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December 14, 2020
Social media is not where most fabricators want to spend their time, but with a little effort, doing so can reap real rewards in bringing more business into the shop.
Fabricator Buddy Ontra, owner of Ontra Stone Concepts in Bridgeport, CT, and Irene Williams, founder of the digital marketing and social media management firm Msg2Mkt, offered plenty of advice for fabricators looking to get into social media or merely up their game at a TISE 2020 panel presentation.
A Rocky Start
Ontra learned a valuable lesson when he first dove into the world of social media. Figuring it was a young person’s game, he brought in his stepdaughter to help him manage the process. Pretty soon all her friends were following his business.
He got followers all right, but they weren’t customers for the business. “I didn’t want that.”
Then he hired a woman who had experience in the construction industry to do his social media postings. Ontra quickly discovered that construction industry experience didn’t really translate to fabrication industry experience after she posted a picture of tile on the website, and he had to tell her he didn’t do tile. His takeaway: “You need a social media person who is familiar with your industry.
Ontra’s other takeaway for fabricators who jump into social media: “Delegate, but don’t abdicate. Your name is still on the door.” If it’s your business, keep a careful eye on what gets posted, and intervene if postings are becoming too generalized, he says.
From Cats to Counters—Finding Content
Ontra found a great hook for his social media with Calacatta, aka Cal or ShopKat, the little gray and white stray that found a home at his business a few years ago, and became a favorite with his followers. “We have a storyline with the cat, and people are interested in that.”
He recommends fabricators ask their customers to photograph completed jobs and allow the company to post them on its social media platforms. Marketer Williams acknowledges that while it can sometimes be difficult to get those images from customers, she says it’s so worth it to have them.
“Don’t think you can only post totally finished project images,” she adds. In-process photos are just as interesting to followers, and a quick video takes little time to take and post to the website, but it can garner a lot of interest and induce people to return to see the progress of the job.
One question that Williams fields a lot is, “‘Can you drive traffic without blogging?’ Yes. You just need to have pictures and links, and they need to go back to a property you own, like your website. That’s where it pays off for you. Make sure your website is photo rich.”
Ontra suggests fabricators also take photos of anything they do for the community on a volunteer basis, and post them. “Let folks know you are part of the community.”
He will also post installation videos, and recommends keeping them short—two minutes or less. “If you’re at a show like TISE, put up photos showing you’re out in the world, learning and upgrading your business,” Ontra says.
It’s important that fabricators wishing to get into social media make sure they understand the platform(s) they use, he says. Ontra knows that’s not popular advice, but it’s key to making the best use of the platform.
He ended up using Facebook and Houzz, both of which are done in-house. He also uses Instagram, but has that produced for him, out-of-house. His results? “My colleagues have all seen my pages, and people look me up online.” His postings, including the exploits of the house feline, encourage people to follow him, and reach out to him for work.
When it comes to choosing which social media platforms to use, Williams offers some suggestions: “Don’t disregard Pinterest. Pinterest is where we get the best traffic back to the [client’s] website. She says ad buys on Pinterest are also useful. Another important platform is Houzz, and Williams notes Houzz’s advertising is not crazy expensive, like LinkedIn’s. However if a fabricator has a strong presence on LinkedIn and regularly uses it to keep in touch with contacts, then advertising there might make sense.
While Ontra doesn’t do a lot with LinkedIn, he finds Houzz very useful. “We come up higher [in the rankings] on Houzz, because we keep moving our job pictures around. “There are a lot of builders out there who are looking for fabricators.”
Hashtags—VIPs in Social Media
Hashtags are simply a way to connect social media content to a specific topic, event, or conversation. Pay attention to the hashtags you use, Williams says. A hashtag is a magnet for eyeballs, so make them truly meaningful, and local. A hashtag that reads #interior design is global in scale, and pretty meaningless. You can even create a branded hashtag to promote your business.
She recommends doing a little research and finding the things that other local businesses are using. “I’d rather have 50 followers that might buy, rather than 5,000 just followers.” Williams advises fabricators revisit their hashtags twice a year to ensure they are still relevant and useful.
Ontra has found tagging the professionals who work on his jobs to be a useful strategy. Doing so will link to those professionals’ followers, and the fabricator might pick up some of those followers. He did just that when he performed a job for a retail store called Mitchell’s, hashtagging the store, the material he used, the architect, and the designer on the job.
Whatever platforms you choose to use, Williams suggests posting at least once a day. “Whenever you have something to share, do it. Just make sure that every post points to True North for your business.”