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Social climbing

Jan 1, 2010 12:00 AM


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Social networking can cause some serious anxiety. You sense that everyone is doing it (or at least talking about it), but it seems time intensive and you're busy just keeping your head above water. Some people have suggested you start blogging, but you're not sure you have the discipline or material to write regularly. Finally, you decide to dip your toes in the social networking pool and sign up for a Twitter account. Within minutes, you are gratified to have attracted your first followers, but this elation soon fades, as these “fans” are strangers. Several of your followers seem a bit creepy and one or two are downright lewd. You're feeling slightly embarrassed and a bit dubious about the whole thing. Can social media really help your business?

Calm down. We've been here before. Social networking today is much like the 1990s dot-com boom. Everyone was anxious to dive in and developers were creating new products at a breakneck pace. But most printers were just launching their first static websites then, and as with social media today, were unsure how these sites were going to help grow business. Just as many print service providers found that their website is a virtual front door to their business, and offering web-to-print solutions is critical to their success, it's becoming evident that social networking is an important method for engaging with customers and potential clients.

There are social networking sites (Facebook, Linkedin, Spoke, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster); video and image sharing sites (YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Metacafe, Blip.tv); social review, news and bookmark sites (Yelp, Digg, Reddit, Delicious, Friendfeed and Newsvine); virtual worlds (SecondLife, IMVU and others, plus many toy/gaming worlds); and blogs (created using TypePad, WordPress, PivotX, and similar tools). These are popular sites where people congregate and communicate — shouldn't you be here, too?

Changing communication trends

Forrester Research's (www.forrester.com) Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff have identified a fundamental change in online behavior. In “Groundswell: Winning In A World Transformed By Social Technologies,” Li and Bernoff define a social trend in which, “People use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”

Reviewing (or trashing) a restaurant on Yelp, ranking a hotel on a Travelocity, ranting on your blog about how you hate the new retweet feature on Twitter (and then tweeting it to all your followers) — all of these are ways we communicate with each other about business, and all are part of this groundswell concept. Li and Bernoff found that three things are driving this trend:

  • People's desire to connect.
  • New interactive (and easy to use) technologies.
  • Online economics (money can be made with these tools, yet most of them are free).

The “Groundswell” authors say the online communication genie is out of the bottle; the trend is irreversible. If you don't engage with your customers using the tools they use to communicate, you can be sure the discussion will go on with out you, and possibly about you, but you'll be out of the loop.

Marketers know this. Many consultants, marketing firms and ad agencies are building new business models around social media. Nonetheless, some questions remain. The March 2009 Social Media Marketing Industry Report (www.socialmediaexaminer.com) found that 88 percent of the 880 marketing professionals surveyed were using social media, but 72 percent had been doing so for only a few months. Using social media is time consuming — 39 percent of the respondents were putting 10 hours or more per week into social media activities, with 9.6 percent putting in 20 hours. While 81 percent of the respondents said the biggest benefit of social media marketing is generating exposure for the business, many wondered how to translate this into actual sales leads.

MarketingSherpa's (www.marketingsherpa.com) “2009 Social Media Marketing & PR Benchmark Guide” echoed these concerns. The report included the responses of more than 1,800 marketing and PR professionals. When asked which factors have presented the most significant barriers to social media adoption to an organization or client, 43 percent cited “inability to measure ROI.”

Maybe these folks could consider Tweetsforcash.com, where, for a mere $69, founder William Lark will reveal his proven secret to “flood your website with Twitter traffic.” It's pretty clear where Tweetsforcash gets its ROI! Many social marketing entrepreneurs offer free reports and information, anticipating that a percentage of those that take advantage of the gratis product will buy a book, attend a conference or pay for additional consulting services.

Can't see the forest for the tweets?

But those looking for a clear ROI or measurable response from social media interaction (like click-through or other web-type analytics used to measure the viability of an e-commerce storefront) might be missing the point. Social networking is mainly about connecting with your audience, building a friendly rapport, not unlike your print salespeople do in their face-to-face meetings with customers. So why bother, if you already have a stable of feet-on-the street salespeople interacting with clients? Social media lets you do this on a larger, even global scale, reaching more people and extending your reach beyond what a salesperson could possibly accomplish by stumping the streets.

