Social Media is Essential to Customer Communications

I just don’t get it.” This is probably the most frequent comment I get from printers when we are discussing social media. Social media is everywhere and it is becoming a valuable communication tool for the business community. But some printers are afraid social media will continue to erode their printing volume, so they see it as a threat. If someone wants to broadcast a message to customers or prospects, they can do it with a free tweet from Twitter or a posting on Facebook. Will customers need printing anymore?Printing is not being eliminated by social media. Print and social media are being integrated to create a more powerful and controllable message. Print will continue to play an important role in the communication and sales process and customers will be looking for printers who know how to use social media.

 

Go Where the Customers Are

Just because a printer doesn’t see a personal reason to use social media doesn’t mean his customers don’t. This is how your customers are communicating and buying services today, especially buyers under the age of 40. Printers are going to have to learn how to set up social media, how to build sales leads, how to create a presence online, how to build audiences and followers, how to help develop content, and how to use social media to engage customers and prospects. Customers will be demanding that social media be used along with printing to spread their message.

Many businesses will pay for an outside resource to manage their social media. Because some companies don’t have the time to spend doing the social media mechanics, new social media support companies are sprouting up around the country. They help develop content and do the postings of the messages on the various social media platforms. They also help drive people to their clients’ sites by helping build audiences and attract followers. These new companies can charge a good price for the service because the customer sees a great deal of value in the services they provide.

Social media support companies are also buying printing for their clients because they know that printing can drive people to social media sites. You have probably already noticed companies adding social media logos and addresses to their printed material. The social media companies use mailings to get their social media information in front of the customer. And they are starting to control the print buying for their customers.

Printers must show customers they too can offer a complete communication service that includes social media. Right now, customers will pay a premium price for the social media component of a project. The printing portion is considered the commodity part. Unless printers begin to offer social media services along with printing, they will remain stuck selling just the printing service that is based solely on price.

 

Déj vu All Over Again

The printing industry has let this happen before. Graphic designers and ad agencies sell the print buying customer the perceived value part of a project (idea, design, concept, etc.) and leave printers to compete on price and service for the printing portion. The same thing happened with PURLs (personal URLs). PODi, the organization that helps set strategic direction in the digital print industry, reported that on many PURL projects, printing costs made up only 10% of the total selling price. The people selling the idea to the customer took the other 90%. Printing became the commodity product in the mix. Someone else sold the value of the project to the customer and left the printer to compete for what was left.

The same thing could happen with social media unless printers get in front of the curve. Printers need to use social media to increase their own sales. They also need to learn the mechanics so they can provide social media services for their customers.

 

Get On Board

Start learning about social media by using the four most popular vehicles: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If a printer can master these tools and understand how they are used to communicate with customers, then they can add value for which they can charge. The only way a person can learn the value of social media is to join and participate. Just getting an account isn’t going to be of any value unless you also participate.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest social media network for professionals and it is free. The number of users grows every day, with more than 90 million users as of January 1, 2011. LinkedIn connects businesspeople so they might exchange knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with a broader network of professionals. Think of LinkedIn as the Web-based equivalent of a chamber of commerce meeting. At chamber meetings you have the opportunity to meet and chat with potential customers and visit with current customers. You use LinkedIn to accomplish the same thing.

With LinkedIn current customers can give you recommendations and word-of-mouth referrals to help gain new business. You can keep in touch with people and know what they are doing. You can get information and recommendations about who to go to for services you might need or get answers to business questions. You can even get a chance to demonstrate your expertise by answering questions from others. And you can keep an eye on what your competition is doing and who is following them.

Business owners and salespeople should sign up for a LinkedIn account at www.linkedin.com. Provide detailed information about yourself in your profile. Then start looking for current business associates and customers who are on LinkedIn and connect with them. Once connected, you can communicate with them and join online discussions.

Many local areas have business groups on LinkedIn that discuss a variety of business topics. It is simple to find local groups by using the search functions, using your city’s name. Join a group and you will see what the current interests are in your area and learn more about the business environment. You can even link your blog and other social media postings such as Twitter tweets to your LinkedIn page so your business followers can see everything about you in one place.

The success of LinkedIn comes with your ability to socialize online. Most social media sites do not encourage direct sales messages, but serve as a platform to demonstrate a person’s expertise and as a place to get leads for sales calls.

 

Other Outlets

Printers will also want to begin tweeting. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send 140 character text messages, or “tweets”, to friends or “followers.” Tweets usually contain information that is being shared by a community of like-minded people. The messages can go to the Twitter website, be sent as a text message to a cell phone, or posted on various third-party applications or social media sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. People follow others on Twitter to gain more information on specific subjects. Businesses use Twitter to push helpful information to consumers. Some offer discounts and coupons. There are many social media add-on tools that allow the posting to be automated and populate a variety of social media platforms at one time.

Facebook started as a gathering spot for people to connect with their friends online and, as of January 2011, had more than 600 million users. Businesses have been attracted to Facebook because of the large number of users and the ease with which they can interact with customers and prospects. You can sign up at www.facebook.com.

A Facebook business page can become almost as important as a company’s website. Because of the volume and the interlinking of friends and fans, businesses can instantly communicate with an ever growing audience. Postings can include important information, technical news, discount offerings, or coupons and special promotions. The posts include tweets, links to other Web pages, photos, and video.

YouTube is the social media site for video. Users can post video content for free, which can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. Businesses can create their own “channel” so viewers can easily find their videos grouped together. The videos can also be linked to any other social media to help create a wider distribution of the information.

Printers have seen an impact on printing from YouTube because of QR (Quick Response) codes. Printers can create and print a special bar code that mobile smartphone users can scan and then be taken directly to a YouTube video. Many companies include training and product information videos on YouTube. Printed QR codes are used to drive viewers to the sites.

Start with social media by learning the mechanics. Printers must learn how to set up accounts and post information. They must learn how to interlink the various social media so a post on one will populate the others. They must learn the third party add-ons that automate the process so posts can be written and scheduled for posting later. Printers need to know how to build followers, friends, and fans for the various social media platforms.

After the mechanics, the printer must start using it to create an online presence and generate leads and top-of-mind awareness in their local market. Printers will have to learn how to engage their followers, friends, and fans with interesting and valuable information. The ultimate aim is to generate new business. If a printer can learn how to engage and then convert his followers into customers, he will have a knowledge base he can sell to his customers.

 

What Do I Say?

The biggest challenge in using social media is coming up with the message. What can a printer talk about? My suggestion is to go back to basics and use your 30-second elevator speech, mission statement, or whatever you call the short speech you use to describe your company. That message should tell the customer why he should buy from you. It should stress the benefits of using your company. Once you establish the message, then you will find that social media is just another vehicle to trumpet that message to your local market and help you sell more printing.

Businesses need social media to reach a new audience of buyers, and they need print to help get them there. Social media is a part of the communication process that still includes print. The printers who can master both print and social media will be the ones who prosper in the future.

 

John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList”. He is the technology director and a consultant for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954-224-1942 or john@johngiles.com. You can also find John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnG247 and on Linkedin.com. To order John’s books, visit www.cprint.org.

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