Many articles have been published on how businesses use social media, but little information is available about how specific industries, such as the manufacturing industry, are using this new marketing medium. This article will show how a group of companies in and around the manufacturing industry are using social media, what they have learned from their experience, and what advice they have for companies that are just getting started in this new and somewhat confusing realm of the Internet.
How Are Manufacturing Companies Using Social Media?
Like many other businesses, manufacturing companies are using social media to build relationships and connect with current and potential customers via the Internet. Increasing brand awareness is another important goal.
- “Our strategy is to provide accessibility through multiple social media platforms with the goal of growing L.D. Davis through a wide variety of Internet applications.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “We want to build relationships and connections with others by engaging often and with interesting content.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “Our approach to social media is two parts relationship building, two parts brand awareness, one part supporting manufacturing at large, and, of course, a sprinkle of humor to keep us all sharp!” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
How Manufacturing Companies Are Differentiating Themselves in Social Media
All three manufacturing companies we spoke to noted how their dedicated efforts to develop a Social Media program is what really sets them apart from their competition, many of whom jumped on the Social Media bandwagon early on but then stalled.
- “The biggest difference is that we have a social media strategy! Many manufacturing companies – including many of our competitors — have been slow to invest time, money, and other resources in social media in comparison to other industries. Compared to the manufacturing industry and our direct competition, we are ahead of the game in terms of social media. My job as Social Media Manager is to take responsibility of our social media marketing and manage all of our platforms. Having a designated employee that is responsible for the company’s social media strategy is very important in our opinion.” – Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “I’ve seen a few other walk-in cooler manufacturers on social networks, but not very many, and the ones I’ve seen don’t seem as engaged as we are with customers or other businesses. It’s a good idea to integrate your products and blogs into your posts occasionally, but to truly utilize social media, interaction is a must…and not just interaction about your products. If you really want to build connections, you need to actually talk to people.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “It seems that other industrial blade manufacturers like us have either started in social media and then faded away or simply not started at all. As for us, I try to keep us on the side of being informative and interactive rather than sales pitchy – which can be a short road to ruin in social media circles. I also do my best to make it clear that we are, in fact, a manufacturer as opposed to simply a distributor of industrial blades, which for our customers is an important distinction to make.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
What are the Biggest Challenges for Manufacturing Companies and What are they Doing About it?
Building a following with target audiences and developing content that they will find interesting are two of the biggest challenges for manufacturing companies who are getting into social media. According to the manufacturing companies we interviewed, social media is still a novelty to many firms and the rules are not yet written. They point out that social media is a learning experience for everyone and companies need to experiment and see what works best for them.
- “One of our biggest challenges is marketing our company to a variety of industries that we do not currently serve and to develop new opportunities. Adhesives are a very niche market, so we focus more on quality social media connections rather than quantity. I like to talk about the things about our market and products that interest me the most, such as how many different industries and products use our adhesives – our reach is quite vast. Since I don’t come from a manufacturing background, I figure that by marketing the points that I personally find interesting, the same points would be interesting to others as well.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “Many companies we sell to have zero online presence so gaining an initial following of people can be difficult. Making sure that the content we present is interesting can also be a challenge, especially on our blog. We know it’s not necessarily the highlight of someone’s day to read about how to change the temperature in their walk-in cooler!” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “When we opened our Twitter account in 2009, it felt like we were starting our business all over again. I was lost in a sea of people, none of whom I thought would care about what I had to say. As I started sharing my own links and responding to the ones shared by those I started following, I quickly found even the ‘biggest’ manufacturing names in social media were welcoming and great to get to know. It’s been clicking along pretty splendidly since.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
How is Social Media Different for B2B Versus B2C?
All three manufacturers interviewed for this article are B2B marketers and agreed that B2B social media marketing can be a little trickier than marketing to consumers. They also agreed that providing valuable, relevant and genuinely useful information is key to drawing in business customers via social media.
