It’s been only six months since Ryan Shaver began his Encinitas, Calif.,-based pool service and lawn maintenance company, yet the owner of Shave ’N Trim Landscaping has fostered rapid growth. He recently expanded the firm to include a pool route of 75 customers, adding to his steady base of 15 lawn care and landscape design clients.
Meanwhile, pool construction company Regal Pools has appeared on the prestigious Pool and Spa News Top 50 Builder list twice in the last three years, ranking No. 27 in 2017. That’s pretty impressive, considering the company opened its Spring, Texas, location just a decade ago.
While different in size, scope, business type and location, both companies credit much of their recent boon to their social media strategies.
“All of my new business is coming directly from Instagram,” says Shaver, who has attracted at least 10% of his customers through the platform.
Despite these successes, only select builders and landscape firms are utilizing social networks effectively, according to Joseph Christoforo, co-owner of Pool Builder Lead Rocket.
“It’s unfortunate, but the industry is still very ignorant of the process, especially the newer, cooler, hipper platforms like Instagram,” he says. “But the big boys are already ahead of the curve.”
Among pool industry segments — builders, service companies and retailers — the latter sees the lowest rate of use and success, says Christoforo, adding that this group hardly participates. Currently, metrics suggest that Instagram, in particular, does not work as an effective tool for pool and spa retailers. Nevertheless, insiders believe the platform’s time will come with this segment. They say retailers should get ahead of the curve and use this increasingly high-profile platform in unison with Facebook to reinforce the brand message, especially given the increasing pressures to compete with online sellers.
Those who follow the trends know that social media is continuously — and very rapidly — changing. Even in the past few years, it has evolved into much more than just a vehicle for posting photos, tweeting or using hashtags. Engagement is still the goal. But recent updates to Google’s organic search algorithms, coupled with the popularity and authority of Instagram and Facebook, are forcing businesses to leverage these websites differently. Now, businesses will find the most gains by creating a well-defined and developed story-telling strategy — and implementing it across platforms.
Here, industry insiders and social media marketing experts share how shaping and telling your brand’s story could boost your firm’s online presence, generate leads, and secure future customers, as well as the best strategies to do so.
Why you should optimize your social strategy
Just as surely as the social media landscape continues to shift, brick-and-mortar retailers must do the same, continually thinking of creative ways to stand out in a world of online competition. Ideally, the strategy will help a business effectively target particular demographics and improve its search engine rankings.
Signs point to the increasing importance of social media in reaching potential customers. This comes, in part, because of changes in search engine optimization (SEO).
Until recently, sites were ranked by keywords, which led to shady practices such as keyword stuffing and other ways to game the system. According to Google’s Quality Rating guide for webmasters, search engines are migrating toward brand-related metrics to rank sites and pages and determine their visibility in an organic search result. Now, more sophisticated algorithms recognize better-known brands. So if there is a buzz about a brand, it can impact a site’s SEO and organic ranking.
Many SEO specialists also believe that, since the release of its latest algorithmic update in 2015, Google is beginning to factor in social mentions from sites such as Instagram and Facebook. Furthermore, they think those social media mentions can hold more value because they are coming from sites that have authority, Christoforo explains.
In short, the more search engines receive signals verifying that you’re an authority in your field (even when it’s unlinked mentions), the more your brand will be trusted and the higher your pages rank.
Then, of course, there is the millennial factor. There may be no better place to target this group than on Instagram and Facebook. As of January, 64% of Instagram’s 800 million monthly active users fall between the ages of 18 and 29, with only 10% over 65, according to statistics database website Statista.com. This year, millennials became the generation with the most spending power, Forbes says. These consumers will only become more important with time — and 62% of them say they are more likely to become a loyal customer if a brand engages with them on a social network.
Ignoring these statistics could be catastrophic.
“You don’t want to be the company losing market share to a new startup,” Christoforo warns. “Instagram and Facebook are the only platforms that track everything about the user, including how old they are and where they live, and that’s why we think [these platforms] are ahead of the curve.”
Businesses can benefit from this data by using it to guide a digital advertising campaign — for instance, by targeting content by keyword information.
How to tell your brand’s social story
An hour a day: That’s all it takes for Shaver to generate new leads for his business.
