How does a company use social media to attract customers – especially in an industry where establishing thought leadership and addressing public policy issues are so critical?
That was the core focus of the second session of the SMB Social Media Makeover Forum.
Hannah Solar‘s President and CEO Pete Marte and Sales and Marketing Operations Manager Sarah Dougherty sought advice from a panel of social media experts that included Debbie Curtis-Magley - Public Relations Manager, UPS, Josh Martin - Manager of Social Media, Arby’s Restaurant Group, Seth Miller - Senior Manager, Turner Entertainment Networks, David Landsman - Director of Strategic Alliances, mfg.com.
Hannah Solar is an Atlanta-based solar energy developer. Their expertise ranges from commercial and industrial solar energy to residential, farming and agriculture, and government and military solar energy applications. Hannah Solar and its sister company Worry Free Power are heavily involved with the infrastructure deployment.
Thought Leadership – How can Hannah Solar grow its business by addressing non-commerce issues to raise thought leadership/visibility in the solar industry?
Non-Commerce Issues - How can Hannah Solar balance commerce and non-commerce issues? How do you use social media to address environmental issues and public policy in context of your business? How do you dispel myths about the cost of solar being so expensive?
Resource Management – How can Hannah Solar effectively manage and prioritize limited resources (dollars and time)? Does the whole team need to be involved? How do you balance with other marketing opportunities like trade shows?
Channel Integration – By its own account, Hannah Solar has good content. How do you integrate Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook into an overall strategy? How do you make it seamless? How do they tie employees’ personal Facebook and Twitter accounts with Hannah Solar’s properties?
Strategy – How can Hannah Solar develop a focused strategy so they are not jumping from site to site and topic to topic?
Sales – Taking all these issues together, how can Hannah Solar generate more sales from its social media program?
KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR IMPROVING HANNAH SOLAR’S SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT
- Sell the issue to sell your company. For certain industries, you need to address issues and correct misconceptions before you can make the sale. That’s the case for Hannah Solar. Their challenge is educating potential customers about the benefits of solar and changing their thinking about the cost of energy.
- Be consistent and stay engaged. It’s an education campaign that requires a commitment to using social media (blog posts and this case YouTube) over the long run, not sporadically on an ad hoc basis.
- Stand for something. This is especially important with solar power where people have strong opinions. Taking a stand will help to differentiate your company and clarify your social media strategy. Your position may conflict with some prospects but it will help you more effectively reach your target customers.
- Let people know what you are doing why you are doing it. Social media should be the face of your company. Run your business on a personal level. In the end, be passionate about your service or product.
- Be prepared to address issues unrelated to your company. For better or worse, information is 24/7 and travels instantly. It can impact your business even when you are not directly involved. For example, the whole solar industry got a recent black eye as a result of Congressional and Federal investigation into now-bankrupt California solar company Solyndra. Solyndra’s was the third bankruptcy among U.S. solar companies in a matter of weeks. But it had been a poster child for the nascent solar industry.
- Address negative issues. Social media has made it very easy to make the public aware of poor service; you can’t hide any photo or negative experience; you just have to make sure to correct and fix the problems. In the case of Arby’s, they prepare by educating franchisees on the positive and negative power of social media.
- Be proactive and act quickly. Social media accelerates response times. UPS uses social media to address issues and incorrect information that can accelerate over the Internet. In the past, they had to address issues ranging from rumors of free shipping to Haiti after the earthquake and concerns raised by the threat of bombs being shipped to the United States on cargo planes from in Yemen. This is where the consistent use of social media is invaluable because you can’t wait for a crisis to build trust and credibility with the public.
- Know your audience. Identify the voices of those who have a large following and want to help. Do not only talk about yourself; involve organizations and individuals who have a similar perspective. But it can’t only be about passion. Hannah needs to appear credible and responsible, particularly for their customers who are senior level executives responsible for making large purchasing decisions.
- Use YouTube. Youtube is second largest search engine behind Google, and video is an ideal channel to help people understand the benefits of solar energy and how it works.
- Take advantage of infographics. They a great way to present information and illustrate data in a way that easy for your audience to absorb and understand.
- Use discussion forums. They are particularly beneficial for issue oriented industries. They are an ideal platform to go into deeper conversations and draw more attention to issues that impact you.
- Leverage a blog. It’s critical to addressing complex issues and staying current on breaking trends and news. But to maintain readership and stay relevant, you need to blog at least once a week to two weeks.
- Integrate Channels – Your social media should direct customers back to your website. In the case of Hannah Solar, their Linkedin profile should point to the website. Save time by having your blog post automatically automatically appear on your Facebook page and having Tweets automatically go to your Linkedin page.
- Some suggested tools: TweetBig an inexpensive monitoring tool to help build followers on Twitter.