What’s the word, hummingbird?

Why your shop needs to participate in social media

January 21, 2011
By: Vicki Bell

Think social media is just for big companies or individuals with nothing else to do? Think again. Social media has evolved into an important part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, even for job shops.

Social media icons

Some readers may recognize the title of this article as a line from the song “The Telephone Hour” in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” Others may recall the politically incorrect parody of the song from the “Family Guy” television show.  In both, people are spreading news over phone lines—getting the word out.

This form of spreading a message essentially has given way to social media that keeps people connected around the clock by computers and smart phones. People follow people and companies on Twitter, become fans of Facebook pages, join groups on LinkedIn, and view videos on YouTube channels—in droves. You, too, can use these communication tools to establish mutually beneficial relationships with your customer base.

If you are not yet using social media, you might be asking: Why should my company be on social media? What can we hope to gain by our presence and efforts? How can we measure our return on investment?

It’s All About the Conversation

Social media has grown rapidly from a novelty to an essential part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. It’s very likely that your competitors already have established presences in one or more outlets and are connecting with current and potential customers in direct and indirect ways. Their followers, fans, and connections are reading tweets and posts they publish about their companies and products, just as they read print and online ads and visit Web sites.

 They also are reading what other fans and followers have to say about them, and that’s an important differentiator between traditional marketing methods and social media. The latter provides a forum for others to comment, which can be good or bad, depending on what’s said, what you do with what’s said, and what you and your followers/fans take away from the exchange.

Not Just for Big Corporations

You may be thinking this is all fine and dandy for companies with vast consumer markets, like those in the 10 most popular brand pages on Facebook, but yours is a small metal fabricating business. What can you possibly gain by participating in social media?

Size and market don’t matter. Recognizing the value of social media to businesses of all sizes, even the Small Business Administration has jumped on the social media bandwagon with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

One Shop’s Social Media Experience

Nick Martin of Barnes MetalCrafters, Wilson, N.C., a proponent of social media marketing, oversees the company’s Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube efforts. Commenting on these endeavors, Martin said, “Social media is fun and a great way to show off a company’s capabilities. I often take photos of our products being fabricated in the shop.Everyone in the shop seems to enjoy participating and likes hearing the feedback we receive from posting the photos on various social media.

“Feedback is often instantaneous through comments and retweets on Twitter.I use my phone to take all of our photos and immediately send them via e-mail to an online photo album.These pictures are linked to Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, depending on the hash tags (i.e., #FB, #In) or e-mail I use.

“The more you build your network and follower base, the better chance you have for a potential customer to see your work. We are a job shop; our parts stay here only for a short period before they need to be out the door. Being able to document those parts visually is important.

“Company Web sites take time to update content; I update our social media channels before I get back to my desk.

“It is a good feeling to get a call from someone who found us on the Internet.The Internet is always on.It is a great marketing tool!

“We also use social media to ask questions of our followers—from technical questions to what is going on in the job shop world.We get answers very quickly from all over the U.S. and other parts of the world.

“Social media is a great learning tool that provides current knowledge about what is happening in all fields.Recently we were asked by a follower if he could use our company in a social media presentation to a National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) chapter in Phoenix, Ariz. We were delighted at this opportunity to introduce our company to even more potential customers.

“Being involved in social media, I think, is helping us get one step closer to the niche that we have been looking for.We are making some great contacts, and most are people we never would have been able to interact with.That is really cool.”

Unexpected Opportunities

Barnes MetalCrafters’ social media efforts also helped the shop get exposure in the Fabricator Spotlight on thefabricator.com Web site.  The company began to follow thefabricator.com’s content manager on Twitter, who in turn followed the company. When looking for candidate’s for the Fabricator Spotlight feature, the content manager tweeted about the opportunity and also sent direct messages to her followers who appeared to be good candidates. Martin was quick to respond, and as a result of his efforts, Barnes MetalCrafters was featured in the Spotlight on the Web site’s home page for an entire month in 2010.

Commenting on this opportunity, Martin said, “Being mentioned on thefabricator.com was a big honor.That was easily our biggest achievement through social media. We received several inquiries from the article and a lot of responses from customers we hadn’t heard from in a while.

“We sent out a lot of e-mails with links to the article. We also had a steel house representative come to see us who thought we were a lot bigger than we really are. He talked to us for a while and even came back to see us with leads on other jobs.We will see what happens.One of the hardest things about social media is measuring how much business you are really gaining.”

What About ROI?

Measuring ROI with social media is difficult. It helps if you know your social media objectives. This blog post discusses these objectives and some analytical tools used to count and track activity.

The article “The Maturation of Social Media ROI” on mashable.com delves deeply into the subject and ends by saying: “When we truly grasp the ability to define action and measure it, we can expand the impact of new media beyond the profit and loss. We can adapt business processes, inspire ingenuity, and more effectively compete for the future.”

Expanding the impact of new media beyond profit and loss is an important concept. While you may struggle to determine the ROI on your social media investment, remember that the branding and relationships you build through these efforts are invaluable.

Social media can help you be in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people. But you need to participate in the right way. Heeding the “21 Rules for Social Media Engagement,” also on mashable.com, can help you become an important part of the conversation rather than the butt of a joke.

Always remember to use common sense. What you post online stays online.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209