- “B2B is a smaller community than B2C marketing. You have to focus on putting out the highest quality information because you’re not always talking to an ‘average Joe,’ you’re talking to another manufacturer who is well-versed in your product. Quality over quantity is the most important difference between B2B and B2C marketing techniques.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “Selling to another business usually involves building and maintaining a relationship with them. Their purchases are more rationally-based (increase productivity, reduce costs, etc.) whereas consumer purchases are often more emotion-driven. But excellent customer service is very important in both situations, as well as pure engagement, online and off.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “To me, B2C marketing seems much more product-specific and customer service-oriented. The relationships can be as short-lived as the time it takes to fulfill a service request, share a testimonial, or participate in a contest. In comparison, B2B interactions reflect a more in-depth, lasting, and in some ways more equal relationship. We’re each experts in our own business so there’s a lot more sharing and discussion about the industry in general, and that’s what builds trust and long lasting connections. When the timing is right we may ask for the sale, but the relationship goes far beyond simply pushing a product or service.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
When we asked if they had concerns about competitors being able to see their social media activity, none of these three manufacturing companies worried that their social media program would put them at risk competitively…as long as they were careful about what information they make public.
- “This not a large concern for us. While we do not follow our direct competitors via social media, we have done competitive analyses and know that we are ahead of our competition when it comes to social media marketing. Our competition already knows what kind of business we do; seeing us on Facebook and Twitter will not change anything. Of course, we do not publish any confidential information on the Internet.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “Not necessarily. We just make sure that everything we put online is meant to be public information (as should everyone!).” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “Not really — we’re careful not to share trade secrets or any other sensitive information, so what we do share isn’t any different than what we’d put on display at a trade show or other public venue. Our participation in social media is just a modern extension of our 106-year-old commitment to quality and exceptional service, which is something both our customers and competitors have always been able to see.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
How to Get Started in Social Media
Social media is such a new frontier that even manufacturing companies with well-tuned marketing departments don’t always know where to begin. The three manufacturing companies we spoke to offered some very useful advice for the novice.
- “Make sure you can designate proper resources to the campaign. Having no social media presence is better than having a sub-par presence. For example, don’t create a Facebook or Twitter presence, or especially a blog, if you don’t have the time to continually update them because it will look like you don’t care about your company’s appearance. Once you’ve designated resources, do your research and figure out which platforms will work best for your company. Look at how other companies in your industry are utilizing social media, and read every article and white paper that you can get your hands on!” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “Get out there and start engaging with people! Create company profiles on all the popular social network sites, start posting, and pay attention to what people respond to. Observe other companies that have been involved in social media for a while and notice their strategies – how they respond to customer concerns, interact with other businesses, and what kind of content they post.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “Asking ‘Why would people want to talk about (insert industrial product here)?’ is not an excuse to stay out of social media. The manufacturing community is full of like-minded machine geeks, trivia hounds, industry organizations and — most importantly — people who may need what you’re making. At York Saw & Knife, if you can find the time to connect with us, we’d love to get to know you.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
What (or Who) are the Social Media Resources Manufacturing Companies Look to for Guidance?
- Social Media Examiner (www.socialmediaexaminer.com) — a great place to get primed on the how’s and why’s of effective social media marketing.
Social Media Tools and Applications used by Manufacturing Companies
Many social media managers, including two of the manufacturing companies we interviewed here, rely on organizational tools like TweetDeck to help them manage their social media programs and make the related tasks less overwhelming.
- “At the present time, I am not using any particular tools because I believe what makes a company’s social media strategy successful is active conversation. Scheduling posts is convenient but you’re missing out on the interaction with companies you follow and vice versa. That is what will really get your name known.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “TweetDeck!” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “TweetDeck plays a major part in keeping me up-to-date not only on what my friends and followers are up to, but what’s going on in the industries closest to me. For blogging, I turn to StumbleUpon as a sort of public repository for ideas and inspiration. I bookmark anything industry-related that I think is pertinent or comment-worthy and either share it on the spot or save it for a blog post later.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
Promoting Social Media Presence Online and Off
Manufacturing companies use a number of different communications strategies to let the world know that they are active in social media. Linking is by far the most popular and easiest way to get the word out.
