American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Customer connection

Jul 1, 2010 12:00 AM


         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

Are you up to speed on social media? As new media sites and approaches continue to grow, many printers are leveraging the “big three” — Twitter, Face-book and LinkedIn — to cultivate a community with their customers.

“Our main goal with social media is to provide printing, marketing and design information to anyone who comes across our page,” says Robert R. Lefcourt, general manager for Printex Press (www.printex-press.com) in Bellevue, WA. “Whether they are a customer of ours or not, we know the importance of being a reliable and credible source of information. With social media, such as Twitter, we are able to reach these people instantly with tips and tricks to help improve their print campaigns. It's a valuable tool, especially for a small company.”

Networking to thought leadership

Many, perhaps most, business people today have an account on networking and job site LinkedIn.com, which offers the ability to form “connections” with other users and join groups for discussion. “It's a great way to get a conversation started and connect with others,” says Julie Shaffer, vice president of digital technologies for Printing Industries of America (www.printing.org). Users also can set it up to convert Twitter comments into LinkedIn status updates.

Facebook.com, which started as an online community for college students, has ballooned into a global social network. “Over 200 million log in daily, and there are some exciting things printers can do with Facebook's newest features,” says Joe Kern, vice president of marketing and customer service for PagePath Technologies (www.pagepath.com). “If you have a web programmer, you can put on your main website a Facebook ‘like’ button. So if someone goes to your website and clicks the button, it shows that the person ‘likes’ your company website, not just the Facebook page. It's giving you more traction through Facebook.” He adds, “Using Facebook markup language (fbml), you have the ability to create separate tabs within your business page to connect with your company's web-to-print site: ‘Download our PDF print driver,’ or ‘Go to our web-to-print site.’” Facebook also offers automatic Twitter updates through the “Selective Tweets” tool.

Many applications are available that allow users to sync their comments between various social media accounts. “I like to use TweetDeck, which is an Adobe AIR application that resides on my computer,” says Shaffer (see www.tweetdeck.com). “It lets me monitor the ‘big three’ at the same time, and I can send messages from there to any or all of them at once.” In addition, sites such as HootSuite.com and SocialOomph.com enable users to schedule messages to appear at a certain time.

“While we found it important to establish a social networking presence on various sites, the most effective seems to be Twitter,” says Lefcourt. “While Facebook offers more of a ‘profile’ setup, Twitter is more interactive and creates an environment for not only having a conversation, but developing a relationship through ‘tweets.’”

Shaffer notes, “Facebook is a bit trickier because so many people are using it for personal contacts.” It's against Facebook's terms of usage for one user to keep two separate accounts. “What Facebook recommends is that people maintain a personal account for friends but build a Facebook Page for their professional persona. That would be in addition to their company's Facebook Page. This isn't a bad way to handle it.”

“To me, it's all about touch points,” says Kern. “It's not like you're going to get a ton of business from social media, but if you think of your main website as your home base, the various social networks are satellites where people can interact with you and your business. So it's good to be in as many as you can.”

“Twitter is where you have a chance to be a thought leader,” Shaffer adds. “I see Twitter as more of a pointer to things of interest outside of Twitter, like a blog post, news story or video.”

Next Page: Best practices

Best practices

Printex Press has an in-house social media expert, sales associate Brianne McDonough. “I believe there should be a ‘go-to’ person in every firm who utilizes social media and knows the details,” says Lefcourt.

McDonough shares print production-related tips, design insight and other practical information via social media, along with Printex Press promotion. “We stress the importance of our FSC certification, our recycling awards and our efforts to keep our environmental impact to a minimum in all of our marketing,” Lefcourt explains. “While our printed brochures and handouts include the details of our certification, we can use Twitter to post facts about the environment and the printing industry that most people can relate to and find interest in. It shows our commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices in a more interesting and relatable way.”

One universal rule of the social media road seems to be: Avoid sales pitches. “It's considered spam,” says Shaffer. While short-term discount offers might work for retail establishments with household names, Shaffer feels it isn't likely to be effective for most print service providers. Kern agrees, “It's OK to do that from time to time, but social media is really about solving problems and providing information for your prospects and customers.”

