“We’ve always tried to embrace change and technology, whenever possible,” says Andy Felix, owner of Tree Tech, Inc., in Foxborough, Massachusetts. He’s not talking just about the latest in chain saws, chippers and cranes. These days, being on the cutting edge means using social media in your tree care business, he emphasizes. “You can’t deny that it’s part of life right now… and you have to stay current.”

Realizing this, when Felix recently had an opening for a plant health manager in the company, he added social media responsibilities to that position’s job description. “I wanted someone with the knowledge, or at least the capability to learn how to manage those sites,” he explains.

Information, not promotion

One key to building relationships with customers using social media is to educate and inform followers rather than bombarding them with sales pitches. “We try to take little bits of information about interesting things that we’re doing as a company and share them with our followers,” says Felix of the approach to social media taken by Tree Tech, which currently has about 900 followers on Twitter and nearly 750 likes on Facebook. The company’s postings include fun and interesting tree facts and regular profiles of employees, which Felix says not only helps boost morale internally but also helps let the public know about the people working there. The company’s goal with social media isn’t to actively sell to customers, but rather to inform them, he notes. “We’re very passive in that regard. I’d say it’s not even a soft sell — it’s a no sell approach.”

Arundel Tree Service in Pasadena, Maryland (which has more than 400 Facebook likes and nearly 1,200 Twitter followers), publishes an online blog that’s updated almost daily with profiles of different types of trees. This information is also published on the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages, along with other interesting tree facts.

The goal is to educate homeowners about the types of trees in their yards and how they need to be cared for. “We tend to see a lot of reaction from customers to this type of information; they definitely like to have something educational rather than just, ‘Hey, call us for tree services,'” says Amy Gilliss, senior operations manager with the company. “It can get annoying when businesses keep posting, ‘Here’s our phone number.’ A lot of people just ignore that.”

When it comes to social media, it’s better not to be overly pushy, Gilliss says. In that sense, you have to inform people and just hope they’ll call when they’re in need of service. “Letting people come to you is hard in business,” she acknowledges. “But you just need to keep your name out there and be consistent…we like to post five days a week, at least, just to keep things relevant and fresh.” Not everyone can do this, she says, so posting at least once a week is still a good idea.

Gilliss also emphasizes that, especially when being highly visible using social media, it’s important to only disseminate information that’s correct. For that reason, only licensed tree experts within Arundel Tree Service are assigned to write blog posts. “You want to make sure that everything you’re putting out there is true and correct,” she states.

And she says that the company’s social media postings definitely have a devoted following. “We have some customers who will call and say, ‘You didn’t put a tree profile up today!'” says Gilliss. Those are the kinds of relationships that the company hopes will eventually result in business.

The Size of Social Media

  • The internet has 3.17 billion users
  • There are 2.3 billion active social media users
  • Internet users have an average of 5.54 social media accounts
  • Social media users have risen by 176 million in the last year
  • One million new, active mobile social users are added every day — that’s 12 each second

Source: Brandwatch.com

Getting (or keeping) your name out there

Matt Swearingen, owner of Matt’s Tree Service in Stratford, South Dakota, started personally “playing around” with social media several years ago, and then a couple of years ago decided to set up a Facebook page for his business. “After that I added Twitter and some other social media, as well,” says Swearingen. For example, his company’s YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing various tree care jobs they have done.

The move into social media has dramatically boosted business, he says.

Facebook remains Swearingen’s main social media tool, and he also purchases ads for his business through the site. “When I started doing that, I basically doubled my customer base,” he says. “The ads on Facebook helped a lot to bring in new customers. And my Facebook page keeps existing customers engaged and active — it keeps me in the back of their minds.”

Matt’s Tree Service now has more than 2,300 likes on its Facebook page, as well as 30 customer reviews. More than 750 people follow the company on Twitter. “I used to try to post a photo or a comment every single day. I don’t do that anymore because I just don’t have the time, but I try to get on there every few days and say something,” Swearingen says. It’s a good problem to have, he notes. “Social media has really amplified my business to the point that I don’t have as much time for it as I used to.” In fact, he’s in the process of trying to assemble a second crew to pick up some of the new work that’s come in.

Despite being busier than ever, Swearingen says he’s committed to continuing to devote time to his social media accounts. If you let long intervals go by between posts, people are going to forget about you, he says. “Then a post pops up from someone else, and they call them. You’ve got to keep your name in front of people constantly.”

Tip from a Pro

If you complete a job for a satisfied customer, shoot a video of the work and ask the customer if you can post it to their Facebook page, suggests Hans Tielmann with Pine Valley Tree Service in New Jersey, who won a 2015 Tree Care Industry Association Professional Communicators Award for social media. “Then their friends see it, and you get more calls,” he explains. “I try to post things wherever I can, just to get people to talk.”

