In 2012, it’s no secret that social media is an important part of any marketing strategy. While business-to-consumer (B2C) companies have been active in social media for some time, the business-to-business (B2B) world has been slower to embrace it. According to a March 2011 report by Forrester, however, that’s starting to change.
Roughly 81 percent of B2B companies reported using social networks to some extent in 2011. The manufacturing segment of the B2B crowd has been somewhat less active. As Jeffrey L. Cohen, a Social Media Marketing Manager at Howard, Merrell & Partners, points out, “most manufacturers aren’t even online, let alone using social media.”
Forrester’s report indicated that only 30 percent of global manufacturers planned to increase social media spending in 2012. The fact that global manufacturers are jumping into the social game is great news, but what about the little guys?
In my opinion, small- to mid-sized contract and job shop manufacturers have the most to gain from building social media channels. In an industry that relies heavily on word-of-mouth to acquire business, social media tools can help contract manufacturers and job shops stand out from the noise and gain a competitive advantage on a global scale to win new customers. In this article, I discuss how manufacturers should get started with social media.
A Quality Social Media Presence Requires Strategy
Developing a social media strategy is just like developing any other part of your marketing strategy–it takes some planning and an upfront investment to make it work.
You first need to find out which social media channels your target audience uses. Having a sophisticated social media strategy won’t matter if no one is listening. To see if you have an audience out there to interact with, use a tool like WeFollow, which groups Twitter accounts based on topical relations. This search shows all the accounts that align with manufacturing.
Equally as important as finding your audience is the willingness to listen to them. Social media is an interactive two-way street–it’s not a one-way broadcast medium. As such, manufacturers should use social media as an opportunity to solicit ideas and engage in dialogues. For instance, find out from customers how to improve a product, or get input from engineers on how to tweak designs. Talk back, and thank people for participating. If you’re not willing or able to do this, stop here.
The next step is to identify the right tools to execute your social media strategy, and make the most of them. Each tool provides a different way of connecting to your audience. I’ll dive into how manufacturers can use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and LinkedIn to their advantage.
Facebook and Twitter Enable Constant, Bite-Sized Engagement
Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and accessible social media tools available. Branded Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are a great way for manufacturers to continuously share small, easily-digestible messages to interact with customers and get their name in front of prospective clients. Facebook can be used to share things like product photos, get customer feedback on new designs, and even to advertise your services by purchasing Facebook ads. For a great how-to on building a great branded Facebook page, check out this Inc. article.
Twitter is an effective medium for sending out 140-character soundbites about your company, such as brief new product or service announcements, special offers or breaking industry news. By adding one or more hashtags to a Tweet, manufacturers can expand their reach beyond the people who are following them and join a conversation on a topic. A few of the popular hashtags that I’ve run across in the manufacturing industry are #manufacturing, #mfg, #lean and #buyamerica. By using hashtags, manufacturers can dramatically increase the number of people tuning into their message.
Blogs and YouTube Are Information Sharing Hubs
Blogs and YouTube provide manufacturers with the opportunity to do more than simply promote their brand; they provide a place where manufacturers can tell their story and provide industry knowledge using the richer media of long-form stories or video.
It’s important to maintain a balance between self-promotion and education on a company blog. In the words of Val Zanchuk, CEO of Graphicast, “waving the corporate flag too often can really turn people off to your message.” For instance, Zanchuk recently used his blog to advertise the fact they just achieved ISO 9001 certification. However, Zunchuk also makes an effort to update readers on manufacturing news by sharing important articles.
YouTube is a highly-effective venue in which to educate buyers while marketing to them using video. Consider making video demonstrations of products and processes, a tour of your factory, or showcasing customer testimonials. The key is to share information in a video format that your customers would find relevant and interesting. For instance, this CARR Machine & Tool video demonstrates how the company handles customer orders, while implicitly showing the company’s dedication to service.
By the way, video production is no longer the daunting technical challenge or costly expense it once was. You could certainly hire a videographer to make polished videos for you, but first get your feet wet with a $300 high-definition camcorder.
LinkedIn Can Help Fill the Funnel
A final tool at the disposal of manufacturers is LinkedIn, which can be used for priming the sales funnel. In a recent conversation with Zunchuk, he mentioned that LinkedIn is a valuable tool in his social media arsenal because, “once you get a few hundred contacts, your network is typically in the millions.” More often than not, someone within his network is able introduce him to a sales prospect they’re targeting. At the very least, says Zunchuk, someone can offer advice on how to go about developing a relationship with the sales prospect.
Beyond building connections, it’s a good idea to join relevant LinkedIn groups such as the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association to keep yourself abreast of the latest industry trends. Joining these groups also offers an opportunity to demonstrate industry knowledge and expertise by answering community questions. For instance, being able to answer a difficult CNC prototyping question for an individual with a design problem could help win business that otherwise would have flown under the radar.
Moving Forward with Social Media as a Manufacturer in 2012
Each of these tools can be valuable mechanisms for increasing brand awareness, improving engagement and information sharing, and ultimately winning more business. Making full use of social media tools as a manufacturer, however, requires an integrated online presence that connects the company’s website with social media tools. It also requires delicately balancing company promotion with sharing relevant industry information with visitors.
With social media use in manufacturing still in its nascent stage, manufacturers that learn how to deftly navigate the “Social Web” will put themselves in a leadership position that will allow them to engage and market to an entirely new group of customers.
If you’re a manufacturer currently using social media, I want to hear from you. How are you currently using social media? What benefits are realizing because of it? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments below.