Social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter began as networking hubs for friends and family members. Seeing the successes of these online applications, enterprises and small businesses have joined the bandwagon, by building relationships with their customers online and marketing their brands to a new demographic. In this new form of marketing, companies have been challenged to develop a standard for measuring their return on investment. Since Facebook and Twitter allow for free participation, social media marketing has emerged as the quickest and easiest way for companies to market their product or service. Business professionals face a complicated dilemma, in which they must decide if social media marketing is worth the time investment put forth by their public relations practitioners. In order to appreciate social media as an effective marketing tool, public relations professionals must first establish a fundamental objective, coherent campaign and resulting efficiency standard before participating.

Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction and content creation. Some forms include blogs, microblogging, podcasting, RSS feeds, social media releases, social networks, wikis and virtual worlds. “Despite its diversity and vast applications, the key to social media is the interaction. Standard media traditionally broadcasts its message via television, newspapers and radio. It is a one-sided conversation. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-sided conversation. It not only educates the audience, but it also allows the audience to participate in the discussion” (Harris).

Within the realm of social media are the growingly popular social networks. A social networking service focuses on building and reflecting social networks and relationships among people who share interests, activities or other similarities. A social networking service essentially poses a virtual representation of a user, called a profile. This profile often features the user’s basic information, such as age, location and sex, as well information regarding one’s hobbies, such as favorite movies, musical artists and books. Users are encouraged to connect to one another using a variety of communication tools. These include public profile messages, private e-mail messages, instant messages and gifts. Social networking services rely on user participation and user-generated content. Both features not only provide the basis for which these sites may exist, but they enhance the usability and resulting popularity of the service. The most popular social networking services include MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Though these Web sites developed primarily for user interaction, companies have begun utilizing these tools to reach a new demographic and to implement and reinforce corresponding marketing campaigns and brands.

Literature Review

Many marketing professionals have analyzed the business approach to social media. There have been articles chronicling the various tools, searching for strategies and purpose and evaluating the legal implications of using these applications. What I seek to do is synthesize this information into a comprehensive discussion and evaluation of social media marketing.

Simon Dumenco evaluates the results of social media marketing in his article, “Be honest: What’s your real Twitter and Facebook ROI?” The author examines the idea that people volunteer their time and energy into social media, either by leaking private information about themselves or by becoming a “brand ambassador.” This is to say that social media is pervasive and popular among consumers, regardless of whether or not they realize they are working as a brand ambassador. Dumenco notes that one can only evaluate the successes or failures of his or her social media updates by using a quantitative measurement tool that records page views. For instance, the author uses Bit.ly to track how many page views his column receives and is able to trace the views to a social media update. This kind of success is only available when one is soft-selling content, or an idea; he argues that other brands will not be as successful simply because they are not selling soft content. In essence, the 20 hours spent a month on Facebook tagging photos and connecting with virtual strangers could be 20 hours spent doing something more worthwhile for this particular business. Ultimately, as Dumenco describes, each business must figure out the tipping point at which their activity on Facebook and Twitter is a waste of time and energy or if it develops into a return on investment (ROI).

Another relevant article comes from Angela Connor, who also attempts to measure the effectiveness of social media marketing. Connor first tries to define “online community” and “effectiveness.” Measuring one’s affect on a community is somewhat intangible, unless you consider one’s affect to be purchasing behavior. Many social media enthusiasts, however, argue that the ROI is “built into the relationships, brand loyalty and trust that communities often foster” (Connor). Although these qualities are important, businesses mostly care about whether or not their actions are resulting in purchases. Despite all the uncertainty, businesses are increasingly investing in online communities. In fact, companies like Dell, Coca-Cola, LBM, Starbucks, UPS, Ford Motor Company, JetBlue and Best Buy are often praised in the traditional media for their innovative social media marketing methods, which often include social networking Web sites. Connor’s main argument is that businesses must develop some kind of measurement tool for evaluating its success with social media. Businesses must define yet another tipping point as to which result equals success – brand loyalty and feedback or page views and increased revenue? Perhaps it depends on the industry.

