Turf Magazine - February, 2014

FEATURES

Social Media Smarts

What it is, why your company needs it and how you can use it to build your brand
By Ron Hall

It started simply enough, two cousins talking about business over lunch in September 2010, and one of them, Michael Stewart Jr., commenting that he'd love to do a reality show. Half-jokingly his cousin suggested doing a YouTube video.

Bingo. The cousins brainstormed the idea a bit more and decided why not? Why not a series of company-produced YouTubes (http://www.youtube.com/Stewcare)?

In the three years since, Stewart and his father, Michael Stewart Sr., have had great fun producing the videos. They also feel the digital exposure has greatly benefited their company.

"Social media and the Internet world have been very good to our business," says the son. "We've gained new clients because of it, and it's provided us a platform to build positive visibility in this very competitive industry."

The YouTube videos focus on the day-to-day activities of StewCare and the interaction among team members.

"Hey, in the end we're just cutting grass and having fun," says Stewart. "It also gives me great satisfaction as a son to be able to give my dad the recognition he deserves for building this business."

Michael Stewart Sr., founded StewCare in 1978. He remains actively involved in the company that is headquartered in Delaware, Ohio, a small university town (Ohio Wesleyan University) located just north of Columbus, Ohio's largest city and the state capital. The company provides a range of landscape and lawn services in central Ohio. This winter it has been very busy with snow and ice management.

The son started the StewCare YouTube Channel in September 2010. He started modestly. The first several videos introduced the company, including its founder, and featured tours of the company's facilities. The father and son team have produced more than 50 to this point. Collectively and to this date the YouTubes have generated well north of 100,000 views and have attracted more than 400 subscribers, some of them commenting on the episodes. Some viewers regularly correspond with the Stewarts.

"Pretty much every episode contains the work that we do, whatever might be going on in our company at the time. They usually have interaction between me and senior (Michael Stewart Sr.) and our team," says Stewart, 37. "We try to keep them as real as possible, including the interaction between Michael Sr. and the guys."



Father and son (l. to r.), Michael Stewart Jr., and Michael Stewart Sr., who founded StewCare in 1978.
Photos courtesy of StewCare.

The younger Stewart, who's gotten pretty handy with a Sony HD camera, obviously enjoys producing, editing and posting the videos, which vary in length, but are usually about eight to 15 minutes each. The company produces about one new video each month. Most of them deal with the trials, tribulations, screw-ups and successes of running a small family-owned landscape company.

But, as the opportunity and the time allow, the company stages a special YouTube, such as a StewCare Summer Olympics, which it produced during a drought-induced slowdown during the summer of the 2012 Olympics.

Then there was the company's even more popular "You Can Mow This" music video spoof based on M.C. Hammer's 80's megahit "You Can't Touch This." That particular production went international.

When the Kansas-based Grasshopper Company learned that the video featured its mowers, it adopted and featured the YouTube on a television in its booth at a trade show in France.

"It was a huge hit over there, too," says Stewart. "We try not to take ourselves too seriously, and we try to have as much fun as we can fun doing it."

Succeeding by sharing

One of the recent additions to the StewCare YouTube Channel is a segment where father and son respond to emails and answer questions from viewers. Michael Jr., says that it gives viewers, including customers, a great way to interact with his company.

"For a small lawn care company based in central Ohio it's very humbling," says Stewart. "It's given our customers and potential customers a way to learn about us, to see the passion we have for what we do, and to see that we're more than just a guy who shows up to cut your lawn every Tuesday."

He says that, based on viewer feedback and the number of "hits" that each video gets, he's learned that other landscapers (especially startups and owners of small companies) tend to like the videos focusing on the company's day-to-day activities, including how it maintains its equipment and how it performs its services.

The public, including customers, prefer videos that showcase the results of the company's work and completed projects, including beautifully maintained landscapes and lawns.

Both audiences react favorably to videos with humorous content. "It's not hard to find humor in some of the stuff that we do, but we don't want it to be cheesy or corny," says Stewart.

While the YouTubes generate what the Stewarts see as great community and brand building, measuring its effectiveness in attracting customers and generating new revenue is admittedly harder to measure.

Social Media Updates in Turf e-Report

Social media experts Wendy Komancheck and Hannah Tighe have agreed to share easy-to-implement digital strategies in our Turf e-Report, Turf magazine's twice monthly e-newsletter.

"Our readers will greatly appreciate the information being shared by Wendy and Hannah. Their practical, easy-to-implement strategies and tips will help Turf's audience to build and improve the online component of their branding and marketing efforts," says Turf Editor-in-Chief Ron Hall.

Komancheck is a frequent contributor to green industry publications including Turf magazine. She writes a popular blog on optimizing the power of social platforms to improve companies' inbound marketing efforts. Visit http://www.wendykomancheckswriting.wordpress.com.

Tighe is the founder and president of Chatterbox Social Media. She and her husband are the former owners/operators of a landscape company in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her specialty is training, coaching and consulting businesses on how to use tools such as Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and other digital media to increase their ability to be found on the Web.

Each of Turf magazine's twice-monthly e-newsletters will contain a short, practical column offering customer-attracting digital strategies by either Komancheck or Tighe. To receive the Turf e-Report, visit http://www.turfmagazine.com.



What's the ROI?

And that lies at the center of industry's debate on using social media - measuring its ROI in terms of time and expense in producing it.