A social media connection should feel personal, like interacting with a friend, or at least another human being. While most large companies, especially those that offer consumer products, have built “social streams” connecting Twitter, Facebook fan pages, YouTube videos and MySpace accounts in unified ways, many are not associated with actual people in the organization. In effect, these social sites are faceless, in a space where an actual face really matters.

A fresh approach

Point Imaging (Hobart, IN), a large-format digital imaging provider, is one company in the printing space that grasps the importance of a personal social media approach. Nearly every page of the company's website (www.pointimaging.com) features a friendly close-up of one of its 65 staffers, identified by name and title. A full screen panoramic shot of the shop floor lets users click on specific areas of the image, similar to the image on the Bing.com search engine, and zoom in for a close-up explanation of that piece of equipment, often with a movie showing it in action. This is far more interesting that the list of equipment one typically sees on a printer's website, and it really makes site visitors feel like they're on a catwalk overlooking the floor.

The company's “What's Fresh” blog is the most engaging aspect of its site. Marco Perez, Point Imaging's marketing manager, is the man behind, and the face on the front of, the “What's Fresh” blog and other social media pages. “I initially built our Facebook and Twitter accounts as Point Imaging,” he explains. “But I quickly realized that social media works just like the real world. You wouldn't walk up to someone, shake their hand and introduce yourself with ‘Hi, my name is Point Imaging,’ would you?”

While Perez might be the face that greets blog, Twitter and Facebook visitors, the messages he crafts reflect the culture Kevin Huseman built over the past 20 years as founder and president. “He knows exactly what is on our website,” says Perez. “Kevin encourages outside the box marketing and he enjoys using humor and real life stories to create buzz in Point Imaging.”

Perez says finding the best approach to social media can be challenging. “As much time as you spend attracting viewers, you can quickly lose your opportunities by being too pushy or too boring,” he warns. “Our ultimate goal is to bring traffic to our website and more importantly, our blog page. A blog page can be your strongest social media tool. You have driven prospects right to your front door. Your blog page should be engaging, entertaining, informative and interactive.” Perez uses a formula for the Point Imaging blog site, offering one human interest or entertainment-related message for every three business-related messages. Point Imaging's foray into social media has driven a 300 percent increase in website traffic over the past year, with the blog being the top visited page. The site also netted the company a 2009 web2award from Printing Industries of America, an annual award program that recognizes excellence in print service providers' websites.

Social media moments

Industry vendors, like many other corporations, are getting into the social media space, too. There are excellent transpromo, direct mail and postpress efforts and some really interesting digital print initiatives. Kodak is deeply engaged in the online social scene, led by Jeffrey Hayzlett, chief marketing officer and frequent Twitterer. You'll find the nerve center of Kodak's social networking effort at www.kodak.com/go/followus.

A blog features posts for various Kodak employees, most of them personal stories about kids, trips, holidays (sometimes weaving in a mention of a Kodak product) — the stuff of many personal blogs. You'll also find links out to Kodak's other social media sites, including one to Facebook, featuring the “Kodak Konga line,” of photographs on a specific topic — one features smiling animals. Vistors also can download a booklet explaining Kodak's “convergence media tactics” as well as tips on social media best practices.

Xerox (www.blogs.xerox.com) maintains a dozen blogs, including Xerox Global Services, Francois Ragnet's “Future of Documents,” as well as blogs dedicated to digital printing, heathcare, financial services and manufacuturing issues.

Web-to-print solutions provider PagePath (www.pagepath.com) embraces new media on several levels. As a provider of software as a service, including MyOrderDesk, the company uses social media for pushing out content as well as a monitoring tool. The company started TwitterPrint (www.twitterprint.net), a one-stop spot to see the current discussion on Twitter comments by, for and about issues of interest to the print community.

Joe Kern, PagePath's customer care/marketing coordinator, says it's a misconception to look at social media solely as a sales tool. “You use social media to market your company's services, not to sell your products,” he says. Kern monitors RSS feeds to check the hot topic buzz and schedules posts on the company's various social media sites to keep a conversation going. He estimates it takes him 20 to 40 minutes every day to stay current. “People think it takes too much time to be engaged in social media,” he says, “but think about how [absorbed] you are in e-mail every day. You just do it. Once you become engaged, this is no different.”

