Determine if Social Media is Right for Your Business

Social media can and does help businesses like yours, but it’s crucial to consider the options, platforms and requirements that social media strategies require to work well.

For my first column for Production Machining, I figure we might as well dive right into one of the most confusing, contentious and debatable topics in marketing for contract and custom manufacturers.

Part of the trouble with social media for industrial marketing is its nature. “Social” seems to run counter to the matter-of-factness inherent in industrial relationships.

The reality is that social media can and does help businesses like yours, but it’s crucial to consider the options, platforms and requirements that social media strategies require to work well. It takes understanding, the right goals and expectations, and playing the tape all the way through to the end.

Here are five points to consider before making an industrial marketing commitment to social media:

1. Intelligence gathering is the new ROI. What if I told you that a former customer is moving its production back to the U.S.? What if you learned that an industry or market you wanted to break into is consolidating or expanding? What if you discovered that a regional competitor is shifting its focus away from their current markets? These types of intelligence are invaluable to your marketing and sales strategies. A strong social media presence can plug your business into these channels where you can gain insight into market behaviors that are difficult to find otherwise.

2. Is there anybody there? Many in the industrial markets you want to reach aren’t using—or are even prohibited from using—social media. Companies serving government, military, defense and highly regulated industries (like pharmaceutical) must conform to strict regulations or internal directives that prevent them from participating in social media. Research before you begin is important to ensure your efforts are successful. (Note: The closer your business serves consumer-focused supply chains, the more likely social media can help you in the near term.)

3. Who will be your “voice?” A sound social media strategy is about saying the right things to the right people and engaging them in ways that matter to them. Through these channels, relationships are built—or not. Handing off your social media efforts to an employee who engages irregularly or moving the role of social media around frequently is noticed by those you want to engage. Your social media “voice” must know your company, its business, and real-world relationships to represent the business efficiently. Think of this role as a receptionist on steroids, speaking and listening to many prospects and potential partners at once.

4. Your website is still the most important marketing tool. When building, expanding or adjusting your marketing strategies, always remember that the tools you apply—email marketing, social media channels, trade show participation, advertising—should be seen as channels that lead to your website. It’s the center of your business’ image and where prospects will go to learn whether or not you’re what they need. Envision your site as the center of a wheel and all other efforts as spokes that lead to the center. This “funneling” to your site not only serves your business wisely; it also serves the needs of your prospects and customers by providing them with paths of least resistance to the information about you that will help them more efficiently.

5. Have you “socialized” your website? Few in industry, particularly in the custom or contract manufacturing sectors, go to Facebook or Twitter to serve immediate research needs to bolster supply chains. But “social” tools that empower those platforms are ubiquitous: almost everyone recognizes them and uses them in some parts of their lives. Build tools into your site that allow for sharing and commenting with prospects’ coworkers and networks. A blog on your site is an efficient and effective way to share what you do with those you want to attract and influence as they research manufacturing sources.

There are real advantages in social media for custom and contract manufacturers to expand their business, strengthen supply chains, gather intelligence and make stronger connections.