Article by Erik Curren, CEO, Curren Media Group
Congrats—your solar company has accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But do you have a social media plan to make the most of those platforms and grow your solar business?
Social media can be a good way to reach potential customers and other important audiences, especially for residential solar companies. Every day, more top residential solar installers are engaging with consumers on social media. For example:
- Sunnova, RGS Energy and Verengo Solar are on the big three social media sites—Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—plus YouTube.
- SolarCity and Vivint Solar are on the usual services but also Google+.
- Baker Electric Solar might win the social media prize. Along with a presence on all five platforms mentioned above, they also engage on Pinterest, Yelp and a company blog (which counts as social media, depending on how you define it).
Even some commercial solar developers, such as HB White Canada and Borrego Solar, display links to social media accounts on their websites. All of which shows that solar companies are responding to the new climate for solar marketing, which is characterized by two recent developments:
- Affordability and Competition: The falling cost of equipment plus more financing options including PACE, equipment leases and PPAs have made solar power, whether onsite or off, more affordable for homeowners, businesses and government alike. This has created more demand for solar, which has in turn attracted new players to the market. To try to beat rising competition, solar companies have gotten more creative (and sometimes more aggressive) in their marketing.
- The Social Web: The advent of social media, such a big deal that pundits call it Web 2.0, has made possible true two-way communication between web publishers and their audiences. That means members of the public now expect home solar installers and other solar companies to listen to them and even answer their questions online.
Both of these developments have created a Wild West environment for solar marketing, especially on the residential side. In top solar markets such as California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, homeowners are increasingly busy fending off telemarketers, home visits and other forms of aggressive marketing from solar installers that apparently believe that old-school aluminum-siding-style marketing is the best way to sell advanced energy. For example, check out the sketchy sales tactics used by solar marketers in Orange County, California. Or Arizona. Or Vermont.
Though most solar companies aren’t doing anything wrong, consumer complaints to state regulators and action by attorneys general have drawn attention to the bad apples in solar marketing, creating distrust for residential installers as a whole.
Social media can be a powerful channel for installers to build trust in the market. Two-way social media communication between homeowners and a solar company can help build the trust needed for homeowners to make the big investment that is going solar.
Unlike buying ads or hiring a telemarketing vendor, social media is free to use. But it doesn’t run itself, and managing one or more social media accounts well takes up employee time. Overall, to get maximum benefit out of that investment in time, residential solar companies should have a solid social media plan. Here are six steps to get started:
1. Determine goals, audience, competitors and challenges
Social media software company HootSuite suggests that any organization using social media develop SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. For example, on Pinterest you can share photos that show delighted solar customers. You can do this by posting three photos a week that will achieve five likes and a couple of comments each to start with. Once you have more followers, you can shoot for more ambitious goals.
And if you haven’t yet developed buyer persona profiles for your three to five ideal customers, now might be a good time to start. After all, you need to understand the audiences you want to reach in order to communicate with them effectively on social media.
2. Discover the best practices from the pros
While experts disagree about the exact ratio of your own content to others content that you should share in your social media posts, the average solar company will be safe following the 80/20 rule. That is, limit your own content—company news, new products, promotions—to 20% of your total of social media posts. Fill the remaining 80% of posts with content from other companies, people and groups.
Sharing mostly stuff from others that’s helpful, informative or entertaining to an audience interested in solar helps build trust. It also establishes your company as what Copyblogger calls a “likable authority.” If they learn to feel comfortable with your company by seeing your posts over a period of weeks or months, social media followers are more likely to think of you when they’re ready to buy solar.
3. Simplify monitoring
What solar marketer has time to check in on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other services multiple times each day? All too many solar marketing pros find themselves falling behind in keeping up with social media posts from fans, followers, peers and competitors and to reply to customer comments and questions when appropriate.
Hootsuite, Buffer and other social media management programs make it much easier to stay on top of all your social media accounts. Buffer is a clean, straightforward tool for publishing and scheduling posts on different services. Hootsuite is a more involved program that helps you publish your own posts, monitoring what people say about you or on topics you care about, and even respond when you decide to do so.
4. Grow your following
Connecting with your social media audience is really about offering valuable content that people want to consume, like and share. And that means going beyond sharing company news—“hey, check out this great new racking system!”—or yet another list of tips on how homeowners can be more “green.” Much better would be a short video of an unusual solar installation, an e-book busting the top myths about home solar or a checklist of things any homeowner should look for in a trustworthy solar installer.
5. Create engaging posts
People behave differently on Facebook than they do on Twitter or LinkedIn. To succeed on each service, you need to adapt both your text and pictures to what users expect.
By the way, you are making custom graphics for some of your social posts, aren’t you? Custom graphics are more likely to get shared. And if graphics have your company’s website address on them, they can build your brand and send traffic to your website, too. Fortunately, DIY design services such as Canva have made social graphics easier to create. But you can even do fine social media graphics in PowerPoint.
6. Schedule your social media posts and promote your content
Creating a spreadsheet of planned social media posts for the next few weeks makes it easier for marketers to coordinate their campaigns, grow their social reach and put out more content. For example, HootSuite lets you upload an Excel spreadsheet directly to their service to conveniently schedule your future posts on several social media services.
Ready to get started? HubSpot offers a free social media strategy kit that can help you create and execute your social media plan.
About Erik Curren
I’m CEO of the Curren Media Group, a digital marketing agency based in Virginia that helps solar energy companies go beyond cold calls to generate qualified leads online with marketing that actually makes buyers happy. Speaking of happy, I brew my own beer at home too.