Volume 47, Issue 4 - April 2012

feature

Social Studies
Glass Retailers Find Success Online
by Penny Stacey

Social media—sounds social, right? Like something you might do for fun? But a number of industry retailers have found success utilizing a variety of social media avenues to communicate with customers, increase awareness about their offerings, and grow their businesses.

All-West Glass in Alberta, Ontario, has been on Twitter for approximately two years, and also utilizes Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr, a photo-sharing site.

“I think it’s really important to share information on these sites and I appreciate the information they share with me,” says Tonya Gillard, marketing/quality administrator for All-West Glass.

Buchanan, N.Y.-based ATM Glass and Mirror utilizes Facebook, Google’s Blogger, LinkedIn and Wordpress to communicate with current customers, potential customers and other suppliers. “Truthfully I don’t know how we managed without it. Social networking has been huge for us,” says Robin Selesky, operations manager for ATM. “From a business perspective I can connect with a lot of people that years ago I would not have had a relationship with. It really does tie people together.”

Erin Burgess with ABC Glass and Mirror in Manassas, Va., also networks with a range of others through her company’s use of Facebook. “I would say we have clients, we have contractors that we do work for, and employees of suppliers,” she says. “Our company isn’t necessarily friends with General Glass International (GGI) but some of their employees could be our friends. Then we also have a lot of real estate agents, which is great, because they often need people to do work on houses they’re trying to sell.”

What to Post?
What glass retailers choose to post on these sites varies from one to another. Gillard aims to focus on community items that will draw locals in. “I try to present the company as a very community-minded company,” she says. “We have 22 locations and we’re really involved in charitable organizations, and my main thing is to highlight those to the community as well as highlighting our products and services.”

But it’s more than marketing. “I wouldn’t say it’s marketing as much as creating a conversation,” says Gillard. “I post whenever there’s something on there I feel I need to respond to. It’s like jumping in the middle of a chat at a party and joining a group. That’s what Twitter is really about.”

Sometimes, she simply shares fun, even random, things that she finds. “I recently shared a photo of a partially Albino moose that I’d found,” she says. “I thought people in this area would like to see it, even things that aren’t related to the business.
You can still be lighthearted and contribute in a positive light.”

"It’s like jumping in the middle of a chat at a party and joining a group. That’s what Twitter is really about."
—Tonya Gillard, All-West Glass

Burgess takes a similar approach. “I try to do a balance of community awareness. I don’t want to post all business-related content,” she says. “I might post about things going on in the community, such as parades. A lot of what I post is fun stuff sometimes, maybe some video from YouTube … We’ve made it into the newspapers on several occasions, so I definitely post those, new jobs that we have—anything like that.”

Selesky focuses on trying to promote her business’s offerings through her work on Facebook. “We post completed projects, or jobs that are multi-phased and provide updates,” she says. “We even post things like new machinery that we’re adding to our production, or if we have a new type of glass available.”

The company recently began offering glass countertops and used Facebook as a way to show potential customers the process of creating these. “Now you can show them from the fabrication stage to when they’re ready for install,” she says. “People are intrigued by that.”

She adds, “With Facebook I can walk around the shop and snap a few pictures. From the retail perspective it’s also good for the client to see what’s involved. It gives them a little more insight and provides more than what you can usually [show them].”

Similarly, Gillard has found an affinity with Flickr due to its ability to display photo albums of great magnitude. “Of all the social media sites that would be my favorite, maybe parallel to Twitter,” she says. “Photos, like the old saying goes, say a thousand words.”

She adds, “You can talk and type, but a photo is a really neat way to communicate. We’ve always said ‘this is what we’re

The Big Fan: Facebook
Facebook has become quite popular amidst consumers, but how can glass retailers highlight their businesses on the page? Businesses can set up a company page through which they can gain fans, or, in recent terms, “likes.” Anything you post should show up in your fans’ news feeds, and they can then like your posts, comment on them, etc.
Pros:
• Facebook provides a simple way to share updates from anywhere.
• Photo albums on Facebook allow your company to highlight projects, personnel news and more.
Cons:
• Promoting your page to others can be difficult without advertising through Facebook.
• The page must be updated regularly in order to stay in front of viewers.
Examples: http://on.fb.me/Hb53mp, http://on.fb.me/HiomyC
www.facebook.com


