Adding Social Media to Marketing Mix

Window and door companies at all levels are harnessing social networking tools
Christina Lewellen
August 1, 2012
FEATURE ARTICLE | Operations, Sales & Marketing

Love it or hate it, believe in it or not, social media sites have changed the way we communicate, maintain relationships and conduct business. What might have once been viewed as a passing fad or an interest only among the younger generations is now solidly a part of the collective lifestyle of users of all ages and backgrounds, leaving company leaders to figure out how to harness the power of the organic and swiftly-changing online environment to benefit their broader marketing and branding efforts.

 
 Window World on Facebook

“Social media is an important part of our marketing mix because we know this is a place our customers and potential customers are interacting and sharing information,” says Todd Woods, director of marketing and market development for Window World.

The window and door industry is a mixed bag when it comes to social media. Some companies have embraced the power of the ever-growing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube communities and actively participate in these channels as a way to connect with customers and employees. Other fenestration executives have been slow to jump on the social media bandwagon, pointing out that social networking is a big investment of time and resources for a limited payoff when it comes to lead generation and additional sales.

Abe Gaskins, president of MGM Industries, points out that his company’s social media efforts are intended to “build an awareness of our company and to give a flavor of the culture of our company. We are not looking for direct leads.”  He adds, however, “I believe a well-coordinated social media campaign will generate an awareness, which begets brand building, which begets leads in the long term.”

Still, the best blogs, snappiest tweets and greatest number of Facebook followers are meaningless if the company behind the social media network isn’t professional, ethical and committed to quality. “The exceptional service provider with no presence in social media is far better off than the horrible service provider with a huge presence,” says Geoff Graham, founder and CEO of GuildQuality, a customer satisfaction surveying and reporting company that serves builders, remodelers and home services contractors. “Whether you tweet or not, your clients will talk about you, just as they always have. It’s up to you to make sure they have good things to say.”

"Social media isn't a stand-alone marketing tool," notes Christopher Dana, trade marketing manager for Pella Corp. "To be most effective, it needs to be a part of your overall marketing plan and integrated within your marketing approach."

#Network
It’s not necessary to consult research reports and studies to know that the majority of Americans spend a significant amount of their online time on social networking sites. In a recent blog post, notable social media expert and author Erik Qualman pointed out that recent studies show that more than 20 percent of Americans visit social media sites several times a day—truly making the phenomenon, as he calls it, a “social habit.” And for businesses that fear that social media still only appeals to a younger crowd, Qualman notes that the fastest growing user segment in social media is 45 year olds to 54 year olds. More than half of Americans in this age group have a profile on a social networking site.

 
 CMI on Pinterest

“Social media is a way of life for many people, and a way to reach our target audience in a different way,” says Stephanie Emmons, marketing manager for CMI. “We’ve made an investment in this to engage our audience and reinforce our brand awareness.”

Emmons adds that CMI embraced social media as an integral part of the company’s communication strategy several years ago, and recently expanded the focus to include the evolving interest in the social networking site Pinterest. “We have had the most success with Twitter, followed by Facebook and then Pinterest.”

Some window and door manufacturers are finding that social media is a way to connect with down-line segments of their supply chains. Essentially, social media offers the potential for a conversation with end users they may not have connected with previously. “Much like TV, radio and print, social media has the ability to reach a wide audience; however, it differs from those traditional mediums in that it is inexpensive, easily accessible and, most importantly, interactive,” notes Matt Samson, VP of marketing for Harvey Building Products. “By tapping into the popularity of these sites, we can improve our SEO, increase brand awareness and engage directly with consumers with little or no expense involved.”

The degree to which companies have success with social media sites can certainly vary, but one point from Qualman is worth noting: Facebook is, at the moment, the site with the greatest impact on purchase behavior. Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans using social media sites say Facebook is most likely to impact their buying habits—and this is an increase of 24 percent from the 2011 study.  “If you want to drive purchase behavior, Facebook is the place to start,” says Qualman.

Social media networks may also play a role in attracting employees who align with a company's core values and culture, notes Pella's Dana. "Many people conduct their career search online, so being an active part of the social media community helps prospective employees learn about what it's like to be a part of the team at Pella Windows & Doors," he says. "Pella uses social media as a part of its recruitment process."

 
 Tweets from Harvey Building Products

#Goals
Knowing where to start with social media—or how to expand existing social media involvement—requires a game plan, some goals against which progress can be marked, and an investment of the appropriate resources to execute the strategy, industry executives say.

“If a company chooses to venture into the social media channel, it is important that they invest time in monitoring their pages and providing fresh content for their fans/followers,” says Samson. “Harvey posts on [our] networks about twice a week and strives to retain and build our fan base by delivering useful homeowner information.”

Samson points out that Harvey’s strategy is to target homeowners—a direct-to-consumer conversation they haven’t had in the past—to build awareness for the brand and turn any potential leads over to its network of building professionals. With this consumer audience in mind, Harvey is disciplined about being more informative than promotional. “When posting about Harvey products and promotions, we limit their frequency so as not to appear too company focused or overly self-promoting,” Samson notes.

Simonton Windows has a similar approach with its recently-launched blog called “Simonton Says.” The company positions itself as an industry expert with homeowners, publishing information about new product offerings, industry best practices and tips pertaining to home improvements. This supports the company’s presence in other social media channels—including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube—as it offers a steady stream of company-generated content for sharing. “We’re posting new stories on the site multiple times a week to keep our audiences updated about Simonton products, industry news and home improvement tips,” says Marty Davis, marketing communications manager for Simonton Windows. “From cleaning and safety tips, to the best ways to add color to the exterior of the home, this site provides a wealth of information and enhances our current online marketing and social media sites.”

