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Are you a wide-format printer, a digital marketer, or both? Within four years, marketers (including printing firms) will spend $77 billion on interactive marketing—as much as they do on TV advertising today—Forrester Research is forecasting. The combination of search marketing, display advertising, mobile marketing, email marketing, and social media is projected to grow to 35 percent of all advertising spend by 2017. Forrester also contends that mobile eventually will overtake both email and social. In the meantime, however, social media can be an important component of your company’s integrated marketing mix and a valuable tool for your business if you use it right. Socially savvy shops are using it today to enhance their brands and to increase their profits.

To communicate their respective messages to the masses, print needs Google, and Google needs print. To illustrate their truly reciprocal media relationship, I tweeted this to my Twitter followers (@MarkV_Chicago) after reading a Chicago Tribune article in mid-January about Internet censorship: “To alleviate privacy concerns, Google is again turning to print [advertising], namely magazines, newspapers, and billboards.” A few minutes later, @MyPrintResource repeated/retweeted (RT) to its online followers, followed by more RTs as the information sharing went viral, spreading further across the cyber universe. (Incidentally, Wide-Format Imaging has more than 2,400 followers on Twitter: twitter.com/wfi.)

Furthermore, when seekers of print industry-related knowledge come to the MyPrintResource.com (MPR) Web portal, hot-linked Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter logos appear near the top of the homepage, to the right, inviting people to “Follow Us.” The reason for this is search engine optimization (SEO). Does your firm “own” any keywords? After all, what benefit is having a great-looking, dynamic website if it is not optimized for Bing, Google, Microsoft (MSN), Yahoo, and other search engines? (See sidebar.) It’s like putting up a billboard in an alley, where few people see it.

But beware of those unsolicited email offers or telemarketers that guarantee organic placement on the first page of Google for an investment “of only $100 per month.” Like most things in business and in life, you get what you pay for—and $1,200 a year won’t get you a high page rank, despite the bill of goods the hucksters are trying to sell.

Social SEO

Strategic SEO works for printing firms, too, of course. Optimal search results happen by design, not by accident. Sometimes they’re bought, as with pay-per-click advertising such as Google AdWords, and always they’re paid for. Just ask Jill Rowen of Apple Visual Graphics in Long Island City, Queens, NY. “The Web crawlers look for these [logos and links], so you don’t want them to be ‘dead,’” explains Rowen, who coordinates Apple Visual’s sales and marketing efforts, including social media.

Across the country in Arizona, social media icons are prominent on bluemedia’s homepage, too, highlighting more than 1,550 Facebook fans who “like” the large-format printer. The same is true for PacBlue Printing in Canada, which boasts nearly 1,900 Twitter followers. Also in the Pacific Northwest, event/retail shop SuperGraphics is one of myriad printers to add a YouTube channel to its social media mix. Serving Seattle and Vancouver, the GM Nameplate division’s minute-long videos have generated nearly 500 views each—not Pazazz numbers (an amazing 237,000 views for the Montreal printer’s humorous “Printing’s Alive” video), but not bad either.

100 Minutes or 10 Hours?

The amount of time that firms spend on social media tasks varies, but the consensus seems to be that it’s not as much as you might think. “Our social media specialist spends approximately 10 to 15 hours a week on social,” says Brandon Boetto, interactive marketing director at bluemedia, which started with Twitter four years ago and has more than 4,300 followers to date. The firm now also employs Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google+, and Delicious as part of its social marketing strategy. “[We] use a combination of TweetDeck, Facebook apps, Flickr Mobile Uploader,” as well as having certain mobile phone triggers. “This gives us the ability to have immediate interaction with our clients,” Boetto continued.

Rowen is a quick study who said handling social media is not very time consuming for her, bucking the popular belief held by many print company owners. She spends a total of “less than 20 minutes [each day] monitoring” the firm’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. But that one-third of an hour is tallied up throughout the course of her entire workday. “I’m social media ADD,” jests the 28-year-old, who admits to checking feeds impulsively all day long and employs Web-based automation to help her work more smartly and speedily. Here’s a breakdown of how she manages it all so efficiently.

Frequency is key, and fresh content is king, according to Rowen. “We are super-active on Twitter, tweeting four times daily, seven days a week,” she said. That kind of volume adds up to 121 tweets per month and 1,456 annually. Instead of the more popular HootSuite dashboard or Twitter’s own TweetDeck browser, Rowen’s social media app of choice is Buffer (www.bufferapp.com), which makes it easy to share any page you may be reading online. “Buffer’s free service can hold up to 10 tweets,” she explained, sharing her three-step Monday morning ritual, which she says takes only about 10 minutes:

  • First, Rowen searches Google News for ‘print,’ “and then I sort by relevancy.”
  • Topics from @AppleVisualNYC’s are diligently hash-tagged (by Rowen) using one or more of five industry-related tags: #print, #helpprintthrive, #printbuyers, #printchat, and #wideformat.
  • Once properly tagged, the posts then are strategically time-stamped for Apple Visual’s Twitter followers: just before work starts, at 8:59 a.m.; right after lunch begins, at 12:04 p.m.; immediately before the workday ends, at 4:57 p.m.; and later in the evening, after dinner, at 8:00 p.m. Rowen aims for downtimes, “when people aren’t actually working and may be checking their social media feeds.”

The process may sound a bit complicated, but Rowen has it down to a science, thanks in no small part to Buffer and technologies like it. “It would be so much easier to sit down with a pay-per-click ad campaign,” she acknowledged, but for Apple Visual, the ROI comes in the bottom line. “Our social media activity helps with organic search,” Rowen noted. “It’s much less expensive than pay-per-click.”

So, what percentage of your incoming business comes from online search engines and social media? Rowen agreed with conventional thinking that social media results are difficult to track, at least formally. She does not think it was random coincidence, though, when Apple Visual received a rare quotation request for a smart car vehicle wrap on the same day that she had tweeted earlier about the topic. “But it’s impossible to tell,” she added.

Boetto from bluemedia begged to differ. “Contrary to popular belief, social media ROI [return on investment] is trackable,” he countered. “We use a combination of Google Analytics, CRM [customer relationship management], and link management to track all of our social media leads. Although this is not with 100 percent accuracy, we are able to capture leads that started on a social platform and made their way through our funnel to a call to action.”

Monetizing Social Media

So is anyone making money from social media marketing? Potential leads aside, we asked Boetto if bluemedia is embracing social media solely to enhance its website’s SEO score and Google page rank. “Absolutely not,” he asserted. “Enhancing our SEO and Google page rank are only a few specific tactics to our overall social media strategy.

“We believe in having a well-rounded strategy and letting each piece help us achieve an overall marketing goal,” Boetto concludes. “Social media has been a huge asset to our company, and we are very excited to continue to develop new ways to get in front of our clients and help expedite their needs.” With some 60 full-time employees, annual sales of $8 million in 2011, and an ambitious 50 percent growth projection for the remainder of this year, the more marketing channels the merrier for bluemedia’s 55,000-square-foot operation.

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