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Social Data

These days, social media are sort of like websites: Just about every company seems to be engaging customers and prospects online. The vast majority are posting on Facebook (a substantial amount for business purposes), tweeting on Twitter, networking on LinkedIn, sharing photos on Pinterest (see sidebar), and/or showing corporate videos on the Google’s YouTube channel. With the new Google+ product, the online search giant is striving to make its offering more relevant for users and businesses by combining local information with social networking.

While the jury is still out on Facebook, it and Twitter are making money from social media. But what about the rest of us? My cousin in Wisconsin is a fairly successful “Mommy Blogger” who has advertisers. Can print firms turn a profit from social, too?

Usage numbers don’t lie. Nearly 80 percent of US adults who are online use social networks, reported Netpop Research. That amounts to approximately 146.5 million people. Eight percent use Twitter daily, revealed a recent Pew Research study. Nearly one of every five minutes online is spent on social networks, according to statistics compiled by comScore. One in seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook.

On the business side, a study by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller found that 84 percent of Fortune 100 companies are actively engaged in at least one social media platform. The “2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report,” measuring the responses of 3,300 marketing professionals at primarily small- to medium-sized businesses, noted that 93 percent use social media for marketing purposes.

Some eight in 10 companies will participate in social-media marketing this year, nearly double the number of just three years ago, according to EMarketer estimates. All of them are feverishly working to get customers and prospects to “engage”—to “like,” to tweet, to comment, to share. And they’re spending a lot of money to do so: Companies spent about $2.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2010; that number is projected to grow to nearly $8 billion in 2015, said media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.

Facebook turned eight this year and went public. Its popularity—800 million global users now, up from 500 million two years ago and one million in 2004—and trove of personal data have attracted many companies to the site to create so-called fan pages where they can promote a product for free. The pages, relaunched in 2009, also enable the firms to send offers, coupons, and event reminders to users who have become fans. But taking 10 minutes to set up a fan page doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s being used properly. Content needs to be properly edited and keyword optimized with meta data for H1 coding.

But online media have challenges. Their paltry response rates pale even by direct mail print standards: only one in 1,000 Web readers clicks on the average display ad, also known as banner ads and “cube” spots, according to Webtrends. In Facebook’s case, the figure is even worse, closer to one in 2,000. Some 83 percent of US adult FB users hardly ever or never click on online ads or sponsored content, found a May 2012 poll by the Associated Press and CNBC.

Not sold on the medium, General Motors pulled its FB ads this past spring. And as Internet screens shrink, many fear ad revenue will as well. More than half of Facebook users get to the site through smartphones and tablets.

Many print firm owners still are not convinced, either; some are downright skeptical, stubbornly contending that social media is an integrated waste of time or even a marketing black hole. That may explain why only about four in 10 printers are actively engaged in social media networking for business, according to the latest PIA research available. “Show us the money,” shout the doubting 60 percent. By looking for hard financial numbers, are they missing the boat to increased revenue streams? There are softer intangibles that have an indirect effect on the bottom line, pointed out Kara Wachter, senior VP at PR firm Waggener Edstrom, factors “such as awareness, brand loyalty, reputation and perception, belief, advocacy,” she said. The key, most agree, is to integrate marketing, advertising, sales, and public-relations efforts.

Here’s a shout out to printers who are doing social right and getting a return on their investments in time and resources:

Going Mobile

Consider that 30 years ago, there were 4.6 billion people in the world—and not a single mobile-phone subscriber. Today, the world population is around seven billion, and there are some 6billion mobile cellular-phone subscriptions, according to an MIT report. Some 64 percent of smartphone users now access social networking sites or blogs almost every day.

This is a big part of the reason why progressive print service providers (PSPs) are migrating into the mobile space. In late May, for example, Tukaiz of Franklin Park, IL, near Chicago, spun off TKML into a Web and mobile application development subsidiary. Its developers have been using multiple languages to build enterprise-level software solutions for the past eight years.

“In building a comprehensive team spanning from business analysts to end-to-end testing personnel, we have been able to develop a professional process that brings speed, efficiency, and accuracy to our clients’ evolving application development needs,” said James Hasan, TKML director of data applications. “This new venture facilitates our growth and allows us to provide an even higher level of focus on developing Web and mobile solutions.”

