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If You Can't Do It Well, Don't Do It

In Monday&

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: November 18, 2009

In Monday's column I mentioned that there were many ways that printers can become involved in social media for their own businesses, and in the development of social media management services on behalf of their clients.

On Tuesday, BtoB reported the results of their survey of marketing plans of B2B marketers in 2010. In that report, there was indeed a surge in interest for social media, with 54% claiming to use it. Marketers are using it to increase "thought leadership" (60%) which is a means of building trust and confidence in a brand or a business. Nearly half were using it as a prospecting tool and for customer feedback.

A fair question is why our industry, which spends so little on advertising, would want to suddenly be spending money on social media. We forget that advertising is the least of the promotion that print businesses conduct. Most of our promotion is personal selling, and that is rather expensive compared to advertising. We use personal selling because customer requirements are so variable, but it can always be directed more efficiently.

One of the purposes of investment in social media is to create greate effectiveness in the sales prospecting process. Social media can be an important part of a business development position in the organization which would then feed leads and information to the sales force. Much like the way dollars have been flowing away from advertising and into public relations, I believe that dollars and time spent in prospecting and cold calling should be flowing into social media and network building.

Studies have indicated that most networking efforts are less effective than generally believed. Knowing people is never enough. Just like trade show participation is only as effective as pre-show and post-show sales targeting and follow-up initiatives, so is the nature of social media.

One of the serious questions is the cost of such efforts. There are a few approaches to minimize the start and the ongoing costs until the effort becomes part of the natural flow of a business.

First, a company can add a full-time social media person to the staff. This is unlikely for most companies, especially if they have an expectation of quick payback. Few companies can do this, but it would be preferred just from a control and management perspective.

Second, a freelance specialist can be hired. This is obvious, of course, but there is real question as to how well they will know your business and your customer base. That is, they may apply a social media template, but when it comes to having worthwhile and compelling content for your target audience, that may be difficult. For this reason, I suggest that a freelance relationship be created where the printer acts as a broker for those services to their own customers. There needs to be a strong level of trust that allows the printer to confidently sell these services and not be undermined by the independent nature of the freelance business. After all, the printer desires to bundle other services with those of social media. Giving an incentive to the freelancer for new non-social media revenues that come into the company as a result of the relationship would be one way of handling it. Many companies will be looking to outsource social media efforts to PR specialists, but a printer working in conjunction with a PR specialist can get into that process with a more comprehensive offering.

Third, many print businesses are in peer groups. Often, a characteristic of such groups is that the members are not geographically competitive. A function of this kind of group has been the negotiation of supplier contracts for its members. Therefore, a group could create an arrangement for its members with a social media practitioner. This may be attractive to the social media agency, and it would also mean that the printers would be able to share the same kind of content that would be created in the process.

Of course, printers can form their own cooperatives and not be part of a peer group. For franchise operations, this can be a headquarters-coordinated marketing program.

There are also practical things that are part of adding social media communications to a print business promotion plan. Be sure to include the social media addresses on all business cards, correspondence, advertising, and communications. Make sure that members of the local business community, newspapers, and organizations are included in the strategy. Take advantage of the low cost; you would not normally consider mailing to these people, but they can be important parts of image building and community recognition for word of mouth sales and also to attract employees. It's always helpful if there is one person highlighted as the main company contact, even if that person is not the one using the media. Just like a ghost writer, the job of a social media coordinator is likely to be a “ghost Tweeter” for a company spokesperson or for a high visibility owner.

Use social media to promote on-site events, even if they're not yours. Once your company develops a following, use it to promote open house, training, and other on-site events that involve your business. If your Chamber of Commerce has a business event, use your social media efforts to promote your attendance, even if it's just the owner. You'd never issue a press release about just going to an event you go to every month, but in social media, that kind of activity can work. Headed to a trade show? Tweet or post on Facebook “Headed to Print 09 in Chicago to look at latest technologies that our customers can use to improve direct mail response rates.” “Saw some neat e-marketing technology at ad:tech in New York that some users claimed cut their communications costs by 50%.” Anything is better than “50% off all envelope orders this week.”

Just a quick word about security. Be sure that all of your personnel keep their personal and business social media activities separate. Set those rules right up front, and you'll avoid problems, especially embarrassing ones, that may hurt your company's reputation.

Have the right expectations, and make sure you have a plan, before using social media in your business. Unless you're prepared for the persistent and consistent actions that social media require. Otherwise, it's better to devote time and resources to something else.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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