This ranges from quick tips that link back to a longer item on your company's website to content gleaned from RSS feeds or other social media users with links to external sites. Blogs (including your own) are a great resource for instant-gratification style commentary on specific topics of interest.

“Comments on social media platforms should be educational or entertaining, but not boring,” says Shaffer. “Some people who [report] every move they make (‘Getting into a cab in NYC headed to a big marketing meeting!’ or ‘Having lunch with a colleague at Luigi's. Great salad!’) swear that this helps build their public persona and keeps them top of mind. But unless you've got a base of swooning fans already, I don't advise it.”

Kern also urges social media users to establish their privacy settings so that personal friends are kept separate from business contacts. Users can keep business associates from viewing photos in their personal accounts and filter comments to post only to certain groups.

“Always check out the people who connect with you through social media before you allow the connection to happen,” Shaffer warns. “I know it seems rude to ignore a request, but your connections can say as much about you as your comments.” While LinkedIn connections are simply the online equivalent of exchanging a business card, Twitter is a more open flow between “followers.” Shaffer says, “On Facebook, I've become a bit strict about the people I invite or select invitations from. [But] with some of the famous and the diehard Twitterati boasting millions of followers, knowing every one of them is certainly no prerequisite.”

Closing the loop

“We try to link back to our website as often as possible on our social media accounts, because that really is the goal,” says Lefcourt. “While the social networking sites can help us build and maintain relationships, our website is where they can instantly learn everything they need to know about our company itself.”

Kern agrees that social networking sites aren't a replacement for a good salesperson. “You really don't want to sell on social media sites, although the goal is to increase sales,” he explains. “You want to market yourselves, get people to know who you are and what you're about, and then through the social network you generate leads for the salesperson to follow up on over the phone or in person.”

Lefcourt says that following customers' social networking pages enables his firm to learn more about them and their companies than ever. “It provides a unique glimpse into companies we work with. It's a chance for them to get to know who we are and for us to really get to know who our customers are — beyond their printing needs.”

Measuring the return on investment is difficult, although tools such as Google Analytics or URL shorteners like bit.ly can provide click-through numbers. “Measuring the value of interacting through a social network is softer and more difficult to quantify,” says Shaffer. “Sales teams measure how many calls or visits they make to clients and compare that to work coming from the client. Add social media interaction into that mix. Any time a client comments on a post, that's as good as a phone call, right?”

Kern emphasizes the importance of using social media to generate conversation. “Ask questions and get people to interact. You can measure, based on the date, what topic got a high level of response, then touch on that more often.”

Location-based social platforms, including Foursquare.com and Loopt.com,offer another opportunity. “Restaurants and entertainment venues are using these services to direct people to their locations and offer things like free drink when a group of so many people check in to their location,” says Shaffer. “That's something a storefront might consider, and for printers it's also something that they could help manage for their customers as part of a cross-media marketing campaign.”

“Don't be afraid of [social media] — embrace it,” says Kern. “If it's a fad, then that's where you should be right now. Also, make sure you set up some goals such as days of the week to post, because it can suck you in. I liken it to e-mail. You check at certain times, and social media is the same way.”

Lefcourt concludes, “While printers especially might turn away from using social media as a form of protest to the Digital Marketing Age, they are missing out on an incredible opportunity to connect with customers as a com-munication method, a marketing method or a research method for finding new prospects.”


Denise Kapel is managing editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at denise.kapel@penton.com.

Your turn

How does your company approach social media?

Given the recent controversy over privacy issues, more companies are putting social media policies in place. What's your plan? Drop us a line at APeditor@americanprinter.com.

twitter

facebook

Find it online

Visit www.americanprinter.com, where you'll find handy links to our social media sites.

And be sure to check out Julie Shaffer's January 2010 article, “Social climbing.”

Shaffer recently co-authored a book with Mary Garnett, “The Social Media Field Guide,” which is geared specifically toward print service providers. See www.printing.org/socialnetworking.

Check out Joe Kern's Facebook page for PagePath at www.facebook.com/MyOrderDesk.