December 7th, 2010

Social Media & Cleantech: Why the Latter is Not Using the Former


As I’ve written in the past about Sustainability and Social Media – the mix works well and should be embraced in particular by new companies looking to effectively connect and communicate with their stakeholders; prospects, clients, press & media, investors, competitors, industry & trade associations, just to name a few. Yet, to my surprise many are dismissing Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn as kid’s toys. Uncovering the reasons behind this trend, I turned to some experts to help understand why the adoption of social media (especially within the cleantech vertical) is so low.

Andrew Becker, Director of Business Development at LittleFoot Energy mentioned difficulty in developing content compelling for customers.” He is also not sure if it reaches his target audience of C level executives, but maintains a social media presence, “to develop targeted recognition for our brand (but) less for landing new clients.” A conversation with Brendan Endicott, Senior Manager, Energy Markets at EnerNOC revealed that he “does not believe that social media will play a significant role in helping the company generate leads until its target audience – mainly energy and facility managers – adopts the new medium.” This seems to be the standard answer.

In my interview with the Queen of Twitter, Laura Fitton, CEO/Founder of oneforty
she explains that it’s “Fear – it’s internal fear. Companies need to open their minds to where these new channels are leading and what now becomes possible.” Laura adds that, “Even if your target audience isn’t even on Twitter – and that’s pretty unlikely these days – there are serious benefits to engaging there. We’ve identified five: SEO, research, content generation, the “word of mouth pass-along” value, and of course the PR value given how many journalists are there researching stories and looking for sources.”

A great way to speed the adoption rate for its energy management service, so that it’s as “widely accepted a business practice as accounting,” can be greatly enhanced through the use of social media. enerNOC’s vision as described above by its CEO Tim Healy during a recent CRO Summit, can become a reality as this message (and its supporting evidence that can include white papers, presentations, etc.) reaches more and more customers. I would argue then, that the use of new media by enerNOC (and others trying to enter and grow their market share) should be given priority in developing this communication platform. It’s free (aside from staff time), effective and can act as a lever for other company initiatives. The mass appeal of the Internet and now the ability to share, interact and inform – is the perfect platform for advocating your company’s service or product offering.

To put some of these theories to the test, I turned to Molly Galler, Account Executive at Racepoint Group, who echoed Laura’s sentiments about “Fear of the unknown.” Their current clients (including enerNOC) “Utilize these platforms to distribute their own content and to monitor conversations about their brand, industry or competitors. As anyone these days can be a content publisher, social media enables our clients to be thought leaders, express their views and engage in two-way dialogue with their customers, prospects and brand advocates in real-time.” Molly also makes a good point by stating that “It is risky to not have a corporate Facebook page or Twitter account and to believe that everyone will want to visit your company’s website. Social media networks provide the public (and prospective clients and customers) with a real-time forum to share feedback. If you aren’t there to respond to what is being said about your brand, you are risking the brand’s reputation. And the biggest take-a-way, “You are losing business by hoping social media is a fad.” Some good examples of how companies are harnessing the power of web 2.0, Molly says is by “Explaining cleantech issues to a community via dynamic, multimedia content such as YouTube videos, Slideshare presentations, or links to fantastic articles on a Facebook page.

Several messages to the marketing Manager at @Comverge were not returned. And neither were several requests to Gabe Shapiro, the Director of Community Programs at Next Step Living – a company who has done a fabulous job auditing my home’s energy usage and insulating it – but a lousy one of communicating this success. Although he acknowledged that they need to re-evaluate their social media strategy, they seem to be stalled in deciding what to do with their two abandoned Twitter handles: @nextstepnetwork & @NextStepLivingI. Others like 1366 Technologies are still hoping someone will reach them via their static Contact Us page, where unfortunately it’s impossible to share in the excitement of Chu’s visit. The ability to search and connect with other professionals is why LinkedIn is such a successful lead generation tool for job seekers. The same networking infrastructure is available to businesses, but only if they are open to it.

I reached out to other cleantech company executives to get their take on the issue. Getting a response was a bit harder then I imagined. It seems as though many have stuck their heads in the sand, hoping that the social media storm will blow over shortly. The old methodology of pushing marketing material out has been turned on its head – and the early adopters of social media stand a large chance of gaining significant market-share, all while leaving the competition in the dark. By understanding and leveraging the power of the social web, companies seizing this opportunity to develop a following, increase visibility and build their reputation.

Are you taking advantage of the myriad of opportunities that social media affords – or are you still shying away from this channel?

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Joanna Hamblin

About Joanna Hamblin

A results driven marketing and communications professional, Joanna has over 7 years of experience in developing marketing strategies that generate leads, raise awareness and grow market share. Working with clients of various sizes and stages she’s helping to build strong foundations for the clean tech, energy, sustainability and local food verticals by developing marketing strategies that are effective, scalable and provide consistent ROI. Her specialty includes project management, web 2.0 and social media planning, event management and corporate communications. To learn more about Joanna and her work you can follow her on Twitter @GoodNatureGirl .