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Investing time in social media

Facebook can be the perfect complement for a home improvement company. Once customers accept ‘friend requests,’ the company has an online channel to contact them.

By Todd Bairstow

At a recent home improvement economic summit, a home improvement dealer asked me an interesting question: “When should I hire a full-time person to handle my social media?” A year ago, no one would have even thought of social media as needing a dedicated worker, but we’ve come a long way since then.

What is social media?

To borrow a definition from Joseph Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis, an Ottawa-based public relations and communications agency specializing in social media, “Social media are online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author. To do this, they use social software that enables anyone without knowledge of coding to post, comment on, share or mash up content and form communities around shared interests.”

However one defines it, social media is all the rage right now in online marketing circles, as both Internet users and marketers are spending ever-increasing amounts of time engaged in it.

More importantly, social media is popular because it is free—there is no payment required to the newspaper ad salesman or to the local printer to create thousands of direct mail pieces. The free nature of social media can be alluring, as it does not cost a dime to set up a Twitter account or a Facebook page.

Do you need a full-time social media manager?

Going back to the original question, my response was ‘full-time’ would be too much of a commitment at present. An investment in search engine marketing/optimization would produce a better return on investment (ROI); however, that is not to say social media is not valuable to the home improvement industry.

A home improvement business, such as a swimming pool builder or landscape designer, should cap its time spent on social media to approximately one hour per day. Why? At its heart, social media is more of a branding instrument than a direct customer acquisition tool. A company cannot draw a straight line between its social media investment (time) and how much extra revenue it produces. I have heard stories from individual pool and spa companies that have picked up a customer or two directly from a Twitter following and from its company Facebook page, but those are the exception rather than the rule.

The smart way to look at social media is as a branding tool that provides a new way for customers to meet and interact with your company. However, the process of updating your social media sites should not take all day. Generating sales and taking care of customers have a more direct link to revenue than social media does at this point.

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