Online Exclusive

Revisiting Print's Social Network

Last May, tackled a subject near and dear to many a printer's heart: social media marketing. Now, 10 months later, we revisit the topic to see what's new and what has changed: most notably, perhaps, how mobile apps continue to displace World Wide Web usage. Forrester Research contends that mobile eventually will overtake both email and social. In the meantime, however, social media can be an important component of your printing 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.

As stated recently in a Wide-Format Imaging report (in the upcoming March issue), Forrester also is forecasting that marketers (including printing firms) will spend $77 billion on interactive marketing – as much as they do on TV advertising today—within four years. 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. Already, nine of every 10 small to medium-sized businesses use social media for marketing purposes, according to online magazine/blog Social Media Examiner's third annual "Social Media Marketing Industry Report," which measured responses of 3,300 marketing pros. Print businesses lag behind, but still more than one-third of U.S. printers (about 10,000 companies) are using social media for business, statistics compiled by research firm InfoTrends reveal. Here are three other interesting statistics upon which to ponder (also, see sidebar):

When a StrongMail study asked 925 marketers where they would spend their marketing dollars last year, 57 percent said they were increasing their social media spend.Your current and future customers are using social media almost daily: Nielson recently found 80 percent of Americans are using social media at least monthly. Soon to become a public company, the Facebook phenomenon hit 800 million active users in 2011, up from 500 million in 2010. (Note: There were only one million in 2004.)

The Social Print Experiment

Brown Printing, with web-offset plants in three states, has nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter. Continental Colorcraft in Los Angeles has about half that many. Tukaiz, near Chicago, has more than 1,200. Are these people, these followers, buying any printing? More than 60 percent of small businesses are landing new customers through social media activities (source: Social Media Marketing Industry Report). But what about print firms?

About two years ago, three partners set out to build a start-up digital printing company using only social media and Web 2.0 tools. Called the Social Print Experiment, the venture wrapped up last February, and here is some of what they learned. "Relying simply on Twitter, Facebook, and MailChimp marketing is okay as a supplement to a larger sales initiative, but it cannot be your sole source of business," wrote Andrew Simmons, one of the partners. "Feet on the street is still a very strong method to bring sales in."

In terms of expectations, Simmons added that "managing your social media stream, even through automation, is nearly a full-time job. You need to be able to respond to the Tweets that flow throughout the day with meaningful information, not just re-posting from an RSS feed. I spent a lot of time on Twitter and LinkedIn," he noted, "but not much on Facebook. Which translates to not as much time in front of prospects in the flesh, and you need that extra 'touch' with prospects since not everyone is completely comfortable conducting business through email and tweets."

Also, to have any chance of meaningful business from your social media stream, Simmons stressed, "You have to have qualified followers, just as you would have to have qualified prospects in the physical world. If all of your followers are asking you to join their Mafia family or download their real estate e-book, you aren't likely to get much business from them," he said. "I still prune our Twitter list regularly to weed out non-prospects. The number of followers we have now is around 7,200 people, and I limit our following of users to about 5 percent more than are following us."

When it comes to finding print prospects, Simmons' technology of choice is TweetAdder, a professional Twitter marketing tool: "[It's] an essential tool for building a quality following. The cost of the software is very low at $55 .... I then use other tools for pruning the list, and ultimately go through it manually to make sure I eliminate spammers and scammers. This helps create a decent list of prospects," he said.

"I've also discovered that I can pick off about 20 percent of my competitors' qualified prospects from their own Twitter list," Simmons added, "but that's a different subject for another time."

Don't Underestimate Video

There is video to consider, too. Remember those humorous "Printing's Alive" YouTube videos from Pazazz Printing in Montreal? The first one has received nearly 237,000 views since going viral five years ago but, more importantly, Pazazz has received more than 1,000 emails (many of them warm leads) as a result of the videos. Those aren't bad numbers for a mid-size printer in Canada.

CEO/founder Warren Werbitt believes in marketing and invests in it. The pro-print videos are part of a larger branding identity strategy incorporating direct mail and email blasts. Werbitt even has a full-time marketing director in place. Pazazz uses other social media channels, too, of course, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn because of "global exposure, unlimited outreach, viral effect, and it's an inexpensive way to promote your company," marketing director Lori Cohen told Graphic Monthly Canada. "You give people the choice to learn more about your company," she said. "It's time-consuming but fun." Her boss agrees. "It's important to do something on a regular basis," added Werbitt. "We do a cross-mix of everything because you can't do one without the other. It's all about awareness, being top of mind, and keeping our name out there."

Following Werbitt and Cohen's lead, Jamie O'Born, president of The Printing House (TPH), launched an online campaign about 15 months ago featuring The Printz, a funny Thor-like Viking character who promotes print by tweeting, among other things. The six episodes, on YouTube since October 2010, have a combined 11,000 views to date. Based in Toronto, the TPH chain has some about 70 locations across Canada.

But be forewarned that shooting video can be time-consuming. "After a few videos, I was too burned out to produce any more of them," admitted Simmons of the Social Print Experiment. "Even today I shudder to think of creating a simple YouTube video. Every video I created took a minimum of 12 hours to build and edit—hours which were spent after the family went to bed," he noted.