Can social media add value to your manufacturing operation?
by Tim Wilson
Manufacturing can have such a heavy focus on investment in technology, the human element sometimes gets lost. And in Canada the manufacturing sales culture looks much like it did in the 1980s – salespeople hit the road and the phones, logging long hours in cars and on shop floors. That is still necessary, but social media can add huge value here. Sadly, many manufacturers have yet to join the conversation.
“Manufacturing companies in general have been slow to adopt social media, but its use is growing, especially among younger technical professionals,” says Chris Kelly at V2 Marketing in Rockford, IL. “While the majority of manufacturing workers use social media, most of them spend less than one hour per week on social media for work-related purposes.”
That may have less to do with the demographic within the sector than with the nature of manufacturing itself. In manufacturing, most of the communication happens on the shop floor, and sales cycles in B2B are slower than in B2C. As well, in B2B a mass communication strategy is less relevant. But that doesn’t mean social media can’t help.
“Social media is a great way to put a human face on an industrial business,” says Kelly. “Used together with other online, inbound marketing tactics, like blogging and email lead-nurturing, social media can help drive website traffic and generate sales leads.”
A survey from technology services and research form GlobalSpec found that older workers tend to use social media for traditional tasks such as finding product reviews and reading news. Workers under 35 are more active. That said, manufacturing still lags in adoption, particularly in smaller firms.
“Unfortunately, most small manufactures are still relying on the same sales and marketing programs that they have been using for the past 20 to 30 years, and refuse to consider social media as a valuable part of their sales and marketing strategy,” says Robert J. Weese, managing partner at B2B Sales Connections in Toronto. “I still hear the comment that it’s a passing fad, and will soon be gone.”
It is understandable that some organizations might be reluctant to embrace a technology within such a fast-changing environment. It is true that some social media technologies and platforms have already come and gone. Which, then, are the best bet for a manufacturer?
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are all great options for manufacturers in the social media realm,” says Weese. “With that in mind, it is best to have one person in charge of any given social media channel, because a voice of unity is needed.”
But Weese acknowledges that a team of people is useful in terms of coming up with ideas and strategy. It can also be a good idea to hire a specialist who can approach the social media requirements with the expertise and knowledge that someone inside of the company may not have.
“Their efficiency will often save your company time and money,” says Weese, “because they will be able to start right out of the gate rather than requiring hours of training, research, and other tasks that can often take more time than it’s worth.”
The value in external help comes, in part, from the fact that social media is ‘horizontal’ – which is to say, putting together an effective strategy has less to do with industry knowledge than it does with familiarity with social media itself.
“You need to identify where your ideal target customers are found, then determine what social media is best for you reaching them,” says Weese. “LinkedIn is the biggest for B2B, and Facebook and Pinterest or Twitter may work well for B2C.”
To be most effective, social media within a B2B environment requires a more detailed understanding than B2C. A strategic approach for B2B is needed in order to understand how best to penetrate the right sales channel. And for that, a company website can be the best indicator and tool.
“Analytics are useful to tie into the website to see who has been to the website and when, and also to see if your marketing is hitting the right people,” says Steve Rockwood, marketing manager at PureDriven, a digital marketing agency that focusses on industry-specific solutions. “With the right demographics and psychographics, a manufacturer can target a business-to-business market.”
To this day, a lot of manufacturing business is done through meetings and phone calls – and that isn’t a bad thing. Orders can be large, and often must be customized to fit client needs. But to fly blind in this era of social innovation makes little sense. The right campaign will drive traffic to your website, and from there you can see if there is a positive effect on your business.
“There are several after-market tools that allow you to monitor who was on your website, how often they visited your pages, and what they were looking at specifically,” says Rockwood. “This allows the website owner to reach out to potential leads who have shown interest through multiple visits.”
Many companies already have tracking and analytics technology built into their sites. But is it also tied to a social media strategy? Usually not. Social media is not a stand-alone effort; it needs to be understood within the context of an overall marketing strategy. Then the real conversation begins.
Seeing is believing
Manufacturing professionals like to watch video. According to GlobalSpec, an engineering and industrial services and research company, 48 per cent use YouTube or other video sharing sites for work-related purposes.
“Video is a great way for a manufacturing company to tell the story behind their brand, and also to provide educational content,” says Chris Kelly of V2 Marketing. “It’s pretty easy these days to produce good-looking HD video using a smartphone.”
Kelly says that the most popular content is product demos and how-to videos, as well as training videos and videos about new trends and technologies.
“Manufacturing companies need to consider that YouTube is the second biggest search engine next to Google, and it can be an excellent platform for engaging prospects and customers,” says Robert J. Weese, managing partner at B2B Sales Connections. “I’m a huge fan of using YouTube to create how-to videos to engage both your resellers and potential customers.”
Remember, with video and with other social media, more is not necessarily better. Bad social media content and execution will do nothing to help your company and your brand, and can backfire on you. Think of the strategy and execution as part of the manufacturing process itself.