These articles, as well as many others, seek to explain the phenomenon that is social media marketing. Although the Web sites that make up social media first developed for personal use, some businesses have been able to find their niche in the online realm of consumerism. If social media is indeed the next step for marketing professionals, we must synthesize the existing information into a coherent understanding of what makes the online activity successful and what this means for businesses from various industries.

Seeking the Fundamental Objective: Increasing Brand Awareness

The primary reason why business professionals are interested in social media is because they want to appeal to their target audience through a popular medium. Consumers are increasingly using social networking sites, and business professionals want to increase awareness and exposure to the company’s brand, product or service. Social media is an inexpensive and intuitive form of marketing to an engaged consumer community.

Through social networking sites, companies may create a profile page, fan page or group. Each feature allows the user to befriend other users on the Web site and to post frequent updates and messages to his target audience. Public relations professionals are in the process of determining the most appropriate and most successful method for participating in social media, in order to reach the maximum number of engaged consumers. Part of this dilemma stems from the company’s position on social media, but the other part involves understanding the existing social media community.

With the popularity and accessibility of various online services, companies have been struggling to develop an online marketing campaign to reach the new technologically-adept generation. It seems social networking sites are the solution to this query. Personal finance advisors believe generation Y consumers, those Americans currently in their late teens to early 30s, are “brand-lovers” (Palmer) who actively seek interaction with their favorite companies and celebrities. “People like to communicate with brands now,” says Alicia Jones, who manages social media sites for Honda. “That’s the most interesting aspect of social media” (Allen, “The Biggest Sin”). Other psychologists believe that generation Y consumers are the product of helicopter parents: a generation that can barely survive in the real world on its own. Kimberly Palmer argues that generation Y consumers are savvy, due to their aptitude with technology and exposure to recession.

With these demographic details in mind, it appears as though social networking sites are the best place for companies to reach out to generation Y consumers. In the past, marketing professionals used traditional forms of media, which were accessible to members of all generations. It seems, however, that generation Y consumers have dominated the social media world and are therefore most accessible through this medium. Companies from various industries must face this concept prior to engaging in social media, as it will be necessary for understanding the company’s objective and later forming a coherent campaign.

Because social media communities are self-selected and interest-driven (Ward and Scheina), public relations professionals must make their product or service easy to find. Sometimes this is as easy as stating a brand name. Facebook has become a strategic imperative as a brand builder because it counts 350 million people as active users, with more than 50 percent of those logging in to the site daily (“Listen, Learn, Adapt”). Social networking sites provide a free avenue for companies to be placed in the public eye; it later comes down to the public relations professionals, who must make the next move to earn attention and “friends.”

As Angela Harris notes, there is a lack of strategy for using these new social media tools. It is often viewed as a technology issue, not a communications tool. Improving brand awareness and exposure involves creating an online presence, delivering key messages to a target audience and then building relationships with potential customers. Social media allows for these behaviors, as well as enhancing a company’s credibility; public relations professionals can speak straight to consumers and address their problems and concerns to find solutions.

Companies get a chance to monitor their brand’s reputation, using social media. On many social media sites, users have the ability to post comments on a company’s profile. Public relations professionals must frequently check their online profiles for negative messages and develop a plan for handling the situation. In order to monitor negative feedback, professionals should set up Google News Alerts, in which a system will email every instance of the company name that shows up on the web. At the same time, public relations professionals may ramp up their positive online posts, content and media mentions so that the positives far outweigh that one negative (Hall). The openness of social media is tremendous, which makes it so appealing to both consumers and business professionals.

An important point to note is that social media should not be a company’s sole marketing plan. Building a brand requires more than simply creating a Facebook fan page. It all depends on who the company’s target audience is. It does not make sense to invest time “building” a brand online if a company’s audience will not be viewing all the hard work. Marketing consultant Leslie Swid adds this advice:

“If your ideal clients spend their time interacting with peers through virtual means, such as on MySpace or LinkedIn, you might do well to invest time raising your profile online. If, on the other hand, your ideal clients spend more time traveling, dining out, golfing or supporting the arts, you might focus your efforts on becoming visible in those circles through volunteer efforts, advertising in related directories and event programs, writing for associated publications, speaking at their meetings, and hosting affinity events. While your efforts may be focused on achieving visibility through traditional methods, you can supplement your campaigns by posting travel and lifestyle tips on your website, sending information via email, or creating an online calendar and event reservation system” (qtd. in Hall).

