A 38-year-old "Generation Xer" needed to replace the air conditioning system in his house. What did he do? He texted his friends and asked for a referral. What did his wife do? She went on Facebook, looked for coupons, posted requests for referrals on her Facebook page, and checked Angie's list.

The only surprising side note to this story is that the characters in it are my son and daughter-in-law. And they actually do like us as parents! But instead of asking us (with 60+ years of experience in the industry and personal relationships with a number of contractors near where they live), they did what Gen Xers do. They used texting and social media to get their "word of mouth" referrals. Yes, for Gen Xers, "word of mouth" is social media. And the same trend is a growing phenomenon for their Baby Boomer parents who are following the example set by their children.

According to an April 7, 2011 article in Inc. magazine the top four social media tools are Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and blogs. And according to a recent survey conducted by Inc., 77% of marketers are also beginning to focus on YouTube and video marketing. So what you need to do is easy.How to do it is the hard part.

First, according to the same article in Inc., one third of marketers spend a minimum of six hours per week managing their social communication. Half spend 11 hours a week and the remainder spend 20 hrs. per week. So, yes, you probably need to outsource your social media strategy and up-dates, or at least hire someone part-time to manage these communications for you.

Where to Start: Create a Facebook page for your business, but make it personal. Remember, Facebook is a social medium, meaning people want to make connections with people, not be sold something.

Consider making someone in your company the personal face of the company. Instead of your logo, use a picture of this designated spokesperson on the Facebook page. This person becomes the “expert” who can post about efficiency, indoor air quality, humidity control — all indoor comfort issues.

When making posts, include activities that homeowners can do themselves, such as changing filters and using the garden hose to clean the outdoor condensing unit. Now, your Facebook postings educate people and provide free advice.

Remember, creating a web-site and Facebook page for your business isn’t all you must do. Now, you must manage it properly, up-date it often, and engage customers regularly.

Many Facebook users go to company pages for coupons. They’re actively searching out companies with an offer on their Facebook page. At least every two weeks, post a special promotion only for your Facebook and Twitter followers.

Keep your Facebook page full of relevant and, most importantly, up-to-date information. Include pictures of employees and happy customers (once you receive permission). Important note: don’t make all of your posts related to your business.

Post YouTube videos from credible third party sources to your company Facebook page. For example, if you do duct and dryer vent cleaning, post the YouTube video "Dryer Vent Cleaning—A Must," filmed by NBC's Today Show. At the end of this video, the announcer states that a homeowner should have a professional clean the dryer at least once a year.

Social media is about "Traffic:" Getting people to your company Facebook page must be part of your marketing strategy. Have your employees ask their friends to become fans of your company. Ask your customers to become fans and tell them about the incentive for special promotions only available on Facebook. Put the Facebook logo in your shop, on your personal Facebook page and on your website.

Pictures and coverage of local community events will also bring potential customers to your company Facebook page. If your company sponsors a little league team, makes a donation to a local charity auction, has an employee participate in a walk or run for charity, post pictures of the event on your company Facebook page. Obtain the names of people in the photos and when posting the photo on the company Facebook page, tag the Facebook pages of the people in the photos, possibly creating a new fan for your company.

The key to the new world of "word of mouth" referrals is to be social. People want to connect to other people in order to connect to other people. Facebook is a social medium, so make it personal.

Vicki LaPlant has been working with HVAC contractors for the past 30 years as a trainer and consultant. She is expert in helping people work better together for greater success. She is a Contracting Business.com editorial advisory board member, and can be reached by email at vicki@vleishvac.com, or by phone at 903/786-6262.