As customers spend increasing amounts of time on social media networks, companies are rushing to follow them. A common expectation now exists that an online marketing strategy is a must for any business seeking to get a bigger slice of the target market pie.
Companies in the manufacturing industry need to jump on and follow suit if they haven’t already.
But why should you?
Working in the B2B space provides a unique market, as you can get direct customer feedback in real time, builder stronger relationships, increase awareness, and importantly build both your and the company's profile.
While people make their purchasing decisions based on different criteria – recommendations and peer reviews are gaining popularity as methods of persuasion. Consumers are flocking online to share their (good or bad) experiences with brands.
In an industry where providing quality products and service is key, it makes sense to create the best customer experience possible. Social media provides a new and improved channel for manufacturing businesses to target their customers.
It offers you online visibility and the ability to market your business online, which increases your reach and exposure to potential customers.
According to the McKinsey Quarterly there is a four pronged approach to using social media for businesses.
1. Monitor: Constantly keep an eye on the landscape. Even if you aren't interacting directly with customers you should still maintain an awareness of the space to uncover insights and to provide an early warning of any potential negative publicity.
2. Respond: The lynchpin in the whole social media strategy. By engaging with customers and creating a community you can uncover new opportunities and respond more quickly to crisis – Case in point: Coles ignored a comment and the community backlash festered into more than 70 000 anti-Coles comments, harming its image and brand for a number of consumers.
3. Amplify: This is about prompting people to engage with you, retweet you, repost your materials, and do much of the leg work in diseminating your message. BY creating those brand advocates you've essentially got another sales person out there.
4. Lead: Social media needs to be used proactively – ask questions, raise awareness, let people know what you are doing, and get feedback from your customers.
Things to consider when deciding on a social media strategy
Think about your goals and objectives when planning your strategy. This will help you decide which social media platforms to begin with.
It is important to consider who your key audience is, and what kind of interaction do you want with them?
Do you want an informal, formal, or product focussed push? Do you want to allow feedback and access from anyone, or keep it closed, allowing only chosen people to view your products?
If you are new to social media, try setting up only one platform. Get comfortable using your chosen platform and see how much time it takes up on a daily and weekly basis.
Then think about setting up another platform.
Create a content strategy. In other words what will you be putting out on social media and how often? Always think about your customer when you decide on the content. Does your customer want to be bombarded with promotional materials or would they benefit from a useful article you found and decided to share?
In order to make social media work you have to use it regularly and make sure you are participating in conversations.
When using social media as part of your marketing it is important to understand which platforms to use, and what works best for you.
Twitter allows businesses to connect with customers, other businesses and individuals on a global or local scale. If fast customer service is important to your business, you can use Twitter to reply to comments, questions and complaints customers might have, in real time.
This may not seem like a marketing strategy but immediate, real time customer service is marketing in itself. It will generate positive sentiments amongst your followers and promote word of mouth recommendations for your business.
Think of your brand’s Facebook page as the online “social headquarters” of your business. It can be a mini marketing hub where customers can gather to see what you have to offer. As part of your online marketing strategy, give your Facebook fans exclusive information about upcoming deals and specials (however make sure not to be excessive).
It also gives you the opportuntiy to get customer feedback, have customers show the results of your product, and to generate brand advocates.
You can use blogs for marketing in two ways. First, you can set up a business blog on your website. Secondly you can find influential bloggers to review your products or services and direct readers to your website.
A business blog can be used to position your business as an expert in your field. You can also use the blog to post company milestones customers may be interested in, such as moving into a new office or securing a large client.
It is handy to incorporate this into your business' website.
YouTube can be a way to use meaningful and fun events in your business as a marketing strategy. Giving customers an insight into your business will stimulate curiosity and create an emotional association. YouTube can also be used to showcase new products. To increase the effectiveness of your video, post it on all of your social media platforms.
And remember – make it short and punchy. People are willing to watch around five minutes, but aren't prepared or willing to sit through a saga.
Pinterest is the newest addition to the social media scene. It allows you to “pin” images onto boards that you can create yourself. As part of your marketing strategy you can create a board to display your new products, photos from business events and even happy customers. The biggest benefit is giving your customers a visual overview of the business.
However it does not have any many applications, or as a large a following, for the industrial space as it does for the more design based businesses.
It also lacks the ability to gets across many of the important specs of your products.
The professional social platform, LinkedIn provides you with a base to interact with your customers, and gernate new ones, on an entirely business basis.
The creation of particular groups such as manufacturing issue based ones, or product focussed ones e.g. Compressors and air auditing, allows business to get right to the customer.
However it lacks the intimacy, ability to fully interact with customers or really create brand advocates.
The end game
And an important thing to remember – Don't Fake Initimacy.
If you are going to make not only a customer, but a brand advocate, engage in a meaningful way. Responding is key.
You don’t have to be an expert to incorporate social media into your marketing strategy.
Even though there are many options, the key is beginning with small steps that are in line with the objectives of your business and building on your social media gradually, until you are comfortable with the online space.
Dom Weatherhead is with Manufacturers' Monthly sister organisation Ferret.com.au, a hub for industrial, manufacturing, and mining products.