March 22, 2013, 7:00 am <!– — Updated: 7:00 am –> 10 Comments

Social Media and the Not-So-Sexy Business


socMy favorite thing about writing for this blog is when someone gives me a social media challenge. On a recent post, Where Should I Invest My Marketing Dollars? a business owner from Texas who identified himself as “PW” left the following comment:

I think the problem businesses like kitchen installers, plumbers, tree trimmers and others are having when it comes to social media is to overcome the fact that their product or service is not necessarily cool. I am one of those business owners and I always think that social media is only for the coffee shop, graphic designer or the bike shop. When you own a roofing company or a cleaning service, is there really a (useful) place for you on FB or Twitter? Let’s be realistic, no one is going to repin the picture of a concrete driveway. So how do you build a network of followers when your product is as unattractive as removing raccoons from attics?

This reader was so frustrated that he came back the next day and left a follow-up comment, “As I read my comment this morning, I realize the answer to the problem: There is no appropriate social media outlet for contractors.”

Actually, it wasn’t much of a challenge at all to find a few examples of not-so-sexy businesses that are doing great things with social media. Here are three stories that may help you see some possibilities.

“If you want it done right, you call Dynamite!” is the slogan of a Philadelphia-based exterminator, Dynamite Pest Control. Led by Rich Foreman, 34 and a second-generation exterminator, the five-person business uses social media as its only form of advertising. Every Valentine’s Day, Mr. Foreman posts a photograph with “I ♥ U” spelled out using dead cockroaches — a promotion that always drives comments to the company’s Facebook page.

Mr. Foreman, who believes that any comment is a good comment, says he is always amazed by the response his photos elicit from fans — and also from a few detractors. “Facebook is our most effective social media tool,” he said. “We post pictures of our work, and people share them, and we believe 75 percent of our new business comes from Facebook.”

He also uses Instagram and his personal LinkedIn profile to generate business. “We’ve been able to build relationships with real estate developers and property managers, which represents 10 percent of clients,” said Mr. Foreman, who also belongs to two LinkedIn groups where pest-control technicians share best practices and strategies. He does acknowledge that he gets complaints from people who are disgusted by his photos, but he says he also gets business. He said he does try not to post anything too bad around lunchtime. “The folks that complain don’t have pest issues,” he said. “The others are glad that we remind them what we do.”

Istueta Roofing is a YouTube superstar that has been putting roofs on Miami homes for more than 28 years. Three years ago, it started working with Surefire Social to update its Web site and to improve its search engine optimization. One of the first strategies it put in place was to start creating videos of the company’s work and to provide educational and how-to videos for homeowners.

One call from a customer ended up changing the business. The customer reported some bats under its roof, and armed with a video camera, Istueta went out to install a new roof. The video that resulted has received nearly two million hits on YouTube and made the company a household name in south Florida. The video sent a lot of traffic to the company’s Web site, and Ariel Istueta, the company’s marketing director, says it increased business significantly. “When we talk to prospective clients,” she said, “the bat video is often mentioned, and other contractors call our owner Batman.”

Patrick Driscoll, who owns Patrick Driscoll Residential Remodeling in Exeter, N.H., is active on many social media channels but credits writing how-to articles with generating most of his leads. For the last five months, Mr. Driscoll has written a monthly column for his local paper, The Portsmouth Herald. He makes use of the column on Facebook by sharing links from it on his fan page and in other social media accounts.

More than half of his new customers, Mr. Driscoll said, hire the four-year-old company after reading his articles. On Facebook, he posts photos of his construction projects along with tips on how to decorate and where to get materials. Being active on Facebook and Twitter, and commenting on remodeling trends for various articles, helps the company’s search ranking on Google, said his wife, Stephanie, who has her own public relations firm and handles Mr. Driscoll’s social media marketing. “This is very helpful for prospective customers, because when they go to Google him and find that he is published in several articles and takes pride in maintaining his image online,” Ms. Driscoll said, “it is often the tipping point for choosing between P.D.R.R. and other contractors.”

How about you? Do you know of a not-so-sexy business that is making the most of social media?


Melinda Emerson is founder and chief executive of Quintessence Multimedia, a social media strategy and content development company. You can follow her on Twitter.