you’re talking about new customers, social media’s role isn’t in step four, it’s in step one. You know from your own sales experience that customers are researching you online before they ever make their first call to your dealership, and social media gives you another opportunity to make a positive impression that could result in a qualified sales lead.

With existing customers, social media can help maintain relationships and may lead to continued business. You can use Facebook and Twitter updates to advertise discounts on replacement filters, promote loyalty and referral programs and remind customers in seasonal locations when it is time for maintenance. Social media can be a powerful tool for getting customers to keep coming to you — instead of a big-box retailer — for salt, replacement filters and service.

 

Facebook strategy and growth

Generally speaking, Facebook offers three types of properties you can launch — a personal profile, a group or a business page. For your water treatment dealership, you want a business page because you get a personalized URL, there is no limit on the number of fans you can acquire, and you have the option of advertising your page on Facebook.

Starting a business page is easy. Just go to www.facebook.com and you will see the link to create a page on the lower right side. You will be asked to upload a photo and include some basic information about your business. When writing the description of your business, you want to increase the likelihood that someone will “like” your page. We recommend including information on the types of valuable content you will offer.

Don't write: We are a water treatment dealership servicing the Albany, New York area.

Do write: We are a water treatment dealership servicing the Albany, New York area. Follow us for coupons, promotions, free advice and more.

While you can launch a Facebook page in minutes, keeping it updated is where most businesses fall down. Start each week by planning a few posts you will make — simply tie your posts to your marketing message for the week or month, and include occasional, special offers just for your Facebook fans (Call and give us the code Facebook20 for 20 percent off your next service visit). Try to post in the early evening hours, when more people are on Facebook.

Of course, Facebook can be awfully lonely — and can feel futile — when you don’t have many fans. To grow your page, you can either acquire fans through advertising, or through free networking. On your business page dashboard, you will always see an option to purchase an ad to promote your page. You can set a budget for as low as a few dollars a day and can target based on a number of demographics.

For a POU/POE dealership, for example, I may target individuals who are married, between the ages of 25-64, and living within the zip codes I service. Facebook will tell you exactly how many individuals are in the target demographics you select, and will give you the option to pay based on the number of times your ad is seen, or based on the number of clicks it gets.

Either way, Facebook marketing is “pay for performance,” and you want your ad to perform. Once someone sees your dealership’s ad and becomes a fan, you will never have to pay to reach them again — and that’s exactly what you want. Test a few different versions of your ad, and Facebook will automatically serve up the ad that is performing best.

 

Acquiring free Facebook fans

Generally speaking, my rule on Facebook is that I never want to pay to acquire a fan that I could get for free, and there are plenty of ways to get free fans. First, you should aggressively promote your social media properties on your website, business cards, marketing literature and in the automated signatures of your e-mails. If you have a customer e-mail database, as many dealers do, you should send an e-mail to customers and prospects inviting them to become fans and informing them of some of the deals and other valuable content you will offer.

Finally, I recommend what we call a “connector-based strategy” to grow your Facebook page. The average person on Facebook has about 125 friends, so we define a connector as anyone with 250 or more. As you get new fans, check their profile pages and see how many friends they have. If they fall within the connector range, send them a personal message asking if they would promote your fan page to their friends. You’ll be surprised how many Facebook users take pride in their large friend counts and are honored by these requests.

In your Facebook updates, ask your fans to “share” your posts with their friends. If 10 fans comply, you have reached, on average, another 1,250 people. Facebook also allows for sponsored posts, where you can pay to show your posts to the friends of your fans for as little as $5. This will often allow you to add some new fans.

 

Grow Twitter feeds without spending a dime

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform where all of your posts — or “tweets” — must be 140 characters or fewer. That may not seem like much, but very often your strategy on Twitter should be to drive followers to other content, such as your website. In fact, most of the interactions that occur on Twitter involve people clicking links.

As a water treatment dealer, your basic strategy on Twitter will not be much different from your strategy on Facebook. Your short biographical description should include benefit-based language on why someone should follow you, such as your intention to offer free advice or discounts. Twitter, like Facebook, offers an advertising platform, but you should be able to get most of the followers you need without spending a dime. You should use aggressive cross-promotion and e-mail blasts to customers and prospects to encourage them to follow you on Twitter. Connector theory also applies. As you acquire followers that have a significant number of followers themselves — at least 100 followers for a local market — ask them to help promote you and spread the word.

You can also build a Twitter following through what we call a “follower management” approach. Twitter feeds with several thousand followers have been built using this method, and we spell it out in the sidebar “Use Follower Management to Grow Twitter.”

Your Twitter content strategy needs to be built on repetition. The shelf life of a tweet is much shorter than the shelf life of a Facebook post — in fact, 90 percent of interactions with a tweet occur in the first hour after it is sent, and the number decreases sharply from there. As such, you may want to send a tweet in the morning and essentially the same tweet — perhaps modified very slightly — in the late evening or early afternoon. There are great programs like Hootsuite or SproutSocial that allow you to schedule all of your tweets.

Follow these steps and you could soon be a social media titan in your service area. That means deeper engagement with potential POU/POE customers and prospects, and hopefully increased sales.

Kevin Hart is the executive vice president of Media Strategies for Integrated Media Inc., a Maryland-based communications consulting firm specializing in content development and brand growth for businesses and associations. He is also a former Certified Water Specialist. You can reach him at khart@integratedmedia.us.com, or find him on the web at www.integratedmedia.us.com.