Print’s Social Network: Are You Experienced?

Pre-Valentine’s Day, Think Big Solutions, a wide-format printer in Denver, tweeted this to its 700 Twitter followers: “Like Us (Need a Valentine)” with a link to its Facebook page. Why bother, you may ask? Because of crowdsourcing, wherein everything someone “Likes” anywhere on the Web is viewable by friends on Facebook (FB). In our increasingly online world of viral influence, that means if I “like” ThinkBigDenver, then all my FB friends can see that, even those who’ve never even heard of the company. (See sidebar.) One week earlier the NAPLConnect Twitter feed proclaimed, “Industry news directly to your Facebook news feed. ‘Like’ us today.”

So, what exactly is a social medium? Parents of teenage girls (like mine) might argue that SMS text messaging is a form of social media in middle and high school. To the teen set, the only medium more archaic than instant messaging is email. “That’s so, like, 2005, Dad.” I can almost hear it now. And voicemail? Forget it. They don’t even bother, unless it’s an “emergency.”

What about video games? The graphics have come a long way since 1970s-era Pong, Atari (1980s), Nintendo and Sega, but I never considered video games as social media – until I heard my 11-year-old son interacting on Xbox Live with his fifth-grade buddies. They were playing e-guns, but they were also using the Microsoft subscription gaming service to talk about school and what they had planned for later that day.

While many people still wonder where the return on investment is and how to monetize social media, the bottom line may be that the eyeballs are there, looking at the content – in Twitter’s case, 140 characters at a time. Americans are spending nearly a quarter of their online time on social media sites, according to a mid-2010 Nielsen study; a 43 percent increase over 2009. And it’s no secret that mobile apps are displacing how the World Wide Web is used.

The Facebook phenomenon hit 500 million users in 2010. (There were only one million in 2004.) And by the end of 2010, more than 30 billion total tweets had been posted on Twitter. The New York Times has some 2.8 million Twitter followers. Eight magazine brands have more than one million followers on the microblog site. Wired has more than 725,000 Twitter followers, up almost 13 percent since Q4 2010, according to :Folio. In the business-to-business space, Ad Age has nearly 210,000, a 21.7 percent uptick.

Print firm owners and managers are interested, as evidenced by the crowded room during a social media presentation at the PODi App Forum in late January. (Incidentally, I wasn’t there, but I read a Twitter “tweet” about it.)

I started my own Twitter experiment in 2009. One year later my personal following had grown organically to 200 souls. I have become a self-admitted tech geek, tweeting about print-industry happenings on a daily basis to my now 300+ followers (www.twitter.com/MarkV_Chicago) as well as via PrintingNews, which has ten times the following (www.twitter.com/PrintingNews). I’ve introduced article topics on Twitter, tweeted live on my BlackBerry from print industry events, and while waiting at airports. The Printing News group on LinkedIn has nearly 1,000 members, from around the globe, who post interesting discussion topics weekly.

Have a plan?

“Social Media is the next revolution in the printing industry and business in general,” commented Susan Thomas, marketing/sales manager at Printfastic Printing Ltd. in Canada and a member of Cygnus’s Quick Printing Group on LinkedIn. “It is the way we are communicating and reaching our clients and more groups of clients/contacts.” Some 37 percent of North America’s printers are using social media for business, according to statistics compiled by InfoTrends. That’s about 10,000 or so printing firms. Modern Postcard, Carlsbad, CA, is one which regularly employs social media, particularly Twitter.

Another is Multi-Craft, a $10 million sheetfed and digital printer in Newport, KY, near Cincinnati. Social media drives print, president Debbie Simpson told Printing News last year. The family-owned firm networks online on LinkedIn and posts on Twitter. As part of its integrated approach and ongoing effort to recruit new employees, Multi-Craft posts videos on YouTube, too. Simpson, who is a progressive 59 years young, also blogs every other week on the firm’s revamped website, to which social media logo links recently were added.

For Simpson, it’s all about exposure and awareness – and search engine optimization (SEO). Remember that a website without SEO is like a billboard in an alley: seldom seen. “Oh, and I love LinkedIn. All marketing people are on it. I think it’s the best B2B tool ever,” she added, citing ways in which LinkedIn has enabled Multi-Craft to connect with prospects. “It has reduced the sales cycle remarkably.”

Using LinkedIn in much the same way is Think Big Solutions VP Mark Jones, who had just joined a group about using PURLs when I telephoned him for an interview. The wide-format print firm has integrated its social media plan with marketing. “Facebook and Twitter are great ways to softly promote to people who want to be promoted to,” contended Jones, whose company touts special offers via social media and its website.