Swid offers multiple branding opportunities through traditional means. Before social media, public relations professionals invested time and energy into building a brand through face-to-face interactions. Sandy Carter, author of The New Language of Marketing 2.0, agrees with Swid’s sentiments and stressed the importance of having the proper motivation for diving into the social media market – communication. “The best way to communicate isn’t about using new media types to be hip and cool; it is about understanding your customers and how you can immerse yourself into their conversation,” she said. “The ability to be nimble and move quickly in the market will be the key element in successful marketing social media allows your company to be more nimble” (qtd. in Harris).

Social media is an inexpensive and popular resource for increasing brand awareness and reaching generation Y consumers. According to media researcher Finn Nielsen, time spent on social networking sites increased 277 percent in the United States last year (Soat). In spite of this, public relations professionals should remember, and still devote time to, traditional branding opportunities. Social media should be an additional marketing strategy within a company’s campaign.

Creating a Coherent Campaign: Building Relationships

The social networking campaigns that work are the ones that feel the most authentic and real. A stream of corporate MasterCard tweets will not be successful in attracting followers (Palmer). Tweeting about normal user behavior seems to be more appealing. Social media experts differ in their opinions on social media marketing campaigns; some say that there should be a corporate policy detailing which employees may participate and what terms they are allowed to use, while others believe the ethics and trust within the organization will speak for themselves. All experts agree that a fine line exists between relying on corporate structure and employee ethics.

In order to rely on employee ethics, companies must feel comfortable with a higher degree of openness and transparency within their organization. This means resisting the temptation to view social media purely as a channel for pushing products and corporate messages and treating it instead as an opportunity to have a more interactive dialogue with the target audience. Paul Gillin, founder of Paul Gillin Communications, a social media consulting firm, said enterprises looking to use social media need to understand the environment in which they operate. “When you use the tools, you need to use them in the spirit of the culture that has evolved around them,” he said. “The culture says you don’t use them as one-way communication vehicles. The unifying fact of social media is that there is a response mechanism involved” (qtd. in Vijayan). The only way to improve a brand is to allow for two-way communication.

This two-way communication should be the ultimate goal of a company’s social media marketing campaign. Although companies are heavily focused on sales and revenue, the only way to reach this long-term goal is attract loyal customers and brand ambassadors and to listen to what they have to say. To do this, public relations professionals must perfect their existing marketing strategies. Social networking sites are understood to be virtual communities in which users engage in conversation with others. Businesses must keep this foundational experience in mind when approaching social media.

Tony Hsieh, the head of online apparel and shoe retailer Zappos, says he uses social media to form better relationships with customers. According to Palmer, Heieh tweets frequently about how he spends his day (“Cab ride much faster than expected!”), quotes that inspire him and sometimes company information (“Zappos & Amazon have officially tied the knot!”). He has attracted more than 1.6 million followers and believes his casual approach boosts sales.

“We let our customers see our culture and decide if we are somebody they can relate with,” said Aaron Magness, director of new business development and marketing at Zappos. “It breaks down the barriers of consumer vs. company and becomes more about a consumer buying from a friend” (qtd. in Vijayan).

Zappos’ social media marketing campaign developed on accident. According to Magness, it began with employees tweeting one another about places to eat or the hottest parties to go to, and the use evolved from there. Today, Zappos has a dedicated page for Twitter on its site where nearly 500 of the company’s 1,400 or so employees tweet regularly about what they’re doing at work (Vijayan). After seeing the success of their unintentional behavior, Zappos employees continued their informal use of social networking sites and have benefitted from the number of followers who actively engage in conversation.

Regarding brand reputation, Zappos aggregates all public Twitter mentions of the company – the good, the bad and the ugly – and presents them in a single location. The company’s Facebook page features videos and pictures of company picnics, employees at work, office humor and motivational messages. Magness notes that there are no policies specifying which employees can or cannot post on such sites or what they can say. Instead, he says, posters are left to use common sense in deciding what they want to say about the company. So far, this laissez-faire attitude has worked just fine (Vijayan).

