Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are just a few of the rising stars in the social media world. Until recently, their application reflected their social media status. Users tabbed them to share interesting moments with family and friends and to update them with “happenings” on a daily and even hourly basis.
These social media tools may have been designed for social interaction, but companies, including landscape contractors, are finding them useful for staying in touch with customers and growing revenue streams, as well.
Beyond The Web
What’s the saying today? “If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist.” To be sure, a website is an important e-commerce tool since the Internet is likely to be the first place, or one of the first places, property owners will look to find service providers.
“You absolutely need a web presence,” says Heather Schuster, president of Wisconsin-based Terra Firma Landscape and former president of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association (WLCA). “Our company no longer spends one penny on Yellow Pages advertising and instead uses those ad dollars to keep our website up-to-date.”
The words “up-to-date” are key, she adds, pointing to the growing significance of social media tools, especially Facebook. “To add images or otherwise change our website, I have to contact our IT person who will then orchestrate the changes for me. On the other hand, I can post new images of projects we’re working on to our company Facebook page anytime I want.”
Terra Firma’s Facebook page, which can be accessed from its website, features images from more than a dozen projects, with new postings nearly every month. Schuster also posts the company’s involvement with charitable events, company awards, timely updates on service offerings, as well as gardening and landscaping tips for property owners.
Adds Schuster, “Our customers, many of whom are on Facebook, get an opportunity to see what projects we’re working on. The tool’s power comes into play when they send an image of something we’re doing to one of their friends.”
This landscape professional says there truly is no downside to having a Facebook page. It’s easy and free to set up. Just visit facebook.com, set up an account (including password), add some photos and news items, and start looking for friends.
Chestnut Oaks Lawn & Landscape in Greenville, South Carolina, has been on Facebook for only six months, yet already the company has more than 320 active friends, including 60 who are customers. “From our perspective, Facebook is more beneficial than our website,” relates company owner Dean Cox. “Facebook is so easy to update with images such as ones we recently posted showing before and after images of a sod laying project.”
Cox explains that Facebook is like talking to a friend on the phone except there is an important multiplier effect. “Every time I post an image, it goes on our friends’ walls. If one of them has 500 friends, those friends also get to see the image.”
This Walker user estimates that Facebook generates two or three new customers a month, and doesn’t cost a dime in the process. “We don’t do any advertising anymore,” he emphasizes, adding that Facebook does something that Yellow Pages and other forms of advertising cannot do: prequalify customers. “Pictures don’t lie,” says Cox. “They tell an important story about the type of company we are, the services we provide, and who a typical customer is likely to be. If customers are price shopping and see us on Facebook, they won’t give us a call.”
Conversely, being on Facebook allows Cox to stay connected with both existing and potential customers.
For landscape contractors, Facebook offers another advantage. It affords a way to stay connected with their suppliers.
“We can easily post images of new Walker Mower products on our Facebook page for customers to see,” says Laura Cross, IT manager for Dickel Duit Outdoor Power Inc. “Just as an example, we posted images from a Walker meeting we attended last summer, including ones of a new mower deck. A few days later, a customer saw the deck on Facebook and came into the store to have a closer look.”
This Red Oak, Iowa, dealer has more than 160 “friends” on its Facebook page, many of whom are commercial customers. “We’ve only been on Facebook since July, but already I’m amazed by how much interest it generates,” says Cross. “Facebook may be in its infancy, but it has become an effective e-commerce tool for us.”
Cross is less excited about business applications for YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. “YouTube doesn’t convey the professional image we want,” she says, “and Twitter seems to attract users who want to follow celebrities. LinkedIn, on the other hand, seems like more of a career-building site for professionals.” The dealership isn’t blogging yet, Cross points out, but might do so in the near future.
In the meantime, it’s full speed ahead with Facebook. This outdoor power equipment dealer would like to have at least 500 Facebook friends, many of whom would be commercial customers. Cross refers to this social media tool as “an electronic word-of-mouth” and an “eBay for people who can find anyone, anywhere.”
It works that way for this Walker dealer, and it works similarly for Chestnut Oaks and Terra Firma. The word “social” is a good fit for any relationship business, and taking advantage of Facebook is just one way to give social media a business application for your company.