Who is Solar Fred?
If you spend any time following social media in the cleantech world, you’ve almost certainly come across Tor Valenza. That name doesn’t sound familiar? Well, how about his more well-known pseudonym Solar Fred?
It would be hard to not have seen one of his 10,000+ tweets or come across his very popular blog at Renewable Energy World. He has hung out his shingle at UnThink Solar.
But who is Solar Fred and what does he do? Considering his use of social media to promote solar power, I thought he’d make an interesting interview for this blog. Here’s our Q&A over email from last week:
Q. How did you first get involved in solar?
A. The short answer is that I was fascinated by solar as a teenager living in New York. I thought it was really cool to light up the city with power from the sun and had my sights on being a solar engineer. Then I took calculus... But solar always stuck with me, and eventually I realized I didn't have to invent solar, but I could use my natural communication talents to help educate people about it. So I took a few courses, started a solar blog, and it's been solar full steam ahead ever since.Q. Why the name "Solar Fred?"
A. Another long story behind this, but in the end, it was a branding and marketing decision. When I started my original blog, "Solar Tor" didn't sound right and I wanted a common and somewhat ironic name that people could relate to. Fred was chosen out of an inside joke, too long to go into here.Q. What is UnThink Solar? What do you do for solar companies?
A. UnThink Solar is very simply a boutique solar marketing and communications company. I develop solar social media strategies, as well as execute some small projects. For larger projects, I partner with other companies who help execute. The more interactive, the better Solar Fred likes it. Strike that. The more bold and interactive, the better I like it.Q. Is social media a good way to promote solar?
A. Not only is social media a good way to promote solar, I really feel it is the most effective way. From blogging to Twitter, to viral videos and other web-related campaigns, social media works because it relies on inspiring people to get so excited about solar that they want to share that information with their friends. People trust friends and peers, not advertisements. That's why social media is an art. It's marketing, but can't be in-your-face. You have to build trust via providing useful information, simply communicated. That formula is ideal for solar, because buyers need a lot of trust to make that big purchase decision.Q. What could solar companies do to market themselves better? What does solar need to do to gain greater public adoption?
A. I write a lot about this on my REWorld.com blog. The main theme I try to get across is not only using social media, but also "Stand out and educate." Also, "Be bold for solar." The first means that solar companies need to be more creative with their marketing, but they also must be sure to have substance behind their words. You can't only pull a stunt. My second slogan (both of these are in my email signature) is encouraging solar companies to be unabashedly courageous with their marketing. Solar has a lot of obstacles, from green washing to climate change deniers and general apathy. Plus, there's a lot of government policy that has to be changed. If marketers are all "bold for solar," then I think the U.S. will adopt solar faster. Very few companies have this courage, but I'm trying to inspire more.Q. Who in the solar industry (besides yourself) does a good job marketing?
A. I don't know the entire industry. It's fairly large and broad. The few that I love are on my radar because I've worked with them in some capacity, so it would probably be too self serving to mention them. That being said, I write about good solar marketers on past REWorld blogposts, so go through those and you'll find plenty of Solar Fred shout-outs. Companies are often "on my list --in a good way." There also those who are my list in a bad way. I try not call them out unless they do something really, really bad for the industry. I'm not going to name them again here.Q. What social media and web sites do you focus the most on and why (i.e. Twitter, REWorld, etc.)?
A. I go where my solar customers are, and that could really be on any platform. Unfortunately, I only have 10 fingers, two hands, and 24 hours. So, the lesson there is that you simply have to choose your social media community (i.e. REWorld, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook etc.) learn their rules, and start building relationships on those platforms. If you communicate and build relationships well, you'll be successful. Honest.Q. What excites you and/or concerns you about the future of solar?
A. What excites and concerns me are one in the same: We have so much potential for solar in the U.S. and the world. That's both exciting...and a concern. I'm impatient. I want people to get how affordable solar is now with creative financing like solar leases and solar ppas. I want people to get how clean it is, and how safe it is. So, I get excited when people get it and are inspired to get a quote. And I get concerned when the rest of the world doesn't do the same next Tuesday. I want everyone to be a "Solar Fred head" like me, but the reality is that different messages and concerns speak to different people. Therefore, I and other solar marketers simply must be creative, be consistent, and keep putting ourselves out there.Now you know who Solar Fred is. If you want a little more, you can read his full bio here. Who else should I interview for this blog? Leave suggestions in the comments below.