Social Media in Manufacturing

How can social media be integrated into a marketing plan for a manufacturing company that sells to other manufacturing companies? This post has been on my to-do list for a long time. When you bear in mind that I’m a social media enthusiast and a marketing manager for a manufacturing company, you’d think it would be easy. I should be the perfect person to use social media to market to my clients, most of whom are manufacturers themselves. Just write about what I do during the day and the post should be finished right?

Needless to say, it isn’t that simple so consequently this post has lived in draft form for way too long, waiting inspiration.

Wow, this morning that inspiration might just have arrived. It was delivered to my Google Reader by that Guru of Corporate blogging, Mack Collier. Strangely, the story isn’t even new, it has been there for the best part of a month. It is called Your Boss Doesn’t Care About  “The Conversation” and you can read it at Mack’s site here.

The story is about how a well intentioned, social media aware marketing dude is trying to get the boss to agree to get into social media and blogging in particular. To quote Mack, when the naive pimply faced marketing kid is asked what is in it for the company to start a blog, he replies  “Blogging is a conversation, and right now we aren’t a part of it.  We need to start a blog so we can join the conversation.”

Needless to say, the boss of Mr. Pimple Face isn’t too impressed with this reasoning. Her mission is to grow the business, get more qualified leads, build market share, awareness and all the other things a marketing group is supposed to do. Having a “conversation” usually isn’t included in the business plan.

Mack goes on to point out, that if Marketing Guy has any chance of selling his social media ideas to his boss, he needs to clearly show how the business will benefit. How building a blog, Facebook page, Twitter presence etc., will result in more leads, more sales, happier clients.

Right, so back to my post and my problem. How can social media become part of the marketing plan when there really isn’t much in the way of conversation in the first place? Is it a lost cause?

First of all, why no conversation? There are obviously various reasons for this. I wrote about one of the big ones in my post Social Media and the IT Guy A lot of businesses control where the employees can go on-line and social media sites are often blocked.

In addition, most of the people who represent my potential customer base are pretty busy and are not hanging around on Twitter or Facebook at work. Those that did have time for this sort of thing have probably been downsized already.

So that was our dilemma when we decided we wanted to add an inbound component to our largely outbound marketing program. We did all the traditional things; mailings, telemarketing, tradeshows, a quarterly newsletter etc. We also had a decent website and played around with Adwords a bit to drive traffic there.

Looking around and talking to people in the business, it seemed that our competitors and other people in our business were in much the same situation. Sure a few companies had blogs and some even had people using Twitter (most of the Twitter users were just Tweeting company stuff so not very interesting). The only exception I found was Carl Brown from SimplyRFID. Carl is active & entertaining on Twitter and has an interesting company blog focusing on his RFID business.

So when we wanted to balance our marketing to bring more inbound ideas, there was not an existing model we could use to get started.

One thing I had learned from my photography business was that Google likes blogs. For UniqueDay Events, our blog outperforms our static website every month in terms of Google search results.

So a blog seemed to be a good idea and I happened to have one kicking around. RFIDNews.net was an old project of mine that wasn’t even on-line any longer. No problem, I registered the domain LabelingNews.com, invested in a new template from great WordPress guy Brian Gardner and the Winco ID quarterly newsletter was now on-line.

We thought we had some pretty good stories to tell on  Labeling News, but of course good content does nothing of no-one reads it. We therefore focused on getting our stories to rank well with Google, indeed the posts on the site are often written with Google in mind.

Why is this important? Well for us, we know that we are not going to be driving people to Labeling News via Twitter or Facebook (we do have a presence on these as well as other social media networks, but as already mentioned our customers are generally not active there) so we needed something else.

The something else was that we know our clients have problems and they have questions. When I come across a problem, my first reaction is to type the question into Google and look for possible solutions. I don’t look at the sponsored ads (on all my personal PCs I use Adblock so never see any Google ads anyway), just the organic ones. My strategy depends on me not being the only person who works this way.

So my tactic here is to try and write stories that address specific problems our clients might have. I also try to get inside their heads as to how they would search for information. By keeping an eye on Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools I can see how this is working. On the whole I’m reasonably pleased, I’d rate the results about B- (Not bad but room for improvement).

The other key metric is how often we get a direct contact from Labeling News or how often the phone rings. We make a point of asking new contacts how they found us and Labeling News is high on the list.

One thing I would like to see is more interaction in the post comments. I’m not sure this will happen though – as I mentioned already, our potential clients are not usually that engaged with social media. Instead they find us if they have a problem, get the answer (which often involves making a purchase from us) and move on.

So our Labeling News site is the centerpiece of our social media marketing. We support this with our presence in Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, send monthly targeted outbound emails (with links to specific landing pages), hold regular technology seminars, attend tradeshows. We have not allowed the economic situation to slow down our programs – indeed we see doing a better marketing job as being the solution to getting through the tough times and being in good shape as things recover.

It is still early days for social media in our industry, but I believe it’s important to start building a presence now.

If you are involved in a manufacturing company, does social media play a part in your job? Where do you turn to find reliable solutions to problems?

Preserved Machinery Photo by John Spooner http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnspooner/ / CC BY 2.0

Comments

  1. says

    David, first thanks for reading and linking to my post! Second, I love the thought you put into your blog's content, going so far as to think about how your customers search for information, and crafting your posts with this in mind! Great example of positioning blog content correctly.

    As for wanting more interaction in the comments, here's some quick tips:

    1 – Ask. Invite readers to comment, close with 'What do you think? Do you agree with this post, or have a different take? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment!'

