When you go to a tradeshow or seminar and strike up a conversation, how do you know that the interaction produces business?  Maybe it did. Just because you can’t instantly chalk up a sale that doesn’t mean you didn’t make an impression that will pay off.

The same is true for social media.

Social Media Is About Dialogs

LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, blogs like this one... They’re dialogs---just like the conversations you have at industry events. They’re an opportunity for you to influence thinking and perspective, and to bring new ideas and new solutions to the table. Which is why social media has just as much a place in a B2B marketing plan and budget as tradeshows. Maybe more because, unlike tradeshows, social media is an ongoing opportunity that continually attracts virtual attendees.

The numbers back this up.

According to a recent Thomas Industrial Purchasing Barometer (IPB) study, exactly one quarter (25%) of industrial buyers turn to the professional networking site LinkedIn when sourcing industrial products and services. In addition, 11.8% find market-specific forums to be useful resources. One buyer says, “ Social media has made it easier to see more about the services and tools available and helps us make our purchases.” Nearly half (46%) of buyers who responded advise potential suppliers looking to gain new business to use LinkedIn, while 39% would recommend using forums. Matt Eggemeyer, VP and COO for Keats Manufacturing, puts it this way, “This is where new generations are going; if you’re not there, you won’t be seen.”

When all is said and done, social media is nothing more than another marketing tool that, when used efficiently and thoughtfully, has the power to build brand awareness and reputations. And effectiveness depends on having a strategy---one that, oddly enough, looks and sounds much like a strategy for any other marketing channel. It has to answer three basic questions.

  • What’s the business challenge or opportunity I need to solve?

  • What are the primary audiences I want to reach?

  • What is the messaging platform/value proposition/positioning statement I want to reinforce?

An Example

Take an environmental management company that makes huge dehydration systems. From giant chicken farms to semi-conductor manufacturers, their products use evaporative cooling to control the temperature and amount of moisture in the air throughout large environments. One whiz kid in the sales department realized that big financial corporations with vast information storage depots could save significant amounts of money by using evaporative cooling to maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels. They represented a huge, new market but most customers aren’t aware of evaporative cooling, much less its efficiency and financial benefits as an alternative technology to conventional cooling systems.

So, the whiz kid created a social media strategy to get some traction with this new market, to prove its potential, and to start building a case internally for a more formal marketing effort. That was his business challenge.

He then identified who he wanted to engage: IT managers at financial institutions. He wrote down his product’s benefit statement to this market: Maintain your system’s performance and availability while significantly lowering your operational costs by switching to less expensive, more efficient evaporative cooling technology.

Then he created a divisional LinkedIn company page, started visiting social groups, searched out financial IT managers, and joined in the conversations. At the same time, he started his own blog and dangled it off the company website, posted a case story to it every month, and grew his street cred within financial IT circles as the thought leader on evaporative cooling. Strategic? Yes. Smart? Very. Rocket science. Well, not exactly.

Make the Commitment to Be Social

What an effective social media program does take, however, is commitment. Especially in the manufacturing space, where there are some unique challenges. Namely, you’re engaging very intelligent engineers and technology folks who only respect those who deliver useful expertise. That’s why whoever creates your content and becomes your social media representative has to be someone who is deep into your industry and products, and who can contribute to the conversation with specific, knowledgeable information. In addition to qualified content, the other must-have is frequency. It’s important that you have a social media calendar---just like you would develop a media calendar for paid media or an editorial calendar for public relations.

Companies that may not have the in-house expert prepared to commit the time necessary to actively participate in social media conversations can tap outside resources to get the job done professionally and effectively. In fact, manufacturers that don’t have the internal bandwidth and expertise to give their social media the care and feeding it needs are turning to marketing partners like Thomas Industrial Network to develop their social media strategy, set up the appropriate social media accounts and company pages, and provide expert commentators to participate in conversations and create blog posts weekly or monthly.

The investment is worth it.

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image of Philip Paranicas

Philip (Phil) Paranicas is director of new product development at ThomasNet.com. He is responsible for creating new products and services that support ThomasNet's mission of helping bring buyers together with sellers. Reach him via pparanicas@thomasnet.com.

Twitter: @Flip2Market

LinkedIn: Phil Paranicas