- “Online I use cross-promotion across the different platforms. All staff members have our social media links in their email signatures and we encourage everyone to mention that they can connect with us via social media when they speak to customers on the phone and in person.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “Links to all of our social media sites are in our email signatures and also on our website. We regularly engage on Facebook and Twitter, not only to post our own content (e.g., regular blogs) but also to share interesting content and comments from others. We’re also now working on several videos — our first time-lapse video was posted about two weeks ago and we’re quite excited about it! Offline, we always look for opportunities to mention social media to customers (without bombarding them). Or, we simply search for them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and ‘like’ or follow them if they have a page!” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “We cross-promote with links between each of our profiles on Twitter and Facebook. We also include links to our blog and social media profiles on every page of our site as well as in our e-news.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
How Manufacturing Companies are Measuring their Social Media Success
Measuring success varies from company to company and is based on their respective goals and expectations. Our three contributors used Google Analytics for both quantitative and qualitative information.
- “We track all business that comes in from the web and use Google Analytics to measure the increase in website traffic from social media.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “We try to keep an eye on Twitter followers and Facebook ‘likes’ and insights, and we installed Google Analytics on our blog and website as well, but the sheer numbers are definitely not the most important thing to us. If you can build actual relationships with both other businesses and customers, that’s real success.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “It’s not just the total followers or likes we have, it’s what those people are doing with the information we’re sharing. We pay a lot of attention to engagement within the social media networks and how that ties into traffic on our live site. Google Analytics plays a big part in helping us measure traffic and the quality of visitors we get on our site.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
We were curious if these manufacturing companies realized any unexpected benefits from their social media activities and all three reported that they had indeed!
- “Our newest lab technician just told me how she prepared for her interview at L.D. Davis by doing research on the Internet. She was able to learn a lot about the company from the videos I posted on our YouTube channel and said that she felt incredibly confident going into the interview having prepared a ‘speech’ to show how much she knew about L.D. Davis and the company’s history. She’s been doing a great job in our lab ever since!” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
- “At first, all of our posts had to do with our own products, but once we really started engaging with other people, it was really cool to see a few leads come from social media as well as some actual relationships that have developed as a direct result.” — Emily Iwankovitsch, SRC Refrigeration
- “I’ve developed relationships with people I might never have met before and I’ve learned about more than I could have ever imagined about manufacturing and the industries we serve.” — Cassie Crone, York Saw & Knife
One of our contributors had these sage words of advice for other manufacturing companies who are about to embark on a social media journey.
- “I think the most important thing to remember when marketing a company through social media is that this is your chance to connect on a personal level with your customers. This is your chance to show your company’s human side and be the most approachable to potential customers. Social media is a venue for communication, customer service, and collaboration, and not just promotion.” — Laura Standley, L. D. Davis Industries
About the Participants
L.D. Davis Industries
L.D. Davis Industries is North America’s largest protein adhesive compounder. The company also manufactures water-based and liquid adhesives and distributes hot melts and fugitive glues from H.B. Fuller and Ashland. Headquartered in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, L.D. Davis can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and at their blog. Laura Standley, Sales Coordinator and Social Media Manager (whose office nickname is “Tweeter”) contributed.
SRC Refrigeration is a custom manufacturer of high-quality walk-in coolers, refrigeration systems, reach-in coolers, display coolers, beer caves, keg coolers, and more. Based in Detroit, customers include contractors, resellers, food service establishments, florists, convenience stores, and industrial warehouses. SRC Refrigeration can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and at their blog. Emily Iwankovitsch, Administrative Assistant, contributed.
York Saw & Knife
York Saw & Knife manufactures precision machine knives and saw blades in York, Pennsylvania, and currently operates as three divisions: York Saw & Knife (YSK) serving machine knife customers; Luxite Saw serving woodworking and industrial saw blade customers; and Oleson Saw (OSTI) serving the timber processing industry. York Saw & Knife can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, and at their blog. Cassie Crone, contributed to this article. Her official title is Social Media Manager but she is also involved in many other aspects of Internet marketing, including blog posts, newsletters, and design and content management for York’s corporate websites.