    2 – Take a definite stance in the post. This doesn't always work and shouldn't be done with every post, but if you are addressing an issue that many people fall on either side of, put a flag in the ground and make your stand. This will rally those that agree with you to say so, and it will also perk up those that disagree to voice why they think you are full of it ;)

    3 – Link to other blogs. See? Here I am leaving my first comment on your blog! Also, as readers comment, follow them back to their blog and leave a comment there!

    Ultimately, it's nice to have interaction and plenty of comments on your blog, but if the phones are ringing, that's more important. But why not have your cake and eat it too?

    • David says

      Hey thank you Mack. I appreciate you visiting and for the support.

      A lot of my development as a passable blogger is because of what I learn from you and others – especially at #blogchat.

      With all the companies having the desire to “do social media” these day, corporate blogging really represents a good way to actually take that first step. I'm sure your consulting business reflects this.

      Take care!
      David

  2. says

    To add to Mack Collier's suggestions for getting more comment action…

    I think it worth noting that simply commenting on blogs and linking back to the corporate website is a simple, and easily executed social media strategy for your customers to employ. Commenting on an industry leading blog like http://labellingnews.com seems like a no-brainer.

    • David says

      Thanks Jon. As you noticed, I'm not always the best proof reader, but I really like getting ideas out of my head and written down.

      I was pleased to get this post finished, also a couple for Labeling News that had been causing me problems. We are also in the middle of a Labeling News redesign so it doesn't look as pretty as usual.

      Somehow it all seems to be coming together though.

      Enjoy the rest of the weekend.
      David

  3. Jillianmk says

    Great post! Isn't it funny how it is often hardest to write about your own company or situation. I am working on a social media action plan for a manufacturer right now so your timely insight was perfect. I think you are absolutely correct in that your blog should be your social media centerpiece. Will add this blog to my RSS feed!

    • David says

      You're not kidding. I think this post was longer in the making than any I've done.

      I do believe that the whole social media thing is just getting going in many industries and it is important not to get carried away with it. As you know, there are a lot of tools to help with our marketing and this is just one.

      I personally think this is a really exciting time, it is great to be involved with so many new ideas.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  4. smwade says

    Great article, David. I've been pondering this myself as our manufacturing company, Sewell Shutters, Inc, has a customer base of people who are not very interested in social media. I'm constantly watching myself to ensure I'm spending my time producing good content instead of trying to convince people to use social media.

    My overall marketing strategy is two-fold. Short-term, I'm trying to convince dealers to sell my product. Long-term, I'm trying to establish brand recognition among consumers who will then ASK for our product. To establish our brand requires a) getting our name out and b) establishing credibility.

    David, I absolutely love the point about writing content that answers questions. That's why one of the best places to find blog or article ideas is in your email's SENT folder. People ask great questions all the time; I find it most beneficial to post in depth answers on our website and then refer people to it – where hopefully they'll look around and consider partnering with us as a dealer or (if they are a homeowner) purchasing from one of our dealers.

    At Sewell Shutters, my social media strategy is simply to “be in the right place at the right time with the right answer to the question.” For example, I have my RSS reader downloading industry related tweets in real time. The other day, my reader alerted me to somebody asking how to repaint their existing shutters. In 280 characters (e.g. two tweets) I responded to him (via our corporate twitter account @sewellshutters) with some very specific instructions. I plan to expand that response to be a full blog post that I can refer people to later.

    On LinkedIn, I've created a Plantation Shutters group that hosts interior designers, home furnishing retailers, homebuilders, and other window covering professionals. I regularly submit articles of interest to them. LinkedIn is the only (professional) social networking site I actively encourage my client base to join. Those that accept my invitations primarily do so to become part of our Shutters group. Right now I'm in the middle of working on a deal between our company and new dealer whom I met in the group.

    Thus far, Facebook has been the biggest money maker for me. In one instance I was visiting Boston when a buddy called and said a friend of his on Facebook had posted a question about finding a reputable plantation shutter company. Again, I was at the right place at the right time with the right answer to a question. I quickly added the lady as a friend on Facebook, adding a note that a mutual friend had pointed me to her question and I was standing by to help her. I connected her with a local dealer of ours, and a sale was made!

    Another Facebook story: I wrote a blog profiling a friend's tech firm. One of the employees at that company posted a link to my blog as her status on Facebook. A friend of hers saw that link and commented: “Did a shutter company REALLY write this?” She went on to say she was in need of shutters, and my friend referred her to me to find a local dealer for her.

    Thanks for reading the short novel I've written here :)
    If you have any other questions on how social media fits into my overall marketing strategy, don't hesitate to email me at smwade@sewellshutters.com

    Stephen Wade

    • David says

      Hey Steve, thank you for the novel – I really appreciate your contribution. It's really interesting to learn how others are looking to solve the same problems.

      For me Facebook has been much of of a “keeping in touch with family” tool than a business tool. I'm thinking that might change as we develop the business facebook page we have been working on.

      I think we are going to see communication change in a lot of industries as new, younger people get involved and some of us older guys get things figured out.

      It is certainly all good fun – I hope things go really well with your efforts; sounds as though you are making some really good progress.

      Cheers!
      David

  5. says

    David –

    Very happy to find your blog and this post. I'm a social media marketer, and I've just taken over the task of redoing my father's company's website (among other things, as I nestle into my new role), and I'm definitely going to inject some social media aspects into it.

    However, I've never worked with a company like this on social media…. it's a copper wire manufacturing plant, in an industry where no one has even thought about things like SEO, let alone blogging.

    I'm trying a lot of things out, focusing on driving good traffic and inbound marketing opportunities, increasing the places we're present online, developing, as you mentioned, relevant information for our customers and answering industry questions we see.

    Honestly, a lot of it right now is SEO/getting found and customer relations driven.

    We'll see how things fall, but I look forward to following you.

    Cheers,
    Kate

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