PagePath offers webinars and classes on how to use social media for their MyOrderDesk customers. Feedback from many printers who said they lacked the time or inclination to get started with social media prompted the company to launch a unique new subscription service. PagePath will set up a company's Twitter and Facebook pages, provide posts on each to generate conversation, monitor the discussion and update the customer.

Shirt maker masters social media

Chicago-based T-shirt company Threadless' (www.threadless.com) social media approach offers some insight on how to keep the conversation going. Threadless uses a crowdsourcing model — the product is created by outsiders. Anyone can submit a T-shirt design. The online audience rates each week's submissions. Winning designers are paid $2,000 plus a $500 Threadless credit (brilliant!).

The designer also earns a bonus if the shirt is popular enough to be reprinted. Threadless hosts a monthly and annual Bestee award program that offers awards of $2500 to $25,000 — quite the incentive to create great designs.

The online community is central to Threadless' business, so the company uses every form of social media to foster its growth. Threadless Tee-V, a weekly video broadcast, features staffer Charles Festa, a bearded, bespectacled hipster whose weekly romps feature new designs, sales and marketing messages all but hidden in the funny antics. There are hundreds of printers' videos posted on YouTube, these days, but most feature the clickity-click of an offset press running — not nearly as fun as Festa in an elf costume sparring with a fellow Threadless staffer in the shipping area of their shop. Threadless has a Facebook fan page featuring contests and games and several Twitter accounts. They even have a contest for T-shirts featuring the best tweets, bringing their core business right down to the social media stage.

The bottom line when it comes to social media is to get in the game, engage, communicate and build a community. It's where your customers are, and you have to be there, too!


Julie Shaffer is vice president of digital technologies for Printing Industries of America. Contact her at jshaffer@printing.org.

Briefly noted

  • Online video community YouTube announced in October that it is serving well over one billion views a day. The 140-maximum-words-per-message micro-blogging site Twitter reported its user base increased 1,380% from 2008 to 2009 with about 18 million users worldwide, and the number of tweets posted on December 19, 2009, exceeded the population of the world at 6.8 billion.

  • Lon Safko and David Brake's three-part “Social Media Bible” defines social media tactics, covers more than 100 top social media companies and helps readers develop their own strategies. See www.thesocialmediabible.com.

  • Mary Garnett and Julie Shaffer are the co-authors of “The Social Media Primer for Printers,” a guide for using social media to connect with customers. See www.printing.org/socialnetworking.

One world, many servers

As of this writing there are approximately 6.77 billion humans on the planet and 1.67 of them are online — that's 25 percent of the world's population. North America accounts for the largest user base — almost three quarters of the population are Internet users, everyone from toddlers to grannies. And we're not just sitting in front of our computers to connect. An April 2009 Pew Internet study revealed that 56 percent of adult Americans access the Internet wirelessly and 32 percent use a cell phone or other mobile device for e-mailing, instant messaging or web searching.

Source: www.internetworldstats.com

Are they playing Mafia Wars?

Half of the U.S. adult population visited a social networking site in the last year. Facebook is by far the most-used social networking channel, growing its active user base from 95 to 325 million during 2009 alone, replacing once dominant MySpace as the top place for friends to meet.

Facebook users spend 13,872,640 minutes per day on the site. (At 325 million users, that averages to over 23 minutes per day per person.)

Source: Neilsen's “Global Faces and Networked Places” (www.nielsen.com)

Practicing what we preach

Tamara and Jon present the latest printing headlines on the bimonthly APTV casts as well as expanded coverage of some print articles. A recent cast featured a Seattle Bindery case study and related video on a map folding project for a national scientific and education institution. (See “Dummies are smart,” December 2009.)

“I love the fact that AMERICAN PRINTER has embraced new media,” said Milt Vine in Seattle Bindery's December 2009 e-newsletter. “You can even get these Webcasts on any mobile device! I think it signals all the right messages about our industry — progressive, adaptive, responsive, informative, constructive, etc. — and shows the way for the rest of us.”

We love print at AMERICAN PRINTER and social media provides many new tools to promote it. You'll find APTV, blogs, Facebook and Twitter links at:

www.americanprinter.com