By David Murphy

The explosive proliferation of social media is the hottest topic in marketing today. For print service providers (PSPs), it brings both intrigue and confusion: “Should our business be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or Instagram? My kids are on Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr and Foursqure, so should my business be there, too? What am I supposed to do with Google+?”

With these puzzling questions and the ambiguity of a measurable ROI, many traditional print marketers choose to opt out of social media as a marketing investment. It is easier to dismiss the ridiculous notion that anyone would buy print from a company because of a tweet. It is simpler to flatly disregard this new medium’s value in B-to-B: “Social media is just for kids,” I hear people say. “It is only for B-to-C. It is just chatter.”

But wait. These arguments were valid a few years ago, but today they are outdated misconceptions that create missed business opportunities. B-to-B print marketers are discovering how smart social media engagement can serve as a powerful platform for business development.

Where to start? Focus on where your B-to-B customers are

Should you try to establish a branded B-to-B presence on Facebook? Maybe, but although it is the internet’s second most visited website (behind Google), Facebook probably shouldn’t be your company’s first or primary social marketing investment. Instead, narrow your focus where your business customers are likely to be online: LinkedIn. This business-oriented social networking site has rapidly grown to more than 225 million registered users worldwide (ranked ninth in traffic), with 75 million in the U.S. (ranked sixth in traffic). The average LinkedIn user spends more than seven minutes per day on the site, visiting more than 8.6 pages. In the U.S., the site is visited by more users at their work location than any of the web’s top sites. 

Get involved with LinkedIn Groups

While many people use LinkedIn to make business connections and to promote their professional skills and experience, I suggest that the site’s Groups feature can greatly benefit a PSP’s business. LinkedIn Groups are like many associations: communities based on shared interests on specific topics. In LinkedIn Group discussions, people ask questions, express opinions, and share information – and there is a group for nearly every imaginable topic.

A keyword search in LinkedIn Groups for “printing” returns more than 2,000 different groups worldwide. More narrowly defined, there are currently 32 groups focused on “sign printing,” 38 for “label printing,” 36 for “book printing,” on so on. Some groups like “World of Print” have fewer than 150 members, while other groups like “Print Production Professionals” have over 61,000. Visit several of them and then join in the discussion. A word of caution: Don’t chime into a discussion as a self-promoter or you may lose credibility and get tuned out. Try to be educational, supportive and to add value. LinkedIn limits one’s membership to 50 groups so engage in the ones most relevant to your space.

A group member’s request for information can quickly expand to dozens of participants weighing in and sharing their opinions and experience. Recently, I saw one group post entitled, “Looking for a supplier that can run cold foil on 18pt coated stock.” Five PSPs responded within the first two days. One of them likely won the business. If you only occasionally visit a group or post a comment a week after a discussion starts, it may be too late. So LinkedIn gives Group members the option to receive daily email notifications whenever new discussions or comments are posted. Those who are first to respond with relevance and value have the best chance of capturing an opportunity that arises. Clearly, it’s to maintain and update your LinkedIn profile with an accurate description of your company’s scope of services and value proposition.

What’s the measurable ROI of Social Media?

Be patient. Your involvement in LinkedIn or other social media sites may not lead to immediate business opportunities. Social media ROI is difficult to measure, so don’t expect to hire an intern to manage your social media presence and instantly generate $100,000 in new business. Social marketing should be a component of your brand building strategy, along with your advertising and public relations efforts. It should be considered a long-term investment that requires consistent and authentic participation. Social marketing can be conducted by almost any interested member of your team and it can provide your company with an influential and credible presence in the global print buying community.

Without question, social media has transformed the way people engage, share and relate. There are hundreds of online platforms where potential customers actively seek or are passively open to potential new suppliers. They expect consultative professionalism, peer interaction and informative content. There is little reason why your print business shouldn’t invest in this vibrant, growing resource for current and future opportunities. Just start.


David Murphy is the Americas director of marketing for the HP Graphics Solutions Business. He is responsible for driving demand and customer engagement for HP’s digital press and large-format digital print solutions. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter.