While championing digital media strikes just about every geeky bone in my body, its gives me even more pleasure to analyze the data that the internet allows us to collect regarding online usage habits. Thus, I am excited that in my column this month I have the opportunity to report the results of the “2014 Internet Survey” conducted by Phc News!
Each month in the 15-month span that I have been with TMB Publishing, I have utilized analytics tools to gather metrics from our own digital media including social media, e-newsletters, websites, etc. From that data, I have been able to define and refine our online strategies in order to better meet the demand of our readers.
Yet, I have always known that hearing directly from readers is what completes how we at TMB cater to you all’s habits, preferences, questions and other needs. The details of the survey, which follow, will help us to do just that in the coming year!
This spring, Phc News disseminated its internet survey to print and online subscribers; largely a plumbing and hydronics contractors and contracting firms audience. Of the individual respondents who filled out the survey, the majority (65 percent) were over the age of 56 years old. The age bracket of 46-55 years old was the second most popular. Initially, the fact that older respondents were more popular than younger (ages 20-35 years old) was shocking to me, as I reflected on numerous reports of millennials being primary online users. However, I later realized that the age demographic reflects our industry where currently ownership and leadership positions are held by Baby Boomers. And, it is more likely for leaders and owners to be answering questions, such as the ones in the survey, about a business’s practices than junior staff.
A majority of the respondents were from small businesses. Within those businesses, the older age demographic of the respondent was mirrored in the overall age demographic of the company’s employees. The survey reported that 41 percent of those businesses’ employees were between the ages of 36-45 years old; and 89 percent were 36 years old and over.
In looking at the time that our respondents were spending online, it seemed normal that many (34 percent) of the on-the-go contractors from an older demographic reported spending 1.5 to 3 hours online for work-related tasks. However, I must admit I thought that those hours spent would come from smartphone or tablet usage. What the survey found was that 65 percent of respondents were doing online tasks on a desktop computer, while only 35 percent used devices with mobility options. This is a trend to consider as we look at how a contractor spends a “typical” day. On a recent visit with Phc News columnist Dan Foley, owner of the contracting firm Foley Mechanical, we did discuss that his time at work can range from site visits, design meetings, and logistical planning at his office.
Moving beyond how contractors get online and for how long, I assessed our responses regarding why they are online for their business in the first place. Here, I found some interesting shifts in trends after reviewing our “State of the Contractor” update in April, our 2013 Internet Survey, and our 2010 Internet Survey. In regards to having a website for their company, pretty much every respondent saw them as a valuable; 67 percent reported having a company site. With the websites, respondents reported largely using them for catalogs, multimedia, and press/news sections. It does not seem that contractors are using them to book jobs/appointments, which I did wonder about in terms of making things easier on administrative staff. It also seems that contractors do not have much use for E-stores, which makes sense as they seem more viable for manufacturers and associations who have tools, paraphernalia, etc.
With the multimedia contractors are utilizing online, many respondents reported using video for services and product demonstrations. Respondents also reported using them for marketing, special promotions, and one-time events. This information felt right on track with the industry, as we at TMB work with many companies to upload installation videos on our YouTube channel and are sought out for coverage of special celebrations such as anniversaries, retirements, etc.
Getting into an obvious favorite digital subject of mine, social media, I was sad to see that not much has changed in almost half a decade. One of the most interesting data points I noted was that social media activity among our contractor respondents has not even changed much in the past year. This year’s survey showed that 62 percent of respondents’ businesses are not on social media. This is the exact same percentage reported by our respondents in 2013; and only a slight improvement to the 79 percent who reported not being on social media in our 2010 survey. I believe that most of my surprise came after thinking back to our April contractor report in which 68 percent said that they had a social media presence. However, I eventually realized that the survey used for that report lumped professional and personal social media usage into one question, while this year’s internet survey solely asked about professional use. It was interesting to recognize the difference that made.
Among the contractor report and this year’s, last year’s and the 2010 internet survey, Facebook remains the platform that respondents reported using for business. LinkedIn has also proved to be a pretty consistent resource, according to respondents. But, there have been slight changes in why contractors are using social media. Back in 2010, the most popular reason our contractors reported being on social media was for lead generation; followed closely by the opportunity to boost traffic to their company website. However, today, it seems that contractors have grown to appreciate social media for its relationship building offerings. In this year’s survey, the most popular goal reported for social media usage by our respondents was interaction and engagement; followed by customer service. Lead generation is, however, still a motive as it came in at a close third place.
A few additional interesting trends to point out include the fact that QR/bar code usage is on the decline for contractors. There was a drop from 25 percent of our respondents reporting usage last year to 17 percent this year. We were not tracking QR/bar code usage in our 2010 internet survey. But, it has been published by publications, such as The Atlantic, that during that year QR codes were at a peak of popularity due to smartphone companies’ integration of QR readers in applications and operating systems. It seems that boom came and went among contractors.
Other online offerings that have decreased in popularity among contractors since 2010, according to our surveys, include online forums and blogs. However, a positive trend to note is that contractors seem to be spending more time online for work. This year, our survey showed that 51 percent of respondents spend 1.5 or more hours online per day. That’s an increase from the 32 percent spending two or more hours online daily in 2013, and 15 percent doing daily work online for two or more hours in 2010.
So let’s close on that positive note! Following, you will find handles for readers that I have noticed are spending more time online, specifically through their social media channels. Take a look, and be sure to follow our social media pages. You just might find your name listed in the next #FollowerFeature!
LaPensee Plumbing (@LaPlumbingPools) - This company has increased its posts by frequently asking followers questions and posting fun, casual content.
Bill Smith Plumbing & Heating (@bsp_inc) - Retweeting and sharing others’ content helps this company keep its followers entertained.
Action Plumbing (@actionplumbing) - Sharing current events and trivia along with special service announcements is how Action Plumbing stays digitally active.