Eric Aune and John Mesenbrink co-founded Mechanical-Hub.com in 2011. Their concept was to create an online-only news resource for tradesmen and women in the HVAC, plumbing and refrigeration industries. They wanted the flexibility to publish instantly and often, instead of being limited to a monthly or bi-weekly publication.
From the beginning, their goal for website was to share information that would help people do their jobs better.
Mechanical-Hub launched Twitter and Facebook accounts as soon as the website went live. Interaction on those platforms was and still is solid, but neither of those social media are able to hold a candle to the company’s presence on Instagram.
Mechanical-Hub.com got on Instagram in mid-2016, and now has 108,000 followers. By the time you read this, it’s likely to be even more. That is no small feat.
The following is a Q&A with Eric Aune, who maintains the bulk of of Mechanical-Hub’s social media platforms in addition to his other job, as sole proprietor of Aune Plumbing, LLC. His perspective of how social media is used by people in the trade is valuable.
What was your approach to social media when MH was founded?
We started with Facebook and Twitter as soon as we launched the MH website. These platforms taught us a lot about the use of social media in general. It quickly became apparent that the personal, down-to-earth content received much more interaction than material that was rigid and corporate. I learned to capitalize on our personalities and find humor in everyday things.
Why did you start a MH Instagram account?
I created an account after Murray Kruger (@krugerconstruction) suggested it. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what Instagram was. It was a joke back then, just people posting pictures of their food.
Our following pretty much snowballed from the start. I began by posting crazy, work-related pics of stuff I saw or that others sent to me: Bad work, dangerous situations, funny stuff, you name it. Then we saw the potential Instagram had to host short job and tool videos. It was a better platform for that kind of content than Facebook, and probably still is.
When did Instagram catch on among tradespeople?
Instagram was founded in 2010, so keep in mind that it took some time for the trades to really adopt the platform for work-related content.
There weren’t many plumbers taking it seriously when I joined in 2016. Carpentry seemed to be the first trade to appear in force. Guys like Murray Kruger, who I’ve already mentioned, Kiefer Linebeck (@toolaholic) and Kyle Stumpenhorst (@rrbuildings) were early adopters for sure.
What is meant by a “social media influencer”?
We’ve had “influencers” for many decades. Most of us have been influenced by celebrities at one point or another. When social media emerged, it gave “normal” folks an opportunity to become popular among those with similar hobbies or occupations, especially if they were gregarious and likeable in addition to being subject matter experts.
A social media influencer, as an industry views the term, is someone who shares information on a platform with the intent or potential to educate, influence buying trends and raise product awareness.
Milwaukee Tool, I think, was the first company to recognize that there are everyday tradespeople who can do for tool sales what Michael Jordan did for Nike and Gatorade.
I don’t post content with the intent to sell product. If I cover a product, it’s because I think that it may improve someone else’s work or make their life easier. John and I have always agreed; if it doesn’t help or entertain our audience, we’re not posting it.
How has social media already changed the trade?
By and large, I think the exchange of ideas on social media is making tradespeople more efficient, creative, and attentive to detail. For those that pay attention, social media can make their job a lot easier.
I say that because I’m constantly amazed by the tips and tricks that people out there come up with. On the other side of the coin, I’m also astounded by what people don’t know. I figured that everyone out there was doing all the things I’ve been doing for 20 years. Come to find out they’re doing things in more difficult, time consuming ways.
Good ideas get shared on social media. Photos of amazing boiler rooms challenge people to raise the bar on their installs. When properly leveraged, I think social media is a powerful tool we can use to improve the trade.
How do you think social media will continue to change the trade?
I think social media is slowly changing the perception of the trades in the eyes of young people.
Most of the influencers out there are very cool, very hip and very smart. They make a good living in the trade and that’s sometimes apparent. They have a lot of followers and they truly enjoy their work. Those of us with a big following need to use the platform to cast aside the old stigma.
The people that don’t believe that social media has this ability probably don’t understand how a Millennial and Gen Z mind works. Social media can have a massive positive or negative impact on young people.
Is running a social media campaign a full time job?
Yes, just about. If you’re serious about succeeding, anyway. In order to get interaction and gain a following, you have to know how the social media platform works behind the scenes. The metrics are always changing and there’s no manuscript for success.
Sure, creating content and posting it takes time, but a lot more time is spent learning how to manipulate your content in order to be picked up the platform’s metrics and get in front of a lot of people.
I don’t want to scare anyone out of doing it, but you need to understand that it will take a fair amount of time if you’re going to do it well.
Is MH still active on Facebook?
Yes, and we always will be. It seems that most of our active Facebook followers are over 35 and most of our IG followers are under 35.
The younger generation either never joined Facebook because it was old news, or because they didn’t want to be on the same platform as their parents and grandparents.
Let’s talk TikTok… tell me about it?
Someone told me that I needed to get on TikTok. It’s a very informal video sharing app, sort of like Vine, if you recall that one. I find it entertaining, and my kids love it.
I created a MH TikTok and put quite literally no effort into it. We now have 38,000 followers. I don’t know how it works and currently don’t have the desire to learn because I think there’s minimal relevance to the trade. I say that because it’s not engagement-friendly, not easy to discuss things.
All I know is that I follow Kevin Hart. He’s hilarious!
Social media do’s and don’ts?
As a business account, don’t discuss politics. Even current events can be taboo. Identify your objective and stay in your lane.
If your goal is to share info or get people to know who you are, then you need to post at least once per day. Most social media algorithms will favor your content this way.
Use all of the offerings that the social media platform provides. For example, Instagram is kind of three platforms in one; the original feed, Instagram stories, and IG TV/Live video. Different people use Instagram differently, and you want to reach all of them.
Keep it conversational, informative or entertaining. Avoid a sales pitch, especially if you’re trying to reach consumers. People have to choose to follow you on social media, unlike TV, where they’re forced to watch an ad. Big difference.
How can tradespeople leverage social media?
First, determine your goal and don’t let numbers get in your head. Becoming a national influencer is a lot different than promoting a local business, based on audience size. I’d say that if you’re a local heating & cooling shop and you have 1,000 Instagram followers that actually engage with your content, you’ve been successful!
I’d like to see people use social media to help others. Everyone has useful and entertaining information and should share it. I think and hope that this is the reason for Mechanical-Hub’s success on social media.