TKML employs a Ruby on Rails platform. Rails is an open-source, full-stack web application framework for the Ruby programming language. Its benefits lie in the speed and ease of use that developers working within the environment are able to deploy. Changes made to applications are immediately applied, avoiding the time-consuming steps normally associated with the Web development cycle. Because of this, Rails is often the methodology of choice for highly interactive applications like online directories, online e-commerce, local couponing, and cloud-based project collaboration. As one of the largest Ruby on Rails shops in Chicago, TKML includes a versatile team of nearly 30 engineers, user experience experts, and launch-strategy specialists.

“The decision to build a data applications team several years ago came with the shifting trend toward digital marketing methods,” added Dan Defino, Tukaiz VP and managing director. “Because that trend is growing at such a fast pace, we saw an opportunity to invest in our highly coveted team of developers to provide seamless software solutions that relieve a lot of the pain points involved in implementing integrated marketing campaigns. We wanted to make it easier for our clients to use advanced technology to engage their audiences.”

Paul Strack also knows how critical engagement is. For him, social media is all about educating and sharing information. From North Little Rock, AR, the president of CustomXM Cross-Media Communications, tweets daily on Twitter about current industry trends such as web-to-print and mobile marketing strategies. Formerly known as Custom Printing Co., the now 50-year-old firm rebranded five years ago.

“The integration of digital printing, database technology, and the Internet forever changed the face of marketing,” said Strack, son of the firm’s founder. He seized the Twitter craze in 2009 to introduce his newly branded company to a whole new audience of advertising, marketing, and public relations people. (His flock has grown to more than 1,400 followers now.) Today, the six hours or so he spends tweeting each week generate about $100,000 in sales, Strack figured, which represents some five percent of his firm’s $2 million in annual sales. That’s a pretty decent ROI. “I try posting at different times of the day, but it’s nothing constant,” he added.

“We’ve experimented with contests, too, but it has to be the right offer,” explained Strack, who acknowledged that CustomXM needs to improve its engagement tactics on Facebook. He is adamant that overt, hard-selling does not work well on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform. “I know some people think a lot of time is wasted on social media, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” he noted. “You just need to be disciplined.”

While Strack admitted that he doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to offer social media services directly to his customers, there are printers out there doing precisely that.

Social Profit Centers

Rich Printing, Nashville, is one print firm offering social media as a value-added service. Clay Odom, who is in charge of the firm’s own social media efforts, convinced president Larry Garrett that they could do the same for customers—and charge them.

While it may not difficult for customers to create their own profiles on LinkedIn or set up Facebook fan pages for their companies, the questions are these, said Odom: Is their page properly delivering key messages? Is it set up to maximize their Google Quotient? Does it provide easy interaction with customers and potential customers? Does it take advantage of the latest viral tools?

Rich Printing helps to ensure that its customers engage in social media the right way in the most efficient manner by creating search engine optimized (SEO) profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. It also provides training on the most effective uses of each platform.

PsPrint, check printer Deluxe Corp.’s online subsidiary, suggested 11 ways that print marketing can enhance your customers’ social media status. Getting “likes,” follows, or into customers’ circles is the name of the game; then, you essentially have free marketing to that specific segment. Helping your customers’ customers share unique experiences, their personalities, and their lifestyles engages their audience and exponentially increases their social media marketing reach. Conversely, social media can serve as a platform to enhance print marketing. You might, for example, offer to mail catalogs or brochures via your Facebook page (in return for a “like,” of course!), PsPrint pointed out. So pass along to your customers this good social advice, which applies to print firms as well:

  1. Encourage customers to “like” you on business cards, postcards, posters, banners, flyers and everything else you print.
  2. Create QR codes so customers can instantly connect with you from their devices.
  3. Experiment with AR (Augmented Reality) to enhance customer experience and brand recognition.
  4. Promote special offers and generate “likes” by offering incentives.
  5. Have customers take photos of themselves at your place of business or via your own app and post them to their social media profiles—all along putting your name and links in front of their friends.
  6. Have customers post restaurant ratings or testimonials directly from your table tents.
  7. Turn postcards into full-fledged catalogs with QR codes.
  8. Show customers how your artwork would appear on their walls with AR, then encourage immediate purchases right from their devices.
  9. Collect demographic data with instant questionnaires that have incentives or yield fun results so customers will want to share them.
  10. Show videos of products in action from your catalogs, postcards and flyers.
  11. Give a more detailed personal introduction via your QR code, printed on the back of your business card.

Professional Advice

“The people who ‘get’ social media don’t think about the platform; instead, they think of people and the relationships that can develop there,” advised business communication expert Ragan Communications. “Social media is not a destination or place to go; it is a way of getting there…. If the social aspect of social media is the car, then community management is the steering wheel.”

