Lately, there’s a mountain of hype surrounding social media, services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg and MySpace. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve no doubt heard of them and probably even used one or more. Do they live up to the buzz? How do they affect self-storage operators, and can you use them to benefit your business?
It all started with MySpace, a way for people to connect and share thoughts on just about anything via blogs, videos or text updates. MySpace has been particularly popular with the younger generations who use it as an outlet for emotional rants and to show who they like and don’t like, adding or removing people as “friends.” From a business-building perspective, MySpace gained huge credibility when comedian Dane Cook created a cult-like following, selling out concerts and products almost instantly through his network of online connections.
Then along came YouTube, a free online portal for users to upload all sorts of video. In the beginning, users were mostly young, artsy types that had creative energy and time to spend. The self-proclaimed geeks who founded the site had no idea what they started. The first video was uploaded in April 2005, and by October 2006, they sold to Google for an astonishing $1.65 billion. If it wasn’t already evident, the transaction proved to the business world that this social-media thing might have real power.
As of this writing, Facebook and Twitter are all the rage. Facebook is like MySpace but with a cleaner, more wholesome image. Twitter is a way for people to tell their “followers” what they’re up to or where they’re at by “tweeting” short text messages of less than 140 characters.
Making Money From the Madness
When Google purchased YouTube, what it was really buying was access to prospective customers. Realizing that traffic is king, the company followed the model that made it the success it is today. Google knows that if you can find a captive audience, such as person who sits in front of a computer all day, you can sell him something (or try to anyway).
All these social sites have a captive audience for businesses to target. They make their money by selling advertising to business owners like you and me. But the real question is can you, as a self-storage manager or owner, make money by participating in this madness?
There are three basic opportunities for you to participate in the social-media world:
- Buy advertising on one of the platforms.
- Create a following of “friends” and hope they buy from you or refer their friends to you.
- Network with customers, prospects and other local businesses.
Whether a self-storage operation can make money by using social media is yet to be seen. There are plenty of operators jumping on the bandwagon, and the feedback is mixed. Time will tell. But here’s a fundamental consideration: Nobody logs on to any social-media website actively looking for self-storage. Any business that does result from your participation will be a side effect.
For example, John Smith might not log in to his Facebook account looking for a place to store his belongings, but while he’s checking on his friends, one of them might have left an update on his profile saying, “Uggghh i’m moving stuff 2 storage today...crappy day...but at least the storage company is cool.” Or maybe, while John is viewing pictures of his friend’s wedding on Facebook, he might see a targeted pay-per-click ad for a storage company in his area and click on it.
In both instances, finding storage was not the intent of the user, but it happened. This is neither good nor bad. It is what it is. You just need to consider your cost-per-lead and cost-per-tenant acquisition like you do with every other marketing campaign.
Worth the Investment?
Caution: Pay close attention to the time it takes to manage your social networking. It’s easy to let your employees participate because it’s “free.” In reality, while building networks and friends is free from a monetary standpoint, it can be very costly from a time perspective.
If you want my candid advice, don’t waste your time and energy on social media at this point. I’m sure this statement will be unpopular because the current enthusiasm over these tools is almost out of logical control. But there are too many other methods of acquiring tenants that are proven, easy and inexpensive for you to dive into this game headfirst and full steam ahead.
The use of social media is valid for many businesses but still questionable for the vast majority of self-storage. This could, and probably will, change in the near future. But for now, I recommend watching things unfold from the sidelines. I’m not saying social media is empty hype, but the practical application and return on investment for storage operators is uncertain.
That said, there are two things I recommend you do, based on what I’ve seen work in this industry: put a facility commercial or video on YouTube, and test the Facebook pay-per-click system. Launching a video on YouTube will help you in a couple of ways. First, you can add the video to your own website for customers. Second, if you link the video properly, it will help you from a search-engine-optimization standpoint.
When users create a profile on Facebook, they enter all sorts of information about where they live, work, went to school, etc. This allows you to target market based on demographics. Users can also join local groups, which you can target with a Google-like, pay-per-click campaign.
The Public Relations Angle
One last thing to keep in mind: The same power that creates instant positive buzz among social-media friends can also create instant negative PR for your company. Nothing separates an upset customer and his social network. There have already been instances in which a self-storage operation was caused a ton of heartache and an untold amount of negativity in its market because of bad social-media exposure. Social media makes it so much easier for people to tell the world what they think about your business.
I, for one, will continue keeping my eyes firmly on developments in social media. I have no doubt that opportunity for self-storage operators will emerge from the chaos. In the meantime, remember: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
Derek M. Naylor is president of Storage Marketing Solutions, a full-service, results-oriented marketing and advertising agency dedicated to the self-storage industry. For a free subscription to his e-newsletter, call 800.941.4805; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.storagemarketingsolutions.com.
Do You Use Twitter or Facebook? [Self-Storage Talk]
Social Networking: Friend or Foe? [Self-Storage Talk]
How do you manage time on Facebook? [Self-Storage Talk]
Marketing on Facebook [Self-Storage Talk]