“Our ‘Big Deal’ program is kind of like Groupon for B2B marketers, except we don’t change every week. We’re not ‘marketing.’ We’re telling people about a special,” he said. Those specials are niche-specific; targeting franchise printers, for instance, or customers/prospects interested in banners, tradeshow products, or cross media.

Why build a customer community? “Social media is all about engaging your audience,” said Julie Shaffer, VP digital technologies at PIA, who heads up the Digital Printing Council and Center for Digital Print Excellence. Shaffer has co-authored a book entitled Social Media Field Guide: A Resource for Graphic Communicators (www.printing.org/socialmediafieldguide), which is chock full of examples of printers who are doing social media right, including Western States Envelope & Label, wide-format printer Point Imaging of Hobart, IN, and cross-media firm Heritage Solutions in Oklahoma. Printers should expect to spend a bare minimum of six hours per week on social media engagement, she said.

And heed the advice of John Foley, Jr., CEO of interlinkONE and Grow Socially, who warned printers not to dive in haphazardly. “You need a social media marketing plan,” Foley encouraged. (Online exclusive: See Foley’s and PrinterPresence president Tawnya Starr’s video interviews in the Media Center at www.MyPrintResource.com.)

Measuring social

While social networks may indeed change product innovation down the road, data mining is the next frontier of social media marketing, many experts contend.

How can printers use social media for more efficient lead qualification? “Whittling down to the individual buyer will increasingly be the objective in online B2B marketing, even in terms of broad awareness campaigns,” says Steven Woods, the Toronto-based CTO of Eloqua, as reported by Lauren Canon of Inc.com. Instead of generalized marketing initiatives, companies are beginning to analyze the online behavior – also known as digital body language – of individuals involved in the B2B industry in an effort to pinpoint the specific buyer whose needs best fit the services of the seller. Through the collection and analysis of data, companies are discovering ways to link varied online ‘handles’ across social networks to a single individual they wish to target for marketing purposes.

Woods added, “The vanguard will see a lot of people in 2011 figure out the identity management challenge and be able to understand ‘you’ across those identities and understand how your activity on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and the various social properties indicates your buying intentions.”

So far as printer demographics go, I’ve read some discussions on LinkedIn about how many printers over the age of 50 are so resistant to change, including embracing social media. Multi-Craft’s Simpson agreed, admitting that she often is skeptical about social media in a B2B context – and it’s not that she is closed-minded.

Soon to be 60, Simpson is a proponent of lifelong learning, returning to school to earn a marketing degree just a few years ago. Her public relations counsel insists that social media enhances SEO and Google scores, and Foley of Grow Socially agrees. “This is how many people prefer to communicate,” Simpson acknowledged. “Driving up responses can’t be limited to one channel – it’s about all of them, including mobile. For me not to participate would be a huge mistake. I don’t want to become irrelevant.”

Plus, there’s the cross-pollination effect. Although it has not yet been scientifically confirmed, she thinks the company is luring more Twitter followers as a result of her biweekly Web blogs.

Print’s social network is akin to the rise of the Internet and digital production in the early 1990s, Simpson recalled. “We’re never going back,” she warned. “This is the new normal.”

As PIA’s Shaffer pointed out in her book, “Like it or not, your customers are talking about your company, your service, and your problem resolution on various social media tools already.”

Here’s a tip: Google Alerts are easy to set up. When’s the last time you “Googled” your company’s name?

Jones at Think Big said he tried the Facebook thing a couple years ago, “but it faded. We made mistakes early on,” he admitted. “We didn’t know what to do or have a strategy.” The misguided end result was a jumble of inconsistent information.

One takeaway from that experience is that it helps to have younger staffers, fresh out of college, who are comfortable with the whole social media culture. Alan Wright, 23, runs the firm’s large-format production as well as its Twitter feeds. And sales account manager Jessica Proctor, 24, is its “Facebook queen,” Jones noted. He added that Wright was “into Twitter on his own” before he was hired.

While SM analytics are not very effective in the early stages, Jones knows it can work. “In one week’s time, we landed a new customer – the Denver Browns minor league baseball team – all because of social media.”

Putting it in perspective, Twitter tweeter LithoLarry (aka Larry Williams, a sales rep for Lithographics, Inc. in Nashville), earlier this year tweeted, “I will not keep my head in the sand. Social Media is good.” Williams, who is 29 and grew up in his father’s printing business, added this in a blog post at www.litholarry.com: “It [social media] allows me to learn more and be aware of my surroundings. I use Twitter to catch up on articles and get advice from those I normally would not have an opportunity to speak with.”

You’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t use social media. But your competition will! PN

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