He admits that he has somewhat of an advantage. Before entering the outdoor lifestyle field, Shaver spent 25 years in the surf industry. In addition to managing Becker Surfboard retail, he also has worked for Billabong, Quicksilver, Rip Curl and Deus Ex Machina.
Working in this creative subculture has had a direct influence on how Shaver approaches his branding and, ultimately, his view on social media.
“Everything has a story in it, and the main thing to do is to find that story, no matter what it is,” he says.
Shaver’s Instagram profile, for instance, gives followers a look inside the mind of the business owner. We learn that he surfs, lives in California, has a daughter, loves working with landscape and is passionate about building and designing unique outdoor sanctuaries. You can see he has an eye for design, tracks trends and pop culture. His story is artfully crafted using inspired and well-thought-out imagery. This enables Shaver to advertise his businesses without really mentioning them, because he connects emotionally through his posts.
In essence, a business must tap into the emotions of the consumer and use their story to forge a connection, adds Jenn Harman, author of “Instagram for Business for Dummies.”
Shaver has had nearly immediate results from concentrating his efforts on Instagram, but others are taking a more holistic approach to their digital campaign.
In addition to working with Pool Builder Lead Rocket to perform regular SEO website audits, Regal Pools is heavily utilizing tips from the marketing firm to tell its brand’s story on Facebook and Instagram. In telling these stories, co-owner Joshua Buzzell has found that consistency is paramount: The same theme, feel and style should come across in everything shared, regardless of which platform is in use, he says.
“The brand people interact with online is the brand they should see when they come to your store, and that personality and voice should be cohesive,” Harman adds.
Buzzell regularly focuses on stellar design, and much of his consistency comes from hiring the same photographer to take pictures of all his projects. This creates a cohesiveness to his profiles.
However, not everyone will have a photography budget. Instead they must rely on other methods. For example, take a picture of a new product, but don’t do it on the shelf. Instead, place the product outside in front of a tree and take a photo. In general, staging is key.
“Just because you are a retailer doesn’t mean you can’t get beautiful shots to use,” Harman says. “Keep track of what you like on Instagram and Facebook in your personal life and then determine how you can translate that to your business.”
No matter what, creating a story and a social strategy requires creativity, Harman warns, and businesses need to make a commitment to the process.
This is particularly critical in relation to combating online outlets such as Amazon. Christoforo suggests developing a story that captures a customer’s true buying experience, because the more people observe others shopping there, the more others will be willing to become a customer.
“For the online shopper, especially millennials, if you put up a photo of a pump, they are going to go to Amazon to look it up and get it cheaper, so you are never going to win that battle,” Christoforo adds. “Instead you have to share the experience and what’s it’s like to shop in your store.”
This could include a boomerang post of your newest client, or perhaps it’s a photo and mention in the “story” feature of Instagram. Or it could be going live on Facebook to share the story of another satisfied customer.
Add a filter to enhance your theme or style. Harman suggests sticking with the same one or two filters to give it a fluid look that ultimately will become associated with a brand’s story.
Take a few steps to maximize the reach of your posts. Tag big manufacturers and suppliers with large followings, as well as local events that you sponsor or attend. Then add a few strategic hashtags, keeping it to a maximum of 15.
Boost engagement and following even more by conducting surveys and giveaways. And repost content from profiles you love.
From there, it’s important to review the analytics. This helps steer future decisions by identifying what content drives engagement.
For example, Regal Pools generally posts more construction photos on Facebook, while it shows images of beautiful settings on Instagram. By reviewing analytics, he has determined that his Facebook followers enjoy knowing that his company is building a lot of pools in their region, and they respond well to construction images.
Things to consider
Ultimately, the ability to create an effective social-media strategy that tells your brand’s story across will come down to a few critical factors.
Although Instagram is used heavily in states like California, Texas and Florida, other locations such as Alabama, Minnesota and Georgia don’t see as much use, notes Christoforo. This means the potential customer base may not even be on that platform — not yet. “I always say any business can use Instagram, but not every business should,” Harman warns.
Even still, experts agree that being there now, even if not seeing an immediate return on investment, will likely prove fruitful down the road.
Further, if a business experiences results from Facebook but is still unsure of Instagram, Harman suggests slowly introducing the platform into the routine and building it over time to increase traction and engagement.
“No social-media platform is a one-trick pony,” she says. “It takes time to engage the audience, to build that up. And it could be six months to a year to build momentum.”