Social media continues to innovate the ways people communicate and receive information in the 21st century. This is not just true for keeping up on what your friends and family are doing, but can have a real impact on the way you run your business as well. Business owners are increasingly taking advantage of the reach and influence of social media platforms to help build their businesses—and their brand.

Floor Trends recently spoke with Mike Blanton, president, Dalton Carpet One Floor & Home and Todd Callaway, director, digital content, Shaw Floors, to hear their perspectives on incorporating social media into their flooring businesses.

What social media platforms do you use to enhance your business? Which one(s) are the most effective?

Callaway: The best social media platform for any business is the one they will most likely maintain. Rather than using them all, we highly recommend business owners or their teams pick one or two. Doing so allows the business owner or the designated team member to more fully understand how a platform works, the type of content expected in that channel and how to best engage with followers in a way that drives business.

Engaging in these channels requires some of the same skills you bring to everyday customer relationships. You want to stay in touch regularly but not too frequently. You want to provide potential customers with information they want, but you don’t want to push a sale too forcefully. There are community expectations with these channels that need to be followed.

Providing relevant, easy-to-understand content is critical. It helps earn trust. With so much information readily accessible at our fingertips online, consumers do not want to be fed overt marketing messages on their social feeds. Sharing product photos, room scenes and design inspirations can be appealing—as well as sharing flooring selection tips, store sales and promotion information.

Pinterest and Houzz are particularly great for flooring retailers because they are so visual, and beautiful imagery can make a great impact. Facebook is widely used by the audiences our retailers would want to reach, and it can provide opportunity for images, commentary, trends and links to articles. Twitter can be a great option to showcase trends and thought leadership. Where a small business starts depends on which channel they think will be most effective to help them reach their goals.

Shaw offers a series of webinars call Shaw Social Studies. In these webinars, we want to provide retailers a wide range of information to help them decide which social channel will be best for them. We cover everything from how to open an account on each platform to case studies of businesses that have used each social network effectively. We believe this educational foundation will help our dealers learn the basics and make the best decision for which social platform is best for them.

Blanton: We regularly post updates to our Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages. Of those six platforms, I would say we get the most engagement, and in turn the greatest organic reach, on LinkedIn.

Social media allows us to engage with our customers in informal conversations that help us understand what interests and influences them. Based on that insight, we’re able to create more effective marketing initiatives. Regular interaction on social media strengthens relationships and builds trust, as well as increases our brand recognition.

How do you use social media for your business? For example, do you post to Facebook or tweet when you want to publicize a national or local campaign?

Blanton: The majority of our posts do not publicize sales or promotions. Instead, our social media posts initiate conversations, educate customers on our products, practices and community involvement, and project our company’s personality by regularly featuring the people behind our business. We also use social media to cross-promote and drive traffic to our websites and blog.

Has social media aided your marketing efforts?

Blanton: Every social media platform is unique, and we capitalize on the differences. For example, our Google+ posts inform visitors about recently completed jobs or new product knowledge and drive traffic to our websites, whereas our Instagram posts offer behind-the-scenes snapshots of our day-to-day operations and photos of featured employees. Understanding both the vibe of each platform and its typical user profile, we develop targeted strategies that fortify our marketing efforts.

What aspects of utilizing social media for your business have been positive? Negative?

Calloway: Part of the beauty of social media is you are engaging in an open conversation—give and take. You’re allowing your customers to comment, share and provide open and honest feedback. Just as in everyday life, that can sometimes be uncomfortable if it means fielding criticisms or complaints. Even those negative comments, however, can provide you an opportunity to showcase your professionalism and expertise.

We believe the genuine dialogue that can take place on social media is a very positive benefit. In today’s world, people will find opportunities to share their experiences—good and bad. We think it’s best to be engaged in those conversations, to show your willingness to hear from your customers, and to showcase the way you do business.

At Shaw, we help collect and showcase positive feedback through our Share It Forward ratings and reviews program. We also help educate dealers on the best ways to respond to those few negative comments that may come their way.

Blanton: One frustration for social media marketers is the constant evolution in different sites’ list of best practices for business users. For example, it was once vital to increase the number of Facebook visitors who “liked” your business page, because the total “likes” influenced a post’s organic reach (the number of people who saw that post in their feed). Now, the number of “likes” is irrelevant. Your post’s organic reach is next to null unless you pay to boost it. So from the marketer’s prospective, all the effort spent getting people to “like” the page was essentially for nothing.

Have you ever tried to enhance your standing within a particular online space by actively supporting a charitable cause that aligns with your products?

Blanton: No, but we do see increased engagement on our pages when we post about our community involvement or about the charities we support.

Callaway: One of the keys to success in the social space is authenticity. Dealers need to showcase a true representation of their store, their service and their overall approach to doing business. If being charitable or supporting a particular cause is an authentic part of your store and your overall business philosophy, it’s something you should share. It will feel natural and will be a part of the overall conversation. If on the other hand, you undertake a cause because you think it could enhance your standing in the online space, there is a strong likelihood that it would not feel authentic and would not generate the kind of positive impact you would like to make.

Shaw has made a long-term commitment to the life-saving work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Our partnership with St. Jude provides a great source of content, including St. Jude Dream Homes that feature Shaw floors, exclusive St. Jude carpet pad that helps raise money, and even special sales and social campaigns that showcase the incredible work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Retailers are able to leverage their participation in the program as well and can promote in a way that is authentic to them.

Do you have any social media tips or tricks you’d like to share?

Blanton: Posts about our employees and their accomplishments perform so much better than posts promoting a sale, etc. Those posts tend to be liked, commented on and shared, which, by the way, is now the only way to increase a Facebook post’s reach without paying to boost it.

Is there anything you would like to add for businesses out there trying to use social media to maximize their sales?

Callaway: Shaw provides social media content services for our dealers through Promoboxx. Our retailers are juggling so many things as they run their business. Through Promoboxx, we’re able to provide a service that helps them take better advantage of social media opportunities by providing professional content and imagery they can post on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. As many of our dealers have learned, it takes a lot of work to create these posts on a consistent basis. We are happy to be able to help our dealers save tremendous amounts of time through this service and help them promote themselves and their store in their local communities.

Blanton: Google+ is more relevant than many small business owners appreciate, not because it’s a fast-growing social platform, but because regular activity on your Google+ business page positively influences how well your business ranks in search engine list results.