The informality and transparency has strengthened customer loyalty because it illustrates authenticity and realism. “To customers, we are not just a faceless corporation,” Magness said. “They know our CEO as a person as opposed to someone hawking goods” (qtd. in Vijayan).

Ultimately, social media experts agree that companies should consider the potential impact of their presence on a social media network, and who that network might reach. Based on the evidence, it seems safe for a company to develop a relaxed corporate policy regarding social media.

Developing a Standard for Effectiveness

Many business professionals participate in social media because they do not want to be left behind. They jump into it without developing a strategic marketing plan. In order to best utilize social media, business professionals should ask themselves what they seek to accomplish by using social media and then research the available online tools to determine which ones will help them reach their marketing goals. Chris Hall, a senior multimedia training specialist for Securities America, notes that social media should be a supplemental tactic to reinforce the person-to-person connections that occur in daily business interactions.

At first glance, it seems business professionals intend to use social media as a means of converting online friends to customers. Because social media is fairly new and has its roots in personal communication, business professionals have been challenged to develop profitable strategies for utilizing the online networking tools. Business professionals equate effectiveness with profit, but social media experts counter this growing belief. They understand that social networking sites require time and commitment in order to gain customer respect and loyalty.

The key to participating in social networking sites is to take them for what they are: social networking communities. “Sales isn’t necessarily the end goal,” said Dan Shust, director of emerging media at Resource Interactive, an Internet consulting firm. Shust is talking specifically about Facebook fan pages, a grassroots effort brought to light when two Coke fans created a Coca-Cola fan page. The act became a social media phenomenon. Corporate marketers quickly realized the potential; Resource Interactive helps companies develop and support Facebook fan pages built around brands or products. Shust believes social media marketing is about engagement – “fostering a community of individuals who represent the human face of a company or organization. It’s about conversations, not messaging; relationships, not salesmanship” (Soat). Soat notes that this level of engagement does not lend itself directly to ROI numbers.

Public relations professionals must develop creative strategies for linking online community participation to direct revenue. Angela Connor points to one successful strategy from Swagger Gifts, a boutique gift shop in Cary, N.C., in which a hearty community of customers and fans participate in what store manager Heather Lilly calls “Facebook Fridays.” Lilly posts new items on the Swagger Facebook fan page every week and frequently speaks with customers in her store asking about that particular item or placing orders for the item through the company Web site (Connor). This regular engagement with the Facebook community produces favorable results, including increased revenue as well as customer retention. “The product of the week is awarded to one lucky Facebook fan every Friday, a tactic that Lilly says drives people back every week. Not only does it increase their chances of winning, but it also allows Swagger a no-cost method for exposing customers to new products” (Connor). Retailers like Swagger, with tangible products to sell, can measure their community effectiveness through visible sales numbers in this way.

For companies that are not marketing tangible products, applications like Google Analytics allow business professionals to evaluate detailed metrics on the number of page views, unique visitors and time spent on the company Web site. John Cullen, director of marketing at Zoombak Personal GPS Locators, notes that a business professional must have an objective for his or her participation in an online community. “Is the objective to increase sales, product/service support, or feedback? Until you know the objectives it will be impossible to measure effectiveness,” he said (qtd. in Connor). Additionally, effectiveness could mean anything from conversions from the community platform to customers, to brand loyalty and retention, to any number of other sales metrics.

Scott Dodds, client services engagement manager at Lithium Technologies, believes that a true measurement of success is twofold. He believes that it is as equally important to measure progress toward business objectives as it is to measure community health and activity. Dodds describes his twofold measure as follows:

Inability to track the former means the community could be thriving, but the business pulls out because it cannot see the value. Inability to track the latter will lead to an unhealthy community that fails to retain the most productive super users or [that] simply never gains enough traction with members to reach critical mass. If the success of a community requires both business success and member success, effective measurement must include an array of metrics (Connor).

