We have been hearing a lot of talk about social media. Some say you don’t need it, some say you can’t live without it, and yet others say it’s just a fad. What the heck is social media anyway? Do you need social media? Can it work for your business? What can it do for you? If you had the opportunity to put up a billboard along a road that had the potential for over 500 million drivers a day to see it, would you do it? If you could only reach 250 drivers every day, would you do it?

Think of social media as “media” that’s social. In other words; treat it as media. Don’t treat it as only social space. In any dealing with the media, you should always have a plan. Whom do you want to reach? What message do you want to convey? What goals do you want to reach? Treat it as media but integrate the social aspect so that you engage your audience and attain your marketing goals.

Let’s talk about the big three social media sites and then we’ll talk about another site that’s not as well known. The big three are facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. There’s also the lesser-known site called Foursquare. Let’s start our discussion with a description of each of the sites.

Facebook is the premier social media site with over 500 million users or just about 7% of the total world’s population. According to Facebook, 50% of the total users use Facebook on any given day. The average user has 130 “friends.” Seventy percent of all users are outside the US that means that over 150 million users are in the US or about 50% of the US population.

Twitter has over 106 million users who create over 55 million tweets a day. Twitter gets about 180 million unique visitors to the site every month. It gets 600 million search engine queries per day. New users sign up at the rate of 300,000 new users each day. That’s a whole lot of tweeting going on.

LinkedIn is the premier business-networking site in the world with over 33 million users in the US alone and 70 million users worldwide. LinkedIn is primarily a career-networking site, where members make connections and build relationships with professionals, friends, and recruiters. The average user spends 5-1/2 hours a month on the site.

Foursquare is a two-year old location based social network application that lets users communicate their location to their friends, and it lets them know their friends’ location. You can collect points, prize badges, and discounts from local businesses, for going about your everyday business. It currently boasts 2.7 million users, and it’s growing. It boasts of tools for business owners that allow them to track customer check-ins and offer discounts for customer loyalty.

These are just a few of the myriad of social media sites available. How do you choose the right one for your business? LinkedIn is for networking and building a contact list, it’s good if you’re looking for a job, trying to network, or looking for business opportunities. I personally don’t see the value in Twitter from a business standpoint; however, having said that millions of people use it for that purpose every day. Candidly, I have hundreds of connections on Twitter and I haven’t figured out how to read all of the posts or to keep up with them.

That leaves us the two sites that I recommend to clients and the sites that I believe hold the most promise for the HVAC business. Facebook is clearly a winner for business and we’ll discuss this in detail as we go. Foursquare is the other site that is worth watching. It’s better suited for a retail business but it may have benefits for an HVAC company as well. We should watch this social networking application.

How do you use Facebook to your advantage? First, if you haven’t signed up for a Facebook account, sign up and create a personal page. Second, send “friend requests” to everybody in your address book. Third, create a business page for your business. Fourth, send invitations to everybody you know on Facebook and ask them to “like” your page. Clearly, this is the simplistic approach to creating a business presence on Facebook and we should discuss this in more detail, but we will do that in a future article.

For now, we’ll assume that you’ve already created your Facebook business page. One of the nice things about Facebook is once you get 25 people to “like” your page; you can register a unique URL for your page. For my business, my Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/FracicaEnterprises. I encourage you to go there and see an example of what not to do for your business page. I haven’t spent much time on it and I haven’t really applied my own philosophy of what to do. I have used it as a training ground to learn how Facebook works.

I’m a little bit of a political junky, and one of the things that have bothered me is how political correctness has stifled discussion on many important issues for fear of offending some group. It’s censorship at its worst and it infringes on our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. To that end, I created a page on Facebook called End Political Correctness. On this page, I try to point out the absurdity of political correctness. It has also been a useful tool for me to learn the behind the scenes areas of Facebook.

If you want to see a good example of how to use Facebook to promote an idea, please visit http://www.facebook.com/EndPoliticalCorrectness. When I started this page, I announced it or promoted it to my friends on Facebook by using the “Suggest to Friends” link. Once I reached 25 “likes,” I registered the URL. I began locating articles that reflected on the ridiculous nature of political correctness and posting them. Then to promote the site I looked for other Facebook pages where I thought like-minded people might visit. I would post relative comments on those pages and then I would post a note saying they might also like my page.

That actually began to work and I started to see the number of “likes” go up, they worked their way up to about 110 and then started flatten out. That’s when I decided to experiment with Facebook advertising to see if I could attract any additional “likes.” Facebook advertising is extremely effective and cost effective.

With Facebook advertising you can select the exact demographic that you want to reach. You can enter the name of groups, age and sex of the person you want to attract, and you can use keywords to find the right demographic for your business. You can select a budget, and select the length of time that you want your ads to run. The nice thing with Facebook is you can run multiple ads in the same campaign and test your ads to see which ones perform the best.

In my little experiment, I set a $25 budget and a one-month run. You can specify the maximum pay per click rate you want to pay. Facebook charges your account weekly as you accumulate clicks so you don’t have to pay for it up front. When my ads started to run, “likes” for “End Political Correctness” were sitting at 110, now they are at 423, and I have one more week to go.

Facebook gives you weekly status reports. As now my ads have received over 186,000 impressions, 93% of those impressions showed one or more friends who “liked” the page, and 91 clicks at an average cost per click of $.24. Imagine this is information for your business, how could you use this information?

Okay, so you’ve created a page, and you have “friends” who like your page. What do you do now? This is where the “social” part of social media comes into play. You can do this yourself or hire somebody to write content for your Facebook Business page. Post information about your company, coming events, home shows, parades, team sponsorships, talk about your support for the local high school marching band and any charitable work you may have done. Encourage your customers to share their experiences and post special offers available only to your Facebook “friends.” You can also post care and maintenance tips that homeowners’ can do themselves and you can post spring and fall tips, like changing filters, etc. The idea is to start a dialog and keep it going, you want your Facebook “friends” to become your customers, you want them to think of you when their heating and air conditioning systems breakdown, and you want them to recommend you to their friends.

So do you need social media? The answer will vary from company to company, the smaller you are the more you’ll need it because it can make your company appear larger and it can help you develop new customers. Will it work for your business? Yes, it can work if you do the things we have discussed. It will help your business grow by keeping you in contact with your customers. Out of sight is out of mind, so stay in the forefront of your customer’s circle of awareness. You want them to think of you as a friend. Until next time.

Andy Fracica is president and CEO of Fracica Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in marketing, PR, social media, and lead generation strategy. He has over 30 years of sales, marketing, technical training, and product management experience in the heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. He concentrates on helping manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and startup companies find their voice in an ever increasingly crowded market place. Contact him at 260-338-4554, andy@fracicaenterprises.com or visit the website www.fracicaenterprises.com.