Social media as a tool

For companies that have been in business for many years, social media often serves a different purpose. “We’re fortunate. We’ve been in business for 33 years, so our goal isn’t to get tons of new customers – we just want to be able to service ours as well as we can,” says Felix with Tree Tech. “Social media is just part of our overall marketing approach to keep our name in front of customers.”

Still, he likes the fact that the social media infrastructure his company has created provides a powerful sales tool, if needed in the future. “We could change…we could move into a sales mode, if we felt it was necessary,” says Felix. One concern he would have about actively selling tree services would be the possibility of “overdoing it… making it so that we couldn’t handle the amount of business that could come from it.”

The job of communicating through social media doesn’t end with a sale, emphasizes Hans Tielmann with Pine Valley Tree Service in New Jersey, who won a 2015 Tree Care Industry Association Professional Communicators Award for social media. “Once you get a job, you have to make sure the customer is satisfied, so they’ll tell everyone how wonderful you are,” Tielmann says. “That’s what it’s all about these days – everyone’s life is on their computer; everyone wants to talk about their life or about a great deal they got, or how terrible a deal was or how terrible a service was.” Customers will communicate through social media whether you like it or not, so you want them to say positive things, he notes.

How social media is being used

Tielmann has personally been a user of social media pretty much from the beginning of the boom. “I’ve been on Facebook since the first month it launched,” he says. “As Facebook has grown, the way people use it has evolved. The original Facebook was pretty much to know where the party was that night or who’s dating who. It’s grown now to the point where the data collection is incredible – what you can learn about your markets and where you fit in to that. It’s an amazing tool to add to your business.”

That’s exactly what Tielmann did at Pine Valley Tree Service when he rejoined the family business — started by his father — after earning a college degree in computer graphic arts. “When I came back, it was sort of a no-brainer to use social media to help bring in more work,” he says.

Social Media Business Statistics

  • 91 percent of retail brands use two or more social media channels
  • Social networks earned an estimated $8.3 billion from advertising in 2015
  • 38 percent of organizations planned to spend more than 20 percent of their total advertising budgets on social media channels in 2015, up from 13 percent in 2014
  • Only 20 Fortune 500 companies actually engage with their customers on Facebook, while 83 percent have a presence on Twitter
  • People aged 55-64 are more than twice as likely to engage with branded content than those 28 or younger
  • 96 percent of the people that discuss brands online do not follow those brands’ owned profiles
  • 78 percent of people who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour

Source: Brandwatch.com

The one thing that’s needed with social media, obviously, is content. Rather than straight educational content, which can be dry, Tielmann says he tries to present the information with a little bit of flair to make it interesting. His most prominent social media presence these days is on Instagram, where he’s garnered more than 5,600 followers around the world, and is growing at a rate of about 25 new, active followers a day. He posts information about tree care industry and safety issues, as well as happenings within his own company. It’s given him a chance to share information and ideas with other tree industry professionals, while also educating the general public.

“It’s a great place to compare notes and get peer-to-peer insights,” Tielmann explains. “I try to give good content that will benefit the industry in general. I’ve always felt this industry is underestimated in terms of who we are, what we do and how we do it.” Social media is a way to communicate the professionalism of the industry, he adds.

Content can even be as simple as posting a photo from a current project. Felix says one trick with social media is to remember — and to remind employees — to take photos in the field on a regular basis. This is easy to forget when things get busy, but it doesn’t cost anything and those photos (and related information) can be very valuable from a social media standpoint. What may seem like a simple, run-of-the-mill job to those in the tree industry could be very interesting to a homeowner facing the same issue with their trees.

Felix says he receives analytics reports every week from Facebook. While there’s a wide array of detailed data, it’s the number of likes that Felix focuses on. Not only is the hope to see that overall number grow, but it’s possible to see what types of posts produce an increase in likes, which helps to direct future social media postings. “We’re learning as we go, just like everybody else,” he says. Felix also reports that requests for service often come in directly through the company’s social media sites, and those leads are forwarded to the appropriate sales reps just as would happen with any other customer inquiry. So far, Tree Tech has opted not to invest a lot financially (beyond the obvious employee time required) in the social media sites. For example, the company doesn’t pay to “boost” posts to increase their reach or place ads on Facebook.

Swearingen has no doubt that the time he spends managing his social media accounts is paying off. “I can actually see the difference it makes. I get a lot of private messages through Facebook from people wanting estimates for particular jobs – so in those cases I know the Facebook page is actually doing something,” says Swearingen. He’s less certain about the direct business impact that Twitter is having. “I haven’t yet really figured out how to run that; right now it’s just set up so that anytime I post something on Facebook it shows up on my Twitter feed.”

Tielmann suggests that for those with no social media experience, Instagram is a great way to get started. “That’s the best way to break into social media, because it’s just sharing photos,” he states. “Social media can be intimidating for those new to it; they know that other people have been doing it for a long time, but once you start posting a few things you get used to it.”

And, when in doubt, ask your kids. “They can be great social media specialists. Use them as a resource,” says Tielmann.