On behalf of Ragan, Brian Murray of Likeable Media offered five simple things to look at to determine whether your firm is on the right social track:

  1. On Twitter, scan your last 50 tweets. If you don’t see any @ symbols, you’re doing it wrong. The point of the platform is to engage, and the absence of those symbols shows that you aren’t doing so. Twitter is not the platform to continually blast your latest press releases.
  2. Look at the links you have shared. Do they all lead to your website? If they do, you’re too promotional. Provide content and tidbits that your audience will find relevant and valuable. The great news is there are millions of content producers out there who will welcome your sharing their content. Eventually, people will recognize your sharing and return the favor.
  3. On Facebook, look at the comments on your page. Are you the most frequent commenter? You should be, because you need to engage with the audience on your page. If others are commenting on what others say more than you, either hire them or start answering the questions yourself. Think of it this way: Would you rather have an employee answer phone calls at your company or an unqualified teenager?
  4. Scan your status updates. Are all your status updates about your latest sale? Facebook is not the Sunday circular. You have a tough battle because you’re competing not only against your normal business competition; you are also competing to appear in the newsfeed along with people’s friends. They’re inherently more interesting than those trying to sell you stuff all the time. Be a friend.
  5. Does anybody respond when you post a status? Take a long, hard look at your content, and take off your marketer’s hat. The most important aspect of appearing in the newsfeed is interaction. Start thinking like a consumer to produce content that is short, sweet, and sharable.

5 Reasons Most Companies Don't Measure

Social media is inherently measurable. There at least 200 vendor firms that monitor and measure its effectiveness, according to Angela Jeffrey, VP of editorial research at VMS (Video Monitoring Services). But measurement should be viewed less as a report card and more as a GPS that can continually help you get to where you want to go by consistently monitoring and adjusting, Frank Ovaitt, EVP, Makovsky + Co. told an audience at last year’s PR Measurement Conference.

While few would ever admit it, most companies don't have the right tools, can't make sense of the data, or are afraid of what the data might say. That’s because most people hate math, contend social gurus Jay Baer and Amber Naslund. Saying that “social media isn't measurable” is an excuse, they say. Here’s what companies really mean:

  1. We don't have the right tools to collect the data we need.
  2. When we have all the data, we don't know where to start.
  3. We don't know which data might relate to other data to analyze it well.
  4. We don't have or won't deploy enough data collection and analysis resources to figure this out.
  5. We're afraid of what measuring will actually tell us about our effectiveness.

Doing Facebook (for Business) Right

Facebook can be a key online marketing tool for print and related businesses. If used to its fullest, it can drive increased traffic to websites, generate additional sales, promote brand recognition and loyalty, and provide a direct communication link to customers.

Inc. magazine and hailed stationary company Tiny Prints as having one of “20 Awesome Facebook Fan Pages.” The firm, which specializes in personalized stationary and greeting cards for special occasions and announcements, has gained nearly 64,000 fans on Facebook. Special features allow users to view merchandise, receive exclusive fan discounts, gain insight from Tiny Prints Inspiration Boards, and shop without leaving the social network—turning Facebook fans into buying customers.

“Originally, Tiny Prints used Facebook merely as a way to drive traffic, but lately, Tiny Print's fan page has grown into a tightly knit community built off remarkable customer service and feedback,” Inc. reported. Anna Fieler, marketing VP of Tiny Prints, said the company actively participates and responds to about 99.9 percent of comments within 24 hours. In return, fans of Tiny Prints have been showing more investment in the company.

Fieler reported traffic from Facebook increased more than 600 percent from 2009 to 2010, and during the holiday season, customers who were also Facebook fans spent significantly more than customers who weren't. “People stop by our page and share their birth announcements, wedding pictures, Valentine’s Day cards, their love stories of how they proposed, what they did for their anniversary,” Fieler told Inc. “We’re seeing a community being built around these special moments and life occasions that our products are designed to celebrate.”

Printers on YouTube

YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006, turned seven this past May. People now upload 72+ hours of video every minute to YouTube. The online channel gets 1 billion views a day.

In a May blog, John Foley, Jr., CEO of interlinkONE and Grow Socially, discussed three ways to use YouTube to attract attention to your printing business today:

Demonstrate the Services You Can Offer

“To catch the attention of and leave an impression on marketers, printers certainly need to do more just list the equipment that they have and the services that they provide,” Foley blogged. “In today’s world, many marketers need to be able to visualize specific solutions that the printer’s hardware and services can bring to them. Video can be a great way to bring a printer’s solutions to life.