Dodds warns about an additional challenge, that understanding the metrics can be a difficult process. Many provide information as to what has happened, he says, but do not necessarily show the company’s present or future state (Connor). The Google Analytics application provides thorough results of all public interaction with a company Web site, dating back to whatever time the user chooses. Consumer behavior, however, can be an erratic and unpredictable phenomenon, therefore Google Analytics cannot accurately suggest profitable actions or campaigns.

Some business professionals participate in social media to gain new customers. While new registrants may be a very important metric for attracting new business, Connor notes that it may not mean as much if the goal is to build a loyal subscriber base or a tightly knit group of brand enthusiasts. In that case, the number of returning visitors would be a much more effective metric to monitor since new membership does not necessarily translate to engagement or guarantee return visits. “To measure the effectiveness of a community, more than quantitative data, qualitative analysis of the data is required,” said Reema Nagpal, an M.B.A. student researching analytics in a Web 2.0 environment at Great Lakes Institute of Management in Chennai, India. “For measuring the effectiveness, you may…also look out for the customer’s profile, the diversity of the customer segment visiting your community, how many times the same customer visits, and what they actually talk about” (qtd. in Connor). In this respect, a business professional may interpret the metrics from Google Analytics and use them as the basis for their next marketing campaign. Connor concludes that there is no one-size-fits-all standard metric, nor even a golden rule, that will define community success. The effectiveness of a company’s social media marketing campaign depends on the company’s objective and definition of success.

Evaluating Successful Business Models

Among the companies embracing social media, the automotive industry seems to be the leader in web marketing strategies. According to GOSO, a web and social media company headquartered in Washington, D.C., dealerships in the United States have aggressively pursued social media strategies. GOSO released an independent study which claimed that 25.5 percent of all dealerships have a Facebook page and 10.9 percent have a Twitter account. These results were based on the National Automobile Dealers Association’s report in late 2009 which indicated that there were 20,010 automotive dealerships that sold new and used vehicles (“GOSO”). According to the study, the top brand on Facebook was Chrysler, followed by Buick, Chevrolet, Mazda and then Jeep. The top brand on Twitter was Toyota, followed by Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan and then Ford. The report also noted that Facebook boasted twice as many dealership profiles as Twitter. These results lend credence to Aaron Magness’s belief that every industry, be it retail, real estate, automotive, etc., has the ability to focus on forming personal connections with the end user (“GOSO”). Magness says that social media build trust, loyalty and respect with the customer.

Jim Farley, Ford Motor Company’s group vice president of global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America operations, grasped the power of social media after observing Toyota’s social media marketing for its Scion brand. Farley, who had worked for Toyota for 17 years before joining Ford in 2007, noted that Ford had to embrace Toyota’s marketing structure and appeal to its customers for word-of-mouth referrals. “I learned that for a brand that people don’t know or trust, the company must rely on others to tell the story,” Farley said. “People don’t trust big companies, they do trust their friends” (qtd. in “Car Talk”). Although Farley’s use of social media acts as one component of his global marketing campaign, he continues to research his competitors and gain marketing ideas through their online profiles.

Local auto dealerships also interact and engage in social media marketing campaigns. Safeway Chevrolet, of Burgaw, NC, hosts a Facebook page, blog, YouTube channel and Twitter profile. Matthew Heath, the dealership’s Internet manager, cites the minimal cost of social media as the fundamental benefit for participating. “The only cost is just the time it takes to do it,” Heath said (qtd. in Allen, “Social Media”). Heath hopes that the combination of product information, car care tips, consumers’ vacation photos and heartwarming postings about a stray dog – fueled by the attraction of online communities – builds an attachment to the brand. He notes that benefits are hard to quantitatively measure, though he suspects his social media activity is helping sales.

Public relations professionals from various automotive companies point out that direct sales pitches within the social media community are often frowned upon. They suggest that companies use “soft sells,” which contain conversational posts. “Heath says the number of ‘fans’ of Safeway Chevrolet’s Facebook page grew after he replaced much of the car information on the site with community news, jokes and other content that often has nothing to do with cars” (Allen, “Social Media”). This way, members of the community do not feel overwhelmed when the dealership posts legitimate information on a vehicle. Therefore, the purpose of social media seems to be to accumulate friends and fans and to earn a potential customer’s trust and respect.

