Social Media: you love it or hate it, but no matter how you feel about it, social media is a must-have marketing tool for businesses. It’s not just about push marketing and broadcasting a message, though. The key to social media is being “social.” Customers want to do business with businesses (people) that they know, like, and trust and social media is a great way to accomplish that. You can easily stay in touch between trade shows and events where you’ve met customers face to face.

Being “social” on social media is a tall order when you’re in the middle of the spring rush, though. That’s why it’s helpful to schedule enough posts in advance to provide a framework for the season. Then you can pop in and out of your accounts to respond to questions, share spur-of-the-moment stories or behind-the-scenes peeks when you have time. By scheduling in advance, you’ll know that you have an online presence to supplement your website, in the places where your customers spend their time, even when you’re stuck unloading truck after truck of shrubs or on the job site overseeing installations.

Social Platforms: Where to Be
There are hundreds of social media platforms, but only a few are worth your time in the green industry.

We recommend everyone in the industry, at a minimum, maintain accounts on Facebook and Instagram. Scheduling tools can post the same content to both at the same time.

Designers and design/build firms can see a lot of traffic from Houzz profiles that showcase their portfolios and offer contact forms. Create enticing descriptions for each project showcase.

If you’re working a lot in the B2B space, LinkedIn can also be effective. Up to 50 percent of decision makers purchasing in the B2B space use LinkedIn to research buying decisions, so it’s worth it to keep an updated profile on there, sharing executive-level information on trends, availability, processes, and tips.

Twitter still works but is time-consuming. If you do not already have an established presence on Twitter, we wouldn’t recommend jumping in right now.

Creating Images: Must-Have Resources
Your own photos are always best for posting, but sometimes you need to send a message and you don’t have a great background photo to you. Rather than just grabbing something from a Google image search (which could land you in hot water), look on royalty-free stock photo sites. Pixabay.com has many green industry images that are free and require no attribution. Shutterstock.com offers many green industry specific images for a small fee, but you can use them in an unlimited capacity.

If you want to add text to social media, Canva.com is the go-to free tool. It will allow you to upload your own photos and create professional looking graphics with just a few clicks. They have plenty of templates to choose from or you can create your own. Don’t miss their stellar how-to videos for designing.

Getting Ahead: Scheduling Tools
Keep a consistent presence on social media, and get a jump on the season by selecting and setting up a scheduling tool.

Tailwind
If you want social media to be easy, get Tailwind. This app is one of the few that will allow you to schedule posts to Instagram, which is a major time saver. Tailwind can push posts to Facebook (and twitter if you’re there) for you, killing two birds with one stone. Tailwind also allows you to build your Instagram posts from your computer, rather than your phone, which is, quite frankly, easier. You can edit photos on your computer and use your full keyboard to type hashtags. (The program also suggests hashtags, which is helpful.) Tailwind is $120/year per main account, so you’d pay for one Instagram account and it can push to Facebook and Twitter for you as well.

Hootsuite
Hootsuite is a fairly low-cost program that does the job, though it looks a little clunky. Hootsuite can publish to Facebook, Instagram (as long as your Instagram account is a business account), LinkedIn, and more. It’s a more comprehensive program for pre-scheduling to multiple accounts. The downside is that you can’t manage replies in Hootsuite. It’s inexpensive, though, and there is still a free bare-bones option if you want to stick your toe in the water.

Buffer
Buffer combines the best of Tailwind and Hootsuite, but it’s much more expensive at around $50/month as opposed to $15/month. You can manage all social accounts through Buffer, post to Facebook, and handle replies. If you have a lot of accounts to manage, it is worth it to have everything in one place for posting and responding.

Each scheduling program has its own interface, but the basics are the same. You’ll set up your account, connect your social profiles, and start creating content. You’ll be prompted to upload a picture, write captions, select or create hashtags (where applicable), and choose a time for your content to post. Each tool has good how-to videos and most have live chat for paid accounts.

Content Creation: What to Post
The types of content that are universally engaging don’t differ much between audiences. Just make sure you put a B2B or B2C spin on it. All social media audiences engage highly with:

Video: Both live and in-person video have high engagement at the time of posting and after the fact.

Behind-the-scenes peeks: Potential customers will love pictures, videos, and descriptions of you doing work, on-site, installing patios, planting trees, sticking cuttings, etc.

Customer-generated content: Have happy customers that share photos? Re-share and re-post.

Photos - prioritize realistic over highly stylized or produced: People can tell when something is photoshopped or completely unrealistic and they respond to authenticity.

How-to information: From how to order, what your design process is, plant care tips, and regional-specific information, anything that helps a customer be more successful using your services is good social media content.

Staff spotlights: Help your customers get to know you and your staff to strengthen the personal connection.

Polls, questions, and quizzes: Anything that encourages engagement and feedback will be fun for customers and beneficial for you.

Social media can seem overwhelming, but by choosing a few social platforms to focus on, pre-scheduling content, and making a point to check in weekly, you can see the benefits without losing a lot of time.