Social media vs email. For solar installers, one’s hot and one’s not. But maybe that’s not such a good thing.
In solar as in other industries, there’s a lot of hype these days about social media. But few solar installers bother to put much thought into sending out truly useful email to their potential customers and others.
And that might be one reason why too many solar companies aren’t getting good results from their online marketing.
The Overblown Promise of Social Media
Many solar installers seem to think that online marketing = social media. And that social media ads will get them lots of solar leads right away and quickly lead to new sales. Even if they barely have a functional website, many solar installers have tried pay-per-click ads on Facebook or Instagram at some point.
Buy ads on Facebook. Get solar leads. Close new deals. Do it today!
Ahh, if only it were that easy.
Unfortunately, PPC ads haven’t always worked out so well for solar installers. A better way to use social media is to build up your own audience organically. That takes time, but it’s an audience that’s yours, not one you’re temporarily renting from Facebook or Google with ads. In that way, social media followers are an investment for the future.
But no matter how big your following on Facebook or Instagram, social media is always a low-touch communications medium. After all, it’s supposed to be “social” — fun with friends and family. People just don’t take it that seriously. And of course, few people are on social media 24/7, so your social media fans will miss some or most of your posts when they come up in their news feeds. Nobody except you sees all your posts.
Being on social media is fine, if you don’t spend much time or money on it and as long as it’s part of an integrated online marketing strategy. But social media will never bring you the kind of web traffic, leads and new business that you’ll get from good old email.
Not Sexy, but It Works
All the hype in online marketing these days might be about social media. By contrast, for years, online gurus have been predicting the death of email.
Don’t you believe ’em.
Email has staying power. In that way, it’s similar to solar technology. Customers often ask for the cool new solar tech that’s been shared all over Facebook or hyped in the latest announcement from Elon Musk, whether it’s thin film, solar windows, solar roadways, the Smart Flower or solar roof tiles.
Experienced solar installers know that, even when new tech is actually available for purchase, it may be so expensive or buggy that it’s not a good value yet. That’s why the vast majority of solar installations continue to use good old fashioned PV panels.
And even as today’s PV modules have gotten more efficient over the years, the basic technology is not that different from the PV panels that first came out from Bell Labs in 1954.
So it is with email. Yes, your father’s email in 1985 couldn’t display photos and videos the way Gmail or Microsoft Outlook can today. But it’s the same basic technology.
You create a message and send it to somebody. Somebody opens your message and reads it. If they like it, they reply to you or click on a link you put in the message.
Simple, traditional — and effective.
Why Email Is Still So Effective
Though there’s more spam today than ever, better email filters have allowed people to still get and find the email they want to receive.
And people do want to receive email. They sign up for my list and the lists of my clients who are solar installers every day.
I subscribe to 10-20 email lists at any one time. I’m sure you subscribe to some email lists too.
But does email work to help your business? Consider these statistics presented by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark:
- Email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social. – Monetate
- Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. – McKinsey
- When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail, and more. – DMA
“No matter how effective your social media and SEO efforts are, the place where prospects convert to customers and clients is still email,” says Clark.
Case Study: Small Solar Installer
One of our clients, a family-owned solar installer located in the Southeast, has nearly 5,000 likes on Facebook. That’s something to be proud of, since it’s five or ten times as much as most solar companies their size.
They post every day on Facebook and they get good levels of engagement — likes and shares — from their Facebook audience. Yet less than than 1% of their Facebook followers visit the website company’s website each week.
By contrast, this installer has an email list with about 1,000 members. Each week, they send a blog post to this list. On that day, their web traffic spikes, rising 5-10X over any other day of the week. That’s because nearly 20% of their email subscribers open the email messages they send. And nearly 5% of those people click on a link in the message to visit the company’s website.
Those engagement rates are higher than the industry average. That’s a sign that this company’s email subscribers value what the company sends them.
It helps that the company built their email list the right way, over time and from scratch. They collected email addresses from leads, customers and other sources over the years. And when they were ready to start a blog, they added all those addresses to their blog subscription list.
Once the company started sending messages to the list, some of the people on the list decided they didn’t want to get any more, so they unsubscribed. But that’s OK, since after six months, enough people remained on the list to drive high quality traffic to the company website, some of which converted to leads online.
The Right Way to Get an Email List
Your solar company can build an email list of people who actually want to hear from you, if you follow this company’s example:
- Don’t ever buy an email list; not only are these lists usually garbage, but sending email to them might get you in trouble with the CAN-SPAM Act
- Build your list yourself over time
- Solicit email addresses from everyone who will give you one
- That includes leads, current customers, and community members
- Collect emails on your website but also by phone and in person
Now, what do you do with you email list once you have it? That’s easy. Just send your contacts messages that they will find valuable on a time schedule that won’t overwhelm them. And of course, us a professional email marketing program like Constant Contact or MailChimp that’s compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act and includes an easy link to unsubscribe.
How to Get Started Now
An easy way to begin interacting with your email list is to send out a blog post once every week or two. Don’t put the whole text of the post in the email message. Instead, publish the whole blog on your website. Then, just put the headline and a teaser in the email, with a link to the whole post on your website.
That’s how you can use email to generate traffic on your website. And since email traffic is so high quality — it’s people who want to hear from you and have decided to read your content — then you can be sure that this traffic will convert to leads and customers at a higher rate than the garbage traffic you receive from PPC ads.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group