According to Chris Herman, president of Herman Advertising, using social media solely for advertising can be a big mistake. “You turn off anybody who decided to become a fan of your business,” Herman said (qtd. in Allen, “Social Media”). When it comes to social media marketing, the sales pitch should come by accident, which is to say that it is secondary to participating in an online community. Ralph Paglia, director of digital marketing for ADP Dealer Services, compares a networking site to a bunch of friends hanging out and having a conversation. “If you were having a party at your house, imagine if I showed up and started asking people: ‘So I sell cars, here’s my card. Are you in the market by chance?’ I probably wouldn’t get invited back, right?” (qtd. in Allen, “Social Media”). Public relations professionals agree that marketing campaigns should place the most emphasis on being social with the surrounding community of consumers. This involves posting frequent updates that may relate to, or entertain, potential customers, rather than disrupt their daily activities.

One successful example of soft posting comes from Toyota, which featured daily musings titled “Random Acts of Prius.” The auto company used Facebook to post silly advice for its friends, such as advising them to smile at strangers or to write poems and stick them on the refrigerator. Allen notes that the idea for this campaign was to keep people coming back to the site to read the latest posting. This exposed consumers to the Prius name on a daily basis. Toyota used this campaign to keep friends interested in their brand. Alicia Jones, a social media manager at Honda, thinks these kinds of campaigns can be measured by how many people forward items posted by the automaker to their friends or by how many people on the networking site make comments. She believes the conversations being had by consumers on the automaker’s site is more valuable than sales (Allen, “The Biggest Sin”). Although conversation cannot be quantitatively measured, it can eventually lead to sales. The interested fans having these conversations may be more inclined to purchase from their online friend than an aggressive online advertiser.

Although social media is a fairly new component of corporate marketing, most public relations professionals agree that an effective social media marketing campaign requires a clear motivation for involvement, a thorough campaign of procedures and an efficiency standard to evaluate success and return on investment. The most successful archetypes for social media marketing involve a company interested in increasing brand awareness and exposure to new and existing customers. The company implements its campaign by gaining the trust and respect of potential customers through frequent, but informal, postings. Depending on the company’s original objective and definition of success, public relations professionals may then assess the results of their campaign either through Google Analytics’ hard numbers or through the intangible quality of online relationships. From here, business professionals may decide if social media marketing is worth the time investment put forth by their public relations practitioners.

Works Cited

Allen, Leslie. “Social media: Say ‘hi’ before ‘buy’.” Automotive News 23 Nov. 2009: Research  Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Allen, Leslie. “The biggest sin: Don’t let your Facebook fans get bored.” Automotive News 23 Nov. 2009: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  22 Feb. 2010.

“Car Talk: Ford, Social Media and Me. ” MarketingProfs Daily Fix [MarketingProfs Daily Fix –BLOG] 15 January 2010 Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Connor, Angela. “Does Social WORK? Measuring Community Effectiveness.” EContent 1 Jan. 2010: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  22 Feb. 2010.

Dumenco, Simon. “Be honest: What’s your real Twitter and Facebook ROI?” Advertising Age 11 Jan. 2010: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

“GOSO; Automotive Dealer Study Reports an Increase in Social Media Activity.” Journal of Transportation 27 Feb. 2010: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Hall, Chris.  “Socially Adept: Social media has become an essential marketing tool for connecting with clients, colleagues and centers of influence. here’s what you need to know.” Financial Planning 1 Dec. 2009: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Harris, Angela. “Contractors Market With Social Media. ” Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News 21 Dec. 2009: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

“Listen, Learn, Adapt: Harnessing The Growing Power of Facebook.” PR News 25 Jan. 2010:  Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Palmer, Kimberly. “Talking to Gen Y about the New Culture of Thrift: Companies fumble as they try to appeal to 20-something consumers.” U.S. News & World Report 1 Mar. 2010: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  22 Feb. 2010.

Soat, John. “7 Questions Key To Social Networking Success.” InformationWeek 18 Jan. 2010 : Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Feb. 2010.

Vijayan, Jaikumar. “Staying on Message.” Computerworld 19 Oct. 2009: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  22 Feb. 2010.