Tweets Away: Twitter
In this medium, companies can easily set up their own pages by joining the site and can participate in the conversation just like any individual can. The main idea behind Twitter is to build followers—and therefore the number of people and businesses who see your updates when you post them.
Pros:
• It is somewhat easy to build connections on Twitter, as you can follow anyone you like and often in turn these will choose to follow you back.
• “Hashtags” often make it easy to participate in a conversation about a particular issue or event, helping you to attract readers and build your followers. These also can help you regionalize your posts when trying to draw in consumers.
Cons:
• The use of hashtags can make a complaint about your company very public, and you’ll want to deal with any such complaints quickly.
• Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters or less.
• Twitter doesn’t allow the like/comment capability Facebook does, so it’s a bit more difficult to gauge which of your posts are popular among followers or are interesting to them.
Examples: http://bit.ly/I6U9A5, http://bit.ly/HwgFye
www.twitter.com


Come Together: LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a site designed for professionals to connect with one another, share status updates and keep others abreast of any job changes. Though companies can join the site and set up company pages, typically most join in an individual capacity and connect with others in their field.
Pros:
• A large number of business professionals utilize the site, and you often can connect with CEOs and other decision-makers that you might not have had the chance to interact with otherwise.
• LinkedIn sends updates out to its users, so that you don’t necessarily have to visit the site daily to find out about others’ job changes, news, etc.
Cons:
• Many use LinkedIn for professional use, but others use it as a way to connect with those from whom they might seek future employment. This can be great for a person, but not so good for that person’s employer.
• Connecting with consumers and building your customer base on LinkedIn could be very difficult.
Examples: http://linkd.in/HoOwwQ, http://linkd.in/Hb5FZq
www.linkedin.com


The Scoop on Groupon
Groupon has grown in popularity in its short three years in existence, along with a host of other similar websites and services with a similar concept.

“[Groupon] is essentially a community-based promotional program, where a group of people combine their buying resources to implement and activate a deal with a local vendor,” says Patric Fransko, chief operating officer for Zola Distributing company, a window film supply company that has experience with Groupon.

How Groupon Works (An Example)
If your normal price is $65
And you offer discount price to Groupon $40
Groupon gets half as fee $20
And you get $20
Amount lost from a normal sale is $45

One major drawback to Groupon is the cost involved. While in some cases offering deals is free, most sites take a portion or percentage of what a company sells through them. Some sites take up to 50 percent of what the customer pays for the deal, leaving your company with a modest profit—if any (see chart above for more information).

“Groupon is great for getting customers, but it doesn’t really make you any money,” says a representative of Delta Glass in Denver, who preferred not to be identified.
www.groupon.com


doing in your community. These are our projects—we’re a very family-oriented organization and here’s the proof.’ We have hundreds of photos on there and I really think it’s valuable.”

Gillard suggests that it’s important to keep photos somewhat natural, though. “I’ve gone to other Flickr sites and they’re too staged,” she says. “We’re appealing to people like us; our employees live in small, medium and large communities in an apparently out-of-the-way part of the world, so we’re appealing to our demographics.”

Whether on Flickr or Facebook, photos are valuable for both working with builders and remodelers, along with architects and designers. “From the building perspective, they like being able to see your product and to put theirs in front of you,” says Selesky. “From the retail perspective, you can connect with architects and designers. It’s really beneficial to everyone.”

Gillard agrees. “For me, [social media] is very effective, especially business to business,” she says.

It’s important, however, to watch the way posts are worded, according to Gillard. “You can’t go on there and say, ‘we’re the greatest blah-blah-blah’ because nobody cares,” she says. “You have to approach it a little differently than traditional marketing. You have to have someone [working on the site] who’s a little offbeat and likes to communicate.”

Posting often enough to keep it interesting is key, without overloading followers. Selesky, who focuses mainly on Facebook, updates the company’s page at least four times a week, but sometimes multiple times a day.

“The more regularly you are on there, the more your comments are seen and people get a feel for what your company is about, and it gives your company more personality than any radio or television ad,” says Gillard.

In addition to the mainstream social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, many glass retailers also have found success with blogging. ABC Glass and Mirror is one of these. “We blog a lot about whatever we’re doing or working on,” says Erin Burgess with ABC. “We advertise shower doors a lot, so we blog on them as well.”

