Time to Get Social (Whether You Like It or Not)

Here we go again. Just when you think it’s safe to call yourself a pretty smart cookie in the ways of marketing a business, a whole new slew of media comes slapping you in the face. Social media, to be exact. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace—it’s no wonder so many printers want to run in the other direction. When your time is already at a premium, the social media monster can feel more like a monkey on your back than an opportunity.

Don’t sweat it too much, taming the social media beast is possible, I assure you. Actually, it’s more than possible, it will likely become necessary as we move into the ever more connected future.

I know for a fact some of you have already begun to tread the online waters because I’ve seen you out there. I’m even “linked in” to a few of you. But for those who aren’t yet in the know, it’s important to understand what’s out there before you begin to tackle it, so here’s a quick overview of the big four.

Facebook

Facebook is a place to keep up with friends for the most part. People share photos of friends, family, and loved ones. They update their Facebook page with where they’re at, what they’re doing, etc., so people they don’t talk to on a regular basis can stay informed.

Businesses and organizations have begun to creep into this more personal social media space in the form of “fan pages” and “groups.” You can even advertise on Facebook if you chose, but keep in mind that this site is by no means a professional arena. Posts can be anything from a grocery shopping trip update to what some teenagers did at a party last weekend. Most Facebook advertisers are targeting consumers, although there are a few business to business ads making their way in.

MySpace

Another friend-focused site, MySpace has become more of an artsy arena lately. Many bands have MySpace pages because they are able to post more of their music (it has a larger file storage capacity). Other artists tend to flock to MySpace for the same reasons. The less artsy MySpace users tend to be younger—preteen to young teen.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is where the professionals flock in the social media landscape. Business minded individuals post their credentials and then “link in” to colleagues from all over the world, share industry insight and articles, and join groups that focus on topics they’d like to stay abreast of.

It can be a recruiting tool if you’re looking for your next CSR, a networking tool if you’re seeking contacts or connections (you can have colleagues “introduce” you to others in their network), or a great place to stay educated on industry focused topics. A quick search for “printing” professional groups pulls up more than 280 options for you to link in to, including one hosted by QP.

Twitter

You have 140 characters on this social networking site to tell your friends, family, and any other “followers” what you’re up to. Twitter is about content—not pictures, not groups, not music, or event calendars, simply tiny updates about, well, anything. Such updating even has its own name: Tweeting.

Twitter users run the gamut from industry professionals to celebrities to companies to your neighbor down the street. Some tweet about business, some about their lives, and some about world issues. There are die-hard Twitter fans out there willing to follow the most banal posts from people they may not even know. Then there are some who use it strictly to follow the big dogs and, hopefully, learn something along the way. (Kodak’s CMO loves to Tweet.) And then there are those who just don’t get Twitter at all and refuse to become a part of this community.

Today you may see companies using Twitter as a customer service tool. They monitor Twitter activity and if someone tweets a complaint or issue about their company, they respond, on Twitter, to solve the concern. It’s a pretty public way to right your wrongs, but it has proven very successful for some companies, and more are likely to hop on board. This really speaks to the whole transparency idea that is pretty much the essence of social media—better to embrace your faults than try to ignore or hide them.

Is It Worth the Time?

Okay, so now that we have this information, where do we go from here? Sounds like keeping up with just the big four might make for a full time job—and what’s really in it for printers? That’s a great question and will really depend on your specific business. Who is your audience? What are your business goals and marketing strategy? What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

A copy shop in California is likely to have very different social media needs than a New York commercial printer, so keep in mind that anything you do should be very tailored to your company’s goals and audience. Mr. Major Corporation isn’t likely to buy printing based on a Facebook page, but a college professor might. If you’ve had luck in printing band posters or gallery postcards, MySpace may be the perfect fit for you. If you’re seeking the ear of those ever elusive marketing professionals, LinkedIn could be the key to getting through those gates. If you’re looking to become an industry expert, try tweeting print tips throughout the week.

The truth is we could talk for hours about the pros and cons of each of these sites. The best advice is probably to consider your business and then step back and take some bite-sized, manageable pieces of social media. There is more than just the “best fit for your business” to bear in mind when it comes to social media.

Consider time. The unfortunate aspect of most social media is that it isn’t a “one and done” commitment. Most of these options require consistent updating and, while most of it can be done in less than a half hour, it is still something that will need to be added to your standing “to do” list.

Consider talent. If you don’t love to write, if you can’t craft a great thought or tip in 140 characters, then Twitter is probably not the best home for you. If you’re not a “picture person,” Facebook folks are likely not going to follow a picture-less page.

Keep it authentic. If you’re considering hiring someone to do the work for you, you’ve really just defeated the purpose of social media. It must be genuine to work. If you’ve promised your followers tips from your CEO, they must truly come from his or her keyboard. If you try to fake it, people will find out—that, I can almost assure you.

Create buzz. Social media is all about invoking interest in your page, posts, whatever the case may be, and then inciting action. Think outside the box when it comes to your social media approach; be creative. You’ve got a lot of competition for page views so use humor, wit, or creativity to get noticed (but remember the authenticity rule).

Be aware of the risks. Public sites are just that—public. These are community-based sites where people are encouraged to interact and give feedback. Be ready for the bad to come along with the good. If you do get some not so great comments about your business, the worse thing you can do is hide from them. Address issues as they come and people will likely appreciate your willingness to stand up and deal with the sorts of situations we all inevitably experience.

Getting Started

If you’re 100% new to the social media world, a great place to start is a simple LinkedIn profile. You can create one in about an hour and there’s minimal risk involved for you or your company. It also requires as little or as much updating as you are prepared to handle—which is a very good thing when you’re first starting out. Join a few groups so you can see how they’re used and help you decide whether it would be beneficial to start your own.

If you’re out in the community even a little, you’ll likely start seeing “linked in” requests (people who want to join your “network” on the site) start flowing into your inbox. And there you have it; you’re now experiencing the wonder of social media with minimal effort.

Speaking of being “in the community,” just like online marketing will never replace the need for printed materials, social media will never replace the need for face-to-face interactions—no matter what your teenagers are saying. Street networking, being a part of those community and professional organizations, passing business cards hand to hand—these are all a part of the big picture of successful business networking. In fact, the more you’re out there, the more likely you’ll be “in” when it comes social media. More people will be likely to seek you out on those social networking sites if they’ve had some pleasant in-person interactions as well.

So, are you ready? Follow these tips, keep it simple, understand what’s out there, and soon you’ll be able to add social media to your list of expertise. Printers know the importance of growth and change (think about that equipment you never though you’d need). Consider social media just another step up the ladder instead of that darn monkey, and you too may be singing the praises of this social media craze before you know it.

Tawnya Starr is president of FireSpring’s PrinterPresence. She has dedicated her career to educating the printing industry on proven website and marketing strategies. In 2005, she received the Industry Award of Distinction from NAQP for her service as a consultant and educator to the industry. Contact her at Tawnya.Starr@Firespring.com.

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