 
 Simonton Windows' blog

CMI, on the other hand, focuses most of its social media efforts toward its direct customers within the industry—builders, distributors, dealers, architects and other industry professionals, Emmons notes. “The CMI Facebook page is a great place to build a product-focused community and correspond with users,” she says. “Twitter allows a quick way to get out key messages and educate our targets on product, company and industry information. LinkedIn is a good place to market the company—not only for future hires, but to the broader network that CMI employees enjoy through the millwork and building products industry.”

Given the interactive nature of social media, some companies are finding that creating a community of customers facilitates information sharing and provides feedback. “We aim to create a community for the Window World family of stores, customers, brand advocates and potential customers to communicate and share information with each other,” says Woods. “Our Facebook page has become a place for customers to share reviews, photos of new windows, and talk about their energy savings, which is creating more content and branding for Window World. We want our customers to share the excitement of new windows with their friends and staying connected with them through social media provides this opportunity.”

The company can also address potential customer service issues that emerge in the course of this public conversation. “Some people feel more comfortable communicating with us on social media as oppose to calling or emailing directly, so we also use these channels to provide customer service,” says Woods.

Southwest Exteriors, a San Antonio, Texas-based dealer, finds that sharing information about the company's work, including before-and-after project pictures, company news, frequently asked questions and client testimonials is a way to open up to the social media community and introduce a feeling of transparency about the company's business practices, says Leah Rattray, marketing administrator. "We do want to come across as real and relatable to our followers, so we include [content] like team members' birthdays, holiday posts and thoughtful questions," she says.

#Updates
Mapping out a social media strategy requires company officials to decide who will be responsible for posting content and what type of content the company plans to contribute to the social networking community. While some industry companies rely on marketing and public relations teams to lead the charge in social media, other companies look to top executives to serve as the public persona in these channels. “I think if social media is delegated to a junior person within the company, one who is not seasoned with the culture and the fabric of the company, the campaign will suffer,” says MGM’s Gaskins. “Social media is on my plate at MGM.”

 
 One of MGM's videos on YouTube

What to say to a social media audience requires a strategy, as well. For Gaskins, social media is an opportunity for his company to remain transparent and relatable. In addition to an informative blog that addresses broader industry topics, MGM approaches social media as a way to pull outsiders into the inner workings of the company. “We are announcing product developments on Facebook practically in real time as things develop,” Gaskins notes. “We are most definitely trying to relate to customers, potential customers and the industry. That is our top goal. Information is a close second.”

Like many other social media participants in the industry, Gaskins says he makes a point to limit the overt sales pitch of the company’s products—instead, he encourages social media followers to engage with the company via other channels, including the MGM Industries website, the company’s blog and other social media sites. “The ‘big pitch’ is to get [social media followers] to come to our website,” he explains. “There, we have tried to be transparent in our test reports and also tried to relate by not coming across as a polished, big company. We want to come across as the friendly neighbor in your neighborhood, but at the same time, we want to build a brand and try to foster a certain confidence.”

Although CMI leverages its social media channels to have an industry conversation with its customers, Emmons points out that the strategy is to balance the informative posts with lighter, more conversational posts and updates. “Our goal is to be relevant, professional and fun—without a constant stream of product posts,” she says. “We don’t want to clog the Twitter and Facebook feeds, so we post no more than three to four times a week across most of the social media platforms.”

On behalf of GuildQuality, Graham says he and his team share news about its customers, best practice information its customers are likely to find useful, and insights into the company’s culture. They also make time to contribute to the social media conversation with comments and feedback. “We want to come across as who we are—or at least who we strive to be: friendly, helpful, useful, informed and compelling,” he says. “I wouldn’t call what we’re doing in social media as targeting anyone or any group. I characterize it as contributing to a conversation.”

Many industry professionals who are involved in social media are sold on the potential that these channels offer in terms of connecting with their intended audience, but they caution that social media is not a replacement for traditional marketing and public relations efforts. “We believe that social media is a function of PR but it doesn’t replace it,” says Window World’s Woods. “We try to make sure we have all of our traditional PR efforts in place as a best practices model, then tweet and post away.” 

#Measuring
Monitoring social media efforts is important, but tracking methodologies can vary as much as social media strategies themselves. “We track a variety of metrics, including Facebook likes, Twitter followers, group members on LinkedIn and Pinerest followers,” says CMI’s Emmons. “We base our success on how many people we reach and engage with through all the platforms.”

Woods says Window Worlds team looks at measurement in different ways, depending on what the particular goal of a social media campaign might be. “If we integrate an offline marketing campaign with Facebook to gain news likes, we measure success based on our new Facebook page likes,” he explains. “On typical Facebook posts, we measure the quantitative data associated to improve content reach, but also review the sentiments of comments on the post. Since social media provides so much opportunity for user-generated content, it is important for us to measure all aspects of the data.”

Whether tracking quantitative metrics through Google Analytics or monitoring qualitative indicators like the interaction with followers, industry companies are likely to increasingly find that social media delivers targeted results when it comes to communicating key messages and solidifying brand positioning with intended audiences. “With conversations out in the open, a company could become vulnerable to public scrutiny,” says Harvey’s Samson. “With preparation, however, timely responses to customer inquiries and excellent customer service skills can pull your company through without tarnishing your image. In addition, valuable information from fans as well as foes can provide insights [to the company] that may not have otherwise been considered.”

For Southwest Exteriors, measuring the dealer's progress in social media is an investment in the future, Rattray explains. "As the majority of our [current] clients are probably not very active in the social media realm except for recreational use, we approach it from the perspective of building a presence that will be quite solid in the coming years as younger generations who are extremely savvy with social media become our clientele base," she notes. "For our company, social media is a tool for investing in our brand management for the future."

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.