Even with that caveat, Chris Heiler, a popular industry consultant based in Austin, Texas, advises a balanced approach to marketing for landscape and lawn care businesses - with both offline and online components. He recommends budgeting 5 to 10 percent of total revenues to marketing. He suggests that startups and newer, less-well-established companies spend more of a percentage of their revenues on marketing than companies with less aggressive growth goals and who are more focused on customer retention.

Heiler, the founder and president of the inbound marketing agency Landscape Leadership, reminds owners that while social media platforms are free, they take time to update. As everyone in the landscape business realizes, time is money.



Most of us don't realize the interest that our day-to-day activities hold for the public. Sharing dramatic moments like this online builds respect for what we do, StewCare has discovered.

Once a company decides that it must improve, update or enlarge its online marketing efforts, the decision then becomes whether to do it in-house or hire outside help, such as someone like Heiler.

Learning on the fly

In the case of Green Masters Landscaping the decision was easy to make. Anthony Pasquali, 24, son of company founder Atillo Pasquali, took on the duties himself and is convinced that social media is one of the reasons why the company is growing in its Toronto-area market.

"We're on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Houz - all of that fun stuff," says Pasquali. "I turn my father's ideas into social media and I also maintain our website."

Pasquali maintains the company's website and social media efforts even as he is doing production within his father's company. This winter that means keeping online marketing fresh even as the company is incredibly busy battling snow storms and participating in large regional landscape and garden shows.

Pasquali says that as he gains experience using social media he is getting better at targeting the company's core audience.

"There's always going to be a better way and I try to find it by constantly experimenting," he says. This may include using different language or images in the firm's marketing messages, or even something as elementary as using different colors.

"Perhaps during the course of a week, I will send out links to our website through a blog and I will see if that works. Or a video. Then I track which one got the most hits, which one was the most effective," says Pasquali. He uses Google Analytics, which shows almost at a glance, how much interest his posts are generating.

Chief among his goals - apart from driving viewer traffic to the company website (http://www.gmlinc.ca) - is establishing the family business as a recognizable and respected brand in its Toronto-area market.

"Anywhere that we can show our logo, regardless of the social media, I want it to be shown," says Pasquali. "I also post lots of pictures of our work. We're proud enough of our work to post it all over the Internet.

Tips for Upgrading Your Web Presence

Marketing and selling are year-round activities for you. Or they should be; shame on you if they aren't. While mid-winter is the most frantic selling season for those of you running seasonal landscape and lawn care companies, it's also the best time of the year for you to review and improve your digital marketing initiatives. They maintain a presence for your company regardless of season.

Yes, door hangers and brochures are important. But all of us have long since embraced the digital world. That's where just about all of us now research products and services. We may not buy services while we are online, but what we see and what we learn there will determine whether we take the next step and contact you.

Here are some practical and easy-to-implement tips to beef up your digital presence:

1. Update your website.

The first step to improving your online presence in 2014 includes updating your website by making it more appealing to your prospects. For example, do you know that it's better for your portfolio to have pictures of your satisfied customers enjoying their landscapes and lawns instead of the standard pictures of different projects?

Marketing professionals say that it's better to have real people - your clients - in the photos rather than hiring models to pose in your finished projects. Of course, if you use pictures of your clients enjoying their properties because of your work, make sure that you get your clients' permission first to use those photos. (Don't forget to first ask your clients if you can use pictures with them in it.)

2. Start a blog.

The day-to-day activities of your company offer plenty of material that many prospects and customers would find fascinating. Share details about interesting projects you're doing. Provide tips that viewers can use to improve their properties. Alert viewers to special conditions that they should be aware of, such as pest outbreaks and plant issues caused by unusual weather and so forth. Keep blogs simple, positive in tone and helpful.

Remember, your clients and customers subscribe to the acronym: WII4M: "What's in it for me?" So, make sure that your content focuses on them. You can ask your copywriter to put a call to action at the end of your blog post to encourage prospects to call you for business.

3. Embrace Linkedin.

Linkedin is a great digital platform to learn and to connect with other professionals. I am active on the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) Forum and several others, too. I have made valuable business connections there. There are many forums where you can interact with other professionals and share ideas and information.

Don't overlook Linkedin for your market areas. In my corner of Pennsylvania, I belong to groups like Linked In Lancaster and Reading/Berks Professionals.

4. Maintain a Facebook business page.

Setting up a business FaceBook page is pretty simple. And you can invite your friends to "like" your page. Facebook has a different audience than LinkedIn, it's more laid-back and personable. You can add contests and upload coupons to your page that will draw in clients.

There's a lot that you can do online that will draw others to you. And if you're not comfortable with social media, find someone in your company that can keep it clean and professional, but will also update it regularly.

Finally, being active online is almost akin to going full circle in today's marketing climate. For example, don't forget to put those digital buttons on your webpage so people can follow you, and add your website link to all of your social media outlets, so they can check out your website. Just like one big circle.

There are many other ways to beef up your Web presence. You don't have to plunge in and try everything at once. Improving your Web presence is like everything else you do to improve your company's reach and performance: take it one step at a time.

Wendy Komancheck blogs and writes web content for landscape and lawn care companies. Reach her at wendy@landscapewriter.com.

He says that social media is being generationally driven and that its role in our lives and in businesses will only continue to grow.

"The younger generation, even the generation younger than me, searches everything through the Internet. If they want to know something about you, they look it up through Google or social media," says Pasquali.

He says his father "is on board," with what he is doing for the company in regards to social media.

"It's like I'm teaching myself as I'm teaching him," says the son. "He understands the concept but doesn't do it himself. He has the business to run."

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been an editor in the green industry for 29 years. Reach him at rhall@mrpllc.com.