“I recently saw an example of this from the folks at Mojave Copy and Printing in [Victorville] California,” he added. “In order to sell their service of providing very well-designed Window Signs that can be made interactive with QR Codes, they posted a video of an installation. By posting this video, they’ve not only made it possible to demonstrate their services online, but they’re also giving their consumer a tool to demo why they’d want to invest money in an interactive window sign for their company. For example, the marketer could easily show that video to his or her management team … to justify the expense and potential benefits.”

Humanize Your Brand by Featuring Employees

“Video can be very beneficial in the fact that it helps to put a face to your company’s name,” Foley continued. “It also can demonstrate your personality. In years past, this may not have always been necessary. Perhaps a lot of your printing business came through face-to-face interactions. Today, that percentage has certainly changed a bit. If someone is ordering print from you through your online storefront, they may never actually get to know the human-side to your business. In order to generate loyalty and repeat business, it’s important to find ways to reach those folks.

“The folks behind Rescigno’s Marketing Connections [Bridgeview, IL] do a great job of this. Now, I have had the privilege of working with them in the past in the vendor/customer relationship. But trust me on this, they are rock stars! I’d say that even if we had never worked together.

“In this video, they featured the two owners of the business, Ron and Sue. In just over three minutes, they accomplished a number of great things. They provided helpful tips to their customers & prospects about direct mail, they exposed one of the services that they can offer (variable data printing), and they also helped to demonstrate their great personalities and spirit to their target audience.”

Provide Though Leadership

“Video can also be a great way to educate your customers and prospects, and to position yourself as a thought leader,” Foley concluded. “In fact, it can help your company to get found! Since Google owns YouTube, you certainly shouldn’t be surprised when you see videos from that channel appear on Page 1 of many Google searches.

“One subject that is certainly very hot in the marketing world is QR Codes. To capitalize on that, Jasper Casey of Casey Connect [Casey Marketing Services, King City, CA] has launched a video series called ‘QR Codes Studs and Duds.’ Throughout the videos, he provides examples and best practices for marketers that want to make their printed materials interactive and reach the mobile audience.

“When marketers have questions about have to do that effectively, these videos should certainly help to increase the chances that people will turn to Jasper and Casey Connect for answers.”

How Print Firms Can Utilize Pinterest

So, what is this Pinterest thing anyway, you may be asking yourselves. The virtual “pinboard” is a content-sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos, and other objects to their boards on their computers. Boards range from food, music, fashion, quotes, landscapes, and home decor. Pretty much anything can be turned into a board. Pinterest also includes standard social networking features. Consumers are using it to engage with retailers more than Facebook or Twitter, according to a recent survey released by, comScore, and The Partnering Group.

The whole basis of Pinterest is the visual representation of people’s interests, and what is more visual than print? If used correctly, Pinterest can be one of the best ways to showcase your printing company’s great design skills, recommended Printing Hub, a printing-focused project of the 501(c)3 Digital Community Foundation, whose mission is to educate and empower people on issues related to technology. Here’s how Pinterest can be used to benefit your printing company, according to Printing Hub:

Display Your Work

What works really well for graphic designers on Pinterest is that the more visually appealing a picture is, the more “repins” it’s going to get. It’s a lot like Instagram (now owned by Facebook) in the way that people tend to follow others who post eye-catching photos.

But depending on how much business your printing company does and how much original work your graphic designers do, using Pinterest is a good way to display that work. If those pins spread to the right people, it could bring in sales leads, thus potentially increasing your printing company’s revenue.


Roughly 95 percent of Pinterest users are women. Don’t let this distract you, because even though women dominate the social media platform right now, it doesn’t mean that they lack a sense of design or that you don’t have something to contribute. A lot of women go to this site to get inspiration for food, fashion, and home decor. This can be the same for your printing company and graphic designers. With all the available images at your finger tips, there is no shortage of inspiration for your graphic designers to create excellent designs for your printed materials.

Promote Your Clients

This goes along with promoting the work of your graphic designers, but who are the graphic designers doing work for? Your printing company’s clients. And promoting your clients’ work is a great way to not only market yourself and your services, but to also promote the work your clients do. This could cause your clients to get more business, which would mean your printing company would get more business too. It really is a win-win for both parties involved.