“Blogs give us a chance to use more verbose-type descriptions,” she adds. “For example, we might do an overview of the month and what’s going on. We introduce new employees, new faces you may see at your home or jobsite—just more verbal, where Facebook is just a few lines and a picture.”

The company maintains both a Wordpress blog on its website, and a blog on Google’s Blogger site. Burgess will then, in turn, post links to those blogs on Twitter and Facebook. “The link between blogging and putting your blog information out onto Twitter and Facebook is really important because it’s one more avenue where your information gets out,” she says. “I think it’s huge and I think the combination of those is really important.”

The company maintains both a Wordpress blog on its website, and a blog on Google’s Blogger site. Burgess will then, in turn, post links to those blogs on Twitter and Facebook. “The link between blogging and putting your blog information out onto Twitter and Facebook is really important because it’s one more avenue where your information gets out,” she says. “I think it’s huge and I think the combination of those is really important.”

Building Followers
While many businesses have set up shop on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others, how do you let your customers, potential customers and others know they are on there? This varies as much as what companies choose to post.

“Most forms of proposals and such are done by email and in the first line of our signatures we list all of our social network sites,” says Selesky. “It gets people to say, ‘wait a second, let me see what they have there.’

“Sometimes we’ll also send an email out to our contacts and say ‘like us on Facebook and receive a promotion,’” she says.

All-West started out quietly on Twitter, before promoting it. “We did a little experiment on Twitter and didn’t tell anyone we were on there, but after a year we started adding it into our print advertising, our signage, our employee newsletter and our website,” she says.

But this seemed to be ideal for All-West. “Too much growth too fast would be a bit daunting and would take up too much time,” adds Gillard.

Today, the company has 357 followers.

Different Strokes
While glass retailers’ use of social media is growing, which of these media use d varies from company to company. For Gillard, for example, Twitter has been the preferred place to be; the company maintains pages on both sites, but tends toward Twitter as its main mode of communication. “Facebook has a different feel and a different vibe,” she says. “It’s much slower. I think your information needs to be much more specifically targeted and you have to have more of an impact to get more attention on Facebook.”

Conversely, she says, “Twitter is more information sharing and gathering and aggregating, and it’s making connections—very quick connections.”

While many companies have found success with social media in the glass business, Gillard suggests that these sites aren’t worthwhile for companies that aren’t dedicated to them. “Not all companies should be on [social media],” she says. “It does take up a lot of time and effort. You need to have someone with a lot of passion for it. If you go to a page and the page hasn’t been updated in a month, it makes a company look like they don’t really care about their business.”

Is It Worthwhile?
In some cases, the jury is still out on whether ultimately promoting a glass retailer’s services through social media is a surefire way to increase sales. But those USGlass interviewed for this article were in agreement that it’s crucial for brand awareness and lead generation.

“[Social media] offers a little more insight as to what you can offer as a glazing contractor or what the customer is looking for,” says Selesky. “It does generate a number of leads. People keep these ideas in mind for things that are pending down the road.”

Burgess has found that, though the company has devoted time to building search engine optimization on its website, sometimes the company’s social media pages still may come up higher in Google rankings than its website when a customer searches for shower doors in the company’s area, for example. “It’s not just about building business within the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn communities, it’s about building your presence on Google,” she says. “Building that reputation and credibility is invaluable to small businesses.”

"From a business perspective I can connect with a lot of people that years ago I would not have had a relationship with. It really does tie people together."—Robin Selesky,
ATM Glass and Mirror

Gillard says for All-West, it’s too early to tell what will come down the line.

“My take on it is that you get in there early and establish yourself as a presence, and you become top of mind for people,” she says. “You want to be the one people think of when they want your products and services. How do you translate that into sales? I haven’t crossed that line yet. There are experts out there who’ve researched this topic, but it’s too early for us.”

But, no matter what, being where your customers are is crucial, she says. “It’s important to get your customers wherever they are and be where the people are,” adds Gillard. “If people are gravitating to these sites to communicate and you’re not doing it, you’re missing a large part of your demographics.”

Follow Us!
Be sure to follow USGlass on Twitter @USGlass; like us on Facebook by searching for USGlass Magazine, and connect with our editors on LinkedIn.

Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. Email her at pstacey@glass.com, follow her on Twitter @USGlass, read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook to receive the latest updates.

USG
© Copyright 2012 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.