Alternative Energy Calls for Alternative Marketing
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Solar energy is viewed favorably by 79 percent of Americans, according to a February 2011 survey by Pike Research, which means that you can confidently add solar energy to your list of services and give it prominent play in your marketing. Even if your solar equipment sales are lackluster at first, an infusion of alternative energy in your image should make your company more attractive to prospects and existing customers alike.
When you perform solar energy installations, you can overhaul your image and cast yourself as a modern, forward-thinking company that guides its customers towards a smarter future with less dependence on fossil fuels. You can give young homeowners reasons to choose you without alienating long-term customers in the higher age brackets. In fact, the Pike Research survey indicated that 86 percent of respondents between ages 45 and 64 had a favorable view of solar energy.
Even if solar makes up only a small portion of your business, you can give it a prominent role in your marketing and benefit from the technology's positive connotations. When you're marketing to prospects, you need every edge you can get. Play up your alternative energy expertise and present yourself as a provider with vision.
Solar and Social Media Mix Well
A great outlet for your alternative energy-fueled image is the rapidly growing universe of social media websites. Facebook already has membership of more than 600 million, which is larger than the entire population of the United States. YouTube gets 2 billion views per day. Twitter averages 460,000 new accounts per day. These are staggering numbers which clearly demonstrate the power—and the possibilities—that social media presents.
Social media adoption is so widespread among consumers that it cannot be ignored without peril. Every company owner should assume that many customers and prospects are social media users and respond accordingly. Like businesses in all sectors, home comfort companies must capitalize on their social media opportunities or risk losing business to more aggressive competitors.
Social media marketing can deliver valuable benefits, starting with search engine performance. Your company website will appear higher in search results when it incorporates blog posts or videos that are linked with Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. You can also achieve multiple appearances in the top search results when you have a content-rich Facebook page or some videos on YouTube.
By using social media aggressively to optimize your Internet presence today, one company in any market can take on the look of a go-to provider. You can appear to be everywhere by dominating the top search result pages and leaving less room for your competitors. The Internet might be a vast universe, but when a homeowner is looking for a local business, they use search terms—such as "air conditioning companies Washington County"— that focus on just one tiny corner.
Social Media Influence Is the New Word of Mouth
A presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also helps you benefit from social media influence, which is the new word-of-mouth. When you attract the interest of some influential social media users, they may drive a lot of traffic to the content that you post, which improves your search performance and boosts your traffic. Ad Age Online in 2010 defined an influential user as someone whose online sharing actions result in at least one additional visitor to your site. Influential visitors make up no more than four percent of visitors to a typical site, but they regularly generate 20 to 50 percent of site traffic, simply because friends are more likely to check out any information that an influencer has shared online.
With a strong social media presence, you can also give your company a voice that humanizes the company and makes it more attractive. For example, when you post a link, a video or a blog entry, you may get some online comments that you can answer. You'll be directly addressing only a few people, but everyone who views your feeds and posts can read the exchange. It's a cost-effective way to demonstrate your company's good nature and attract people who prefer friendly companies. Exchanges with customers and followers can also provide excellent, free feedback that you can use to address your weaknesses and improve performance.
To succeed at social media marketing, you have to do a couple of things very well. First you have to commit to generating original content on a consistent, ongoing basis. A blog is a great foundation piece, because it is extremely versatile. A blog can link to news stories and give your reactions; make announcements; promote videos and other content on your website; extend special offers; and more.
Second, you must weave social media links into your website and use the social media websites effectively to announce and distribute the content you generate. That's how you expose your content to the largest possible audience and make it easy for everyone who sees your content to share it. Some companies generate and distribute their own content, while others use the services of a social media marketing firm such as PriMedia.
The ultimate goal is to gain more customers and elicit strong loyalty, and you get there by making great impressions through your company website and the social media services. The key to impressing prospects and customers is providing interesting, useful information with a pleasing tone.
If you install solar equipment, you can attract prospects to your website with relevant content. There are lots of possibilities. Find news articles about solar energy and discuss them in your blog. Make a video to demonstrate how a solar water heating system works and post it on YouTube and your company site. Write an article about one of your solar installations and post it with lots of photographs and a testimonial from the customer.
Seize Every Opportunity for Exposure
Every piece of interesting content that you create can work for you in multiple ways. Each blog post improves your search engine ranking, which helps you climb in search results. It also becomes an impressive update on the company Facebook page. When customers and prospects see that you are sharing information instead of making sales pitches, they will be more apt to consider you a leadership company. Put a Tweet button on your website that makes it easy for customers to share your blog post with others via Twitter. Install a Twitter Profile Widget on your home page so visitors can view links to all your tweets.
Be mindful not just of what you say but how you say it. After the economic meltdown of recent years, many consumers are looking for ethical companies that care about their customers and not just their profits. Take care to be informative and to deemphasize your sales pitches. Customers and prospects will choose whether or not to "follow" you on Twitter, "like" you on Facebook, or subscribe to your YouTube channel, so you have to be relevant and informative.
Offer helpful conservation advice that customers can use and share online with their friends. Publish information about tax credits and any rebates that can lower the cost of installing new equipment. When you provide helpful information in a straightforward manner, you enhance your credentials as a home comfort expert who is focused on customer service.
It helps to flash some friendly personality, too. Respond promptly to comments and questions, and embrace any criticism you receive as an opportunity to show how concerned you are about satisfying your customers.
To get the most from your efforts, you need to nail your search engine optimization. Every blog post and video needs to be accompanied by behind-the-scenes metadata such as keywords, and every posting should be announced on your Facebook page. Videos should be posted with complete metadata in your search-optimized YouTube channel as well as embedded in your website with a complete set of keywords. That way, all your content will be more likely to get good placement when a user performs a search for any related information.
Establishing your company as an online information source can also pay dividends in more traditional media channels. Announce your blog and your YouTube channel to all the television stations, radio stations and newspapers that serve your area, so that reporters and editors can follow your posts and call you first when they're preparing stories on energy or home comfort. Announce your blog in all your newsletters, advertisements and other customer communications.
Social media marketing might seem like a lot of work, but it can really pay off. If your online content makes you dominant in Internet search and bolsters your image as a green, ethical company, you'll gain a substantial advantage over your competitors and set the stage for a brighter, more profitable future.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.