Running in Social Circles

I just spent four hours this morning being “social.” Between visiting my Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace sites, sorting through personal “I’m awake and drinking coffee this morning” messages, and jumping to interesting links on the Internet, I quickly burned through half a day.

It seems the information I am bombarded with grows each day. I used to deal with my email and be done with it. Today, I not only have to check my email, but visit several online sites to see if anyone is trying to reach me with important information. I’m slowly being sucked into a social network that combines friends with business associates, and everyone wants a little eyeball time.

Luckily, surfing the Internet and researching the latest printing trends is my job, so I’m already online. I use the Internet for research and to get background for my seminars, books, and articles.

Social media is the latest marketing and Internet trend. It offers content created by individuals that is then shared and discussed over the Internet or through mobile communication devices. It helps people create personal and business relationships using technology.

What drives this new media is that it gives individuals a voice and a platform to reach literally millions of people. Unlike the high cost of starting a publication or radio station, social media tools such as Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace require only a computer and Internet access.

The buzz is about how social media can be used in marketing. If so many people are spending hours checking their networks, there must be a way to push messages out to the masses.

Large corporations, such as Xerox and Kodak, and small hometown printers are creating a presence in the cyberworld. They use it to push information to the user’s landing page and find out if he is interested in learning more. Like traditional media, the challenge is to build an audience and keep providing information and material that will keep the audience interested. Users can turn information on and off, and the key is to keep your information stream turned on.

Printer’s Alley

I predict that there will be specific successful uses for social media in all areas of business, but we will have to wade through a confusing clutter of information to find the killer app that makes the time spent on social media worthwhile. For quick and small commercial printers, the reality is that social media marketing isn’t going to instantly solve the sales and marketing issues they now have. The reality is, most printing companies do such a poor job of marketing in the real world that moving their efforts to the cyberworld will only mean more failure.

Some describe social media marketing as a big networking party. You are making casual contact with various people through the social media platforms. They become aware of you and you become aware of them, but the relationships are still casual at best. Just like in real life, people are attracted to people who interest them. A person must cut through the mundane chatter and provide interesting information that will attract others.

If the person likes you “online” then he might be interested in finding out more about you and visiting your blog or website. Then that person might want a business relationship. Most social media network opportunities are limited, so the person interested in finding out more must be directed to other resources. This could include a blog (an online public diary) or a website.

A printer can join a network, contribute interesting information and comments, and attract interest from others. When others need printing, they might think of you. As in the real world, people buy from people they like. The social media platforms are going to become a major referral network for printers.

Some experts recommend that social media marketing should be integrated into the marketing services printers now sell and become part of an overall campaign. Others think social media marketing can be used to drive business to the print shops. No one knows for sure.

Get Real

Quick and small commercial printers need to start using the marketing techniques social media marketing experts propose in the real world. They need to get social in real life and expand their business possibilities. Once their real world print shop is under control and profitable, then they can use the new social media opportunities.

Here are some suggestions gleaned from the Internet and my real world experiences:

Join community groups. Become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Lions Club, etc., and get experience with networking. If you can navigate the ins and outs of a real world organization, you will be better able to handle the nuances of the online world.

Once you join a group, participate and network. If you can’t walk up to someone and introduce yourself in real life, you aren’t going to be able to do it properly in cyberspace. Learn how to meet people. If necessary, sign up for a Dale Carnegie course.

Have a 30-second elevator speech. You should be able to give someone an idea of what you do within 30 seconds. Write the speech. Practice it. That same elevator speech can be translated into a message to use online.

Ask for referrals. LinkedIn and other social media platforms are built on referrals. If you aren’t already comfortable asking customers for referrals, it isn’t going to be any easier online. If you have a number of referrals already, it will be easy to convert them to the social media platform.

Update your website regularly. Too many printers get a website and then forget about it. If you aren’t using your website to its capacity, you aren’t going to be able to keep up with social media marketing. How can you provide good information on a regular basis if you can’t even add a new employee’s name and photo to your website?

Make regular sales calls. Social media marketing is like sending out a letter asking for an appointment. If you don’t follow-up, the opportunity is lost. Social media marketing doesn’t replace sales calls; it helps you get them. If you aren’t ready to deal face-to-face with a customer, then you are wasting your time with social media marketing.

Don’t waste time with social media without a plan. A social media network is a tool, not a toy. We’re already seeing employees lose productive time because they are constantly checking their Tweets or Facebook comments. If you get involved in social media marketing and get your name in front of new communities, be ready and have a plan.

Know how you want to define yourself. You should have already made this decision for your real world shop. Just translate it to a digital message.

Make the information relevant. Social media allows you to have a voice. Provide your audience with valuable information that they can use. Don’t just fill up their Twitter or LinkedIn mailboxes with useless messages.

Coordinate the information you push out to the audience with the messages you have on your website and in your shop. You need to be speaking with one voice. If you send information out, make sure your employees know about it and can talk to customers about the topic.

Don’t be a pushy salesperson. If you were at a party, you wouldn’t be pushing your services. You don’t do that in social networks either. You give the audience reasons to ask more about what you do. You do that by making yourself interesting and likeable.

Don’t forget video. A lot of what a printer does can be explained with video. This is becoming an important tool in delivering a message.

Join In

Whether you decide to use social media marketing for your company or not, you need to become familiar with it. I recommend signing up for LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn is a business network that includes groups. You can create your own group or join groups such as the Quick Printing group (there’s a link at www.quickprinting.com) or special prepress and user groups. You can link to me and most of QP’s other contributing columnists.

One side benefit of LinkedIn is its job search. The print industry specific groups typically have a list of people searching for print related jobs. I have seen a number of graphic designers, salespeople, and production managers advertising their services on LinkedIn.

You also should sign up for Twitter. Once a member, you can “follow” a number of industry experts on topics relating to printing. Just type in #print in the Search line and you will find hundreds of people talking about printing. Just search for us by name or follow the QP links.

Once you do sign up, make sure you add social bookmark links to your most important Web pages and/or blog posts to improve sharing. This will help people get a better understanding of what your company can do.

Social media marketing takes a lot of work to do right. It has to be updated on a regular basis. It has to remain fresh. It has to be managed so the audience can grow. It will take commitment, time, and money. Get your feet wet in social media today. It may look like a fad now, but it will become a good way to push information to your customers about the benefits of using your services.

John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList.” He is technology director for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954/224-1942 or john@johngiles.com. You can also find John on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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