Developing Your Digital Marketing Skill Set

Originally published
Originally published: 10/4/2013

How to use social media to connect with customers and generate leads


Many HVACR business owners have an incredibly broad skill set. They are often certified HVACR technicians, have metal-working experience, are knowledgeable about electrical wiring, are good with their hands and work well with people.  They have also learned to manage a staff, read a balance sheet and comply with ever-changing federal regulations.

However, if you ask the typical HVACR business owner to name the skill set they could most improve, many would say “marketing.”
Marketing is a challenge for many small business owners, whether you sell tires, jewelry or HVACR services. Advertising and lead-generation tactics have changed significantly in recent years, and they continue to evolve. Today, knowing how to use the latest digital communications tools is an important skill set that can help your business thrive.

Consumers in a Digital Age

GE Capital’s 2013 Annual Major Purchase Shopper Study* revealed that 81 percent of consumers begin their search for major purchases online. That’s up 20 percent from a year ago. The percentage is even higher for consumers under 40.  What’s more, they spend a considerable amount of time researching major purchases before making a decision. In fact, according to the survey, they spend an average of 79 days researching a purchase of more than $500. So, a homeowner whose furnace or air conditioner is on the fritz will consult web browsers and review sites for help. When they do, you want your company to appear high on the search list. But how can you make that happen?

One way to boost your ranking is through search engine optimization, or SEO. While much has been written about SEO strategies, it remains a daunting task for most small business owners. Still, SEO should be an important part of every small business’s communications strategy, and it’s not as complicated as you may think.

You don’t have to be a webmaster or a computer programmer to make SEO work for your business. One helpful hint is to use the words people usually search for in strategic places on your website, including in the navigation links. Also, refresh your page content regularly with relevant and useful information, images and even videos. GE Capital’s recent Major Purchase study of consumers and their digital path to purchase indicates that people looking to make a major home improvement purchase often seek information about the “product name,” “model,” “cost” and “customer reviews.”

As an HVACR contractor, you may wonder how to discuss “cost” on your site. If you don’t provide specific prices for various services, you can post related information about financing – 61 percent of consumers surveyed said the availability of financing influenced their choice of service provider. You can also offer coupons to attract customers, and you can promote these through social media channels, keeping the message educational, informative and less commercial.

One of the best ways to boost your SEO and web ranking is by linking other websites and social media channels to your site. You can do this in a variety of ways, including:

  • Becoming active in social media
  • Getting involved in blogging and posting on other blog sites
  • Sending newsworthy press releases that mention your website to your local media
  • Posting articles on your site that contain relevant tips

It’s important to note that millions of consumers – about one in six according to the research – access the Internet at home through mobile devices such as a Smartphone or tablet. That number is likely to grow significantly as mobile devices and search capabilities become faster and more easily accessible. HVACR business owners can keep pace with this trend by making their websites Smartphone friendly. Remember that connection speed will vary greatly as the customer travels about with their smartphone or mobile device, and the screen size they are viewing is often much smaller than your laptop or desktop.  For those reasons, it’s helpful to create a mobile version of your site with a simpler design and limited content so that it loads faster and is more easily viewed on the small screen. This will ensure a better experience for your customer.

Going Social

For small business owners, social media is becoming more important every day and is a key activity for boosting SEO. It also is an essential conduit for all consumers beyond just the Millennial Generation (Also called Gen Y: those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s). Facebook still leads social media channels with 750 million users worldwide. Twitter is growing fast with 250 million users, while Linkedin has 110 million, Pinterest claims 85.5 million, and Google+ boasts 65 million – with all three reporting growth among Baby Boomers.  For example, Twitter reports a 79 percent increase in users aged 55-64 in the past year.

How can social media help your business? “We use social media to generate leads and increase our website traffic,” explained Wesley Holm, president of HELP, an HVAC and plumbing business in Cincinnati, OH. (HELP was formerly Thompson Plumbing, Heating and Cooling, a winner of HVACR Business’s 2011 Tops-in-Trucks vehicle graphic design contest. Additionally, Publisher Terry Tanker’s interview with Wesley Holm was featured in 20 Questions. See our June 2011 issue or visit

Holm and his company have been very involved in veterans’ affairs for many years, and they use social media to communicate their activities to consumers. They also post the important accomplishments of team members and provide useful household tips related to heating, air conditioning and plumbing. “Very little of the information we post is related to sales,” Holm noted.

HELP is active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. The company works with a third party that specializes in social media optimization for much of its outreach efforts. Holm acknowledges that social media has been helpful in generating business, even though the impact can be harder to measure. “It’s important for us to be a leader in everything we do, and social media is part of that. Social media is a great way to interact with clients, but actual sales results are difficult to quantify.”

Fresh content, said Holm, is vital for attracting Facebook friends and Twitter followers. “We send out new tweets about three times a day and we update our Facebook page several times a day.”

Connecting Old and New Media

While you are ramping up your social media skills and polishing your website, remember to promote your online presence through traditional media. List or mention all website and social media addresses and connections in your print and broadcast advertising. Listing your Twitter name and hashtag, for instance, will enable a consumer with a mobile device to check out your latest tweet. Just listing the social media logos in your print advertising will tell potential customers you have made it easy for them to find information about your business.

It is also helpful to include a quick response (QR) code in your print ads, signage, business cards or company literature. A QR code is that block of black-and-white code that can easily be scanned with Smartphones or tablets to access information about your business. Tech-savvy consumers can check out your company, get answers to HVACR-related questions or watch a video. You can learn more about QR codes by searching the topic online or by asking your webmaster or social media service. (For more information on QR codes, see Publisher Terry Tanker’s February 2011 Publisher’s Page: Making Smart Investments in Marketing Technology.)

When you have an opportunity to interact with a customer face-to-face, try to encourage them to also connect with you via social media. Make it part of your sales training for staff to ask for email addresses or to “like” or “follow” you on social media channels. Every person you add to your digital database expands your network and potentially boosts your SEO rating and marketing opportunities.

Learn More

Need to catch up on social media and online marketing? There is plenty of information available online to teach you the basics. Sites such as have a wealth of free information available, including webinars, articles and expert advice on all things related to strengthening your digital marketing capabilities.

Invest some time in strengthening your digital marketing skill set and the payoff will be significant. You will gain access to new leads, a broader audience and get a leg up on many of your competitors.

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