In typically methodical fashion, Heidelberg has embraced the social media. Through these channels, grouped for convenient access here, the graphic equipment manufacturer hopes to enrich its dialogue with the marketplace by getting a better handle on what Heidelberg customers are saying to each other about its products and services.

Heidelberg isn’t the first company of its kind to add the resources of Web 2.0 to its marketing toolkit. Komori America, for example, published a social media white paper last year and makes regular use of the platforms it encourages printers to adopt. Heidelberg sees its social media strategy as a natural extension of the B2B customer outreach it has carried on for years, primarily in print but now with the help of participative media in which listening to customers is as essential as sending messages to them.

For customers, says James Martin, Heidelberg’s senior vice president of marketing, the social media represent “another method of finding out things” that also lets them broadcast and share their own opinions about information they receive. Therein lies the need for Heidelberg to monitor the traffic and modify its messaging via the same channels its customers are using.

“That the conversation takes place, we applaud,” says Martin. But there are times, he adds, when some of what’s said in these exchanges isn’t correct, giving Heidelberg the opportunity to help by inserting its expertise into the dialogue.

For example, says Martin, some of the end-user questions that Heidelberg has culled from Printers Advantage, its portal for small shops, inspired the production of series of instructional videos by small-press guru Morris Clement (available at the “Heidelguy” channel of YouTube). In a different mode, but with the same end in view, a Heidelberg technician following an online forum spotted a query from a printer who was searching for advice about used paper cutters, having assumed that he was priced out of the market for new equipment. The tech rep responded with information about the merits (and the affordability) of the POLAR cutting systems that Heidelberg distributes in the U.S.

The company wants the rest of its key customer-facing personnel to be similarly prepared, and to that end, it recently trained 150 employees at its Kennesaw, GA, headquarters to set up Twitter accounts that they’ll use as listening posts and as vehicles for response. Corporate Tweets can be perused by following @HeidelbergUS.

Heidelberg’s product managers have taken to the blogosphere at Heidelberg USA impressions, which they manage with the help of Posterous, a blogging platform that can be updated via ordinary e-mail. Heidelberg also has a presence at LinkedIn and a page at Facebook. Everything is under the supervision of Tim Henschel, Heidelberg’s public relations manager, whom Martin calls “the head listening officer.”

Martin emphasizes that adopting a social media strategy won’t cause Heidelberg to abandon traditional methods of reaching its audience. “It’s not more than print, it’s not less than print,” he says. “It’s just the next evolution in communication with our customers.”

And although Heidelberg isn’t the industry’s earliest adopter of Twitter, Facebook, and other Web 2.0 applications, Martin is convinced that the company will be among their most effective users. Thanks to the share of market Heidelberg commands and the brand loyalty it enjoys, “we start from a position of strength” in social media, he says.