Have you noticed that everyone seems to have a MySpace or Facebook page and is “tweeting” on Twitter? What is “social networking” all about anyway, and how can the typical remodeler benefit? Let’s start with how you should not be thinking of social networking sites:

  • They are not just “free Web pages” that you can substitute for your regular marketing website. Sure you can (and definitely should) set up a presence there (if you get an online referral people need an easy way to reach you) but it’s the “network” part of social networking that really counts.
  • They’re not “just for kids.” Yes, there are plenty of high school and college kids using social networking sites, but they are also heavily used by Gen Y — people who are now heading into their 30s and are buying and remodeling houses. Sites such as TBD and 55-Alive are popping up for boomers and beyond, with more coming online every day.
  • They’re not just “cyberspace.” Facebook and MySpace both represent local concerns in a big way with groups of people from your town, your college, in similar professions, who share your hobbies: Pretty much any kind of “affinity” group you’d find in the physical world will make its way to the social networking sites.
  • They’re not a passing fad. Though the popularity of one site over another will change, now that everyone is online, the core idea isn’t going anywhere. The typical Facebook user has 500 “friends” and will know most of them well enough (through either the physical or digital worlds) to feel comfortable recommending (or trashing) a service provider (like you) without hesitation.

The way for remodelers to benefit from social networking sites is to think of them just as you would your local Rotary club or church board of trustees: Your volunteer participation keeps you top-of-mind with the people in the group. If they need home improvement work, they’re more likely to recommend or hire you if you’ve helped them out.
In the social networking world that means you can’t just slap up a page and sit on the sidelines (nobody will know you’re there); neither can you swoop in once every six months with blatant self-promotion (that approach will get you banned).

Instead, you have to actually participate and add value. In social networking circles, that might mean contributing to an online conversation with good home improvement advice, linking your page to helpful online articles, and relating your own experience in a helpful, non-commercial way.

Social networking is no different from volunteering to build sets for the high school play, or spending Saturday at the church with your high-lift if the steeple needs repair: Turning your participation online into paying jobs takes time and effort.

Over time, you’ll find your niche as a trusted expert among your social network, and you can turn that participation into paying work. Who knows, you might wind up with an all-expenses paid gig in Fiji.

—Joe Stoddard provides technology and process improvement consulting to the building industry. Now you can follow him on Twitter.