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Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Becoming a BPI Certified Energy Auditor

Anyone can become a BPI Building Analyst after sufficient training. However, it is an added bonus for those who have existing businesses somewhat within the energy efficiency industry. These kinds of businesses include insulation companies, HVAC contractors, window/door companies, general contractors, remodelers, and weatherization contractors.

Also, if you are in the communications and marketing departments of an energy efficiency company, it may be beneficial for you to sit through the training so that you can appropriately discuss and advertise the information.

There are all kinds of reasons why one may take a BPI training course. Those working in the industry will be able to add the BPI certification to their list of services and possibly gain more work because of it.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

BPI Technical Standards

When you take the BPI Building Analyst or Envelope Professional exams, you are allowed to take the BPI Technical Standards with you. The standards fill about six pages and contain various charts. If you enroll in a BPI training course, your instructor should provide you with the packet. This information is also available at the BPI website.

Information regarding the Building Airflow Standard, N-Factors in New York, and combustion safety are included in the BPI Technical Standards. You should browse through the packet prior to the exam so you know where to look when you are under pressure.

The testing screen should also provide you with equations and a digital version of the technical standards. You will locate this information by clicking on the blue question mark.

If you pay attention during your BPI training course, complete the practice questions, and familiarize yourself with the BPI technical standards, you should breeze through the BPI Building Analyst and Envelope Professional exams without too much of a problem.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

Learn More about BPI

The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is a nonprofit organization devoted to energy efficiency within existing residential homes. I have been looking for information regarding the organization’s history, and I have not been successful. I’m interested in learning when the organization began, who started it, and how it become one of the leading educational institutions for green building and energy efficiency.

I find it strange that there is no Wikipedia page for BPI and that the official BPI website has no mention of its history. I think certified BPI energy auditors should be interested in learning more about the organization they, somewhat indirectly, represent. It’s amazing that so many people have respected BPI and its standards, yet know so little about the organization. This goes to show that the BPI standards make sense and provide credible advice on energy efficiency. There is no faulting the organization on its ability to do good.

Leave a comment if you have some information regarding the history of BPI. I’m interested in simply learning more about the organization!

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

BPI Practice Exam Questions

One of my favorite parts of my BPI training course was the practice questions. You don’t know how much you understand until you are put to the test. I found myself nodding along to the instructor’s points at times when I wasn’t entirely sure I understood. Fortunately, we were given practice questions at the end of each training module to test how much we grasped. There were usually between six and 15 questions, which was really beneficial for testing us.

Also, at the end of the course, there was a practice test with 75 questions. I used that as a study tool the night before the written exam. I scored surprisingly well. The questions weren’t as hard as I thought they were going to be, so that gave me confidence that the actual exam was going to be easy.

The concepts heavily pressed on us in the class were, in fact, on the test. My instructor made sure to emphasize that 3.5 cubic feet of blown cellulose is considered densely packed. I thought it was strange that he kept repeating that part. Sure enough, there was a very direct question asking how many cubic feet of blown cellulose is considered densely packed! These BPI training instructors know what they are doing.

What kinds of learning tactics did your BPI training instructor use? Leave a comment with some of the strategies that helped you learn all the BPI Building Analyst concepts. Practice questions and repetition worked well for me.

Posted by: lcowie | November 16, 2010

The Next Steps after BPI Training

Once you become certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), lots of doors will open for you. Not only will you be able to conduct home energy audits, but you can also become an exam proctor (so long as you attach yourself to a BPI affiliate).

It’s very easy to become an exam proctor. You just have to fill out an application and read the code of ethics. Sign off on that information and send to BPI.

Being a BPI exam proctor should be pretty easy. It’s just like being a proctor for any other institution. You just make sure that the students are not using unacceptable notes (BPI Standards are ok) and that they do not exceed the time limit.

I won’t mind being a proctor. Most people would probably dislike having to be silent for so long. I’m happy to be contributing to BPI any way that I can!

The only problem is that my certification expires in three years. The proctor will once again become the student. I wish BPI Certification lasted a lifetime, but I bet you have to re-test in order to stay current on building trends, which makes sense. I’m not too worried about it; the written test wasn’t that hard.

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