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Forging Online Print Communities

I see the online wanted ads almost daily: an insurance firm hiring a “Social Media Specialist;” a school district looking for a “Community and Social Media Program Manager;” a hair salon franchise in search of a “Social Media Development Lead;” and a leading payroll/benefits outsourcer advertising for a “Social Media Manager” are a few more recent listings. I frequently get invited to webinars, too, covering topics such as “How to Master LinkedIn” and other social media outlets. A recent email touted “Instagram Strategies” for business.

Citing more evidence that social media is a growth industry, Ad Age tweeted in January, “There are more than 180,000 social media ‘gurus,’ ‘ninjas,’ ‘masters,’ and ‘mavens’ on Twitter. (That’s up from 16,000 in 2009, an article link added.)

Let there be doubt no longer that businesses, including print firms, are making money from social media. (See “Social Data”) These investments in resources, human and otherwise, prove that. Social media can help to improve your firm’s sales numbers, said Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner. While the Internet doesn’t supplant print media, many entrepreneurs do look for business partners online, and they’re using social media to find them. Aside from your website, can they find you?

As I reported in mid-2012, usage numbers do not lie. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults who are online use social networks, reported Netpop Research. That amounts to approximately 147 million people. Eight percent use Twitter daily, revealed a Pew Research study. Nearly one of every five minutes online is spent on social networks, according to statistics compiled by comScore. Nielsen research revealed that people online continue to spend more time on social networks than any other category of sites: 20 percent of that time spent on PCs and 30 percent on mobile devices. One of every seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook, and more than half of Facebook users now navigate to the site via mobile smartphones, iPads, and other tablet computers.

Consider these facts:

  • Thirty years ago, there were 4.6 billion people in the world—and not a single mobile-phone subscriber.
  • Today, the world population is around 7 billion, and there are some 6 billion 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.

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. Stelzner’s “Social Media Marketing Industry Report,” measuring the responses of some 3,800 marketing professionals at primarily small- to medium-sized businesses, noted that 93 percent use social media for marketing purposes and 85 percent reported increased company exposure as a result of their efforts.

Some eight in 10 companies participated in social-media marketing last year, nearly double the number in 2009, according to EMarketer estimates. All of them are feverishly working to convert customers and prospects who’ve engaged by clicking Facebook’s “Like” icon, by tweeting, by commenting, by sharing. And they’re spending a lot of money to do so: Companies spent just over $2 billion on social-media advertising in 2010; that number is projected to grow to nearly $8 billion in the next 24 to 30 months, said media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.

What about Foursquare for Business? Two people checked in recently at Out of Hand Flyer Print and Distribution, Bristol, U.K. Who cares? Maybe you should, if you want more customers walking through your door. It’s all about connectivity, after all.

More Mobile Marketing

That social media and mobile technology have converged goes without saying. Mobile web use increased 82 percent from July 2011 to July 2012, according to Nielsen’s State of the Media: Social Media Report 2012, and app usage time more than doubled during that 12-month period. (Of course, many people connect to social media through an app.) By using multichannel marketing, creating highly-sharable content, and designing for easier viewing on smaller screens, print firm marketers can target audiences and stay on the cutting edge of technology.

Seventy percent of surveyed marketers reported increasing their mobile marketing budgets because the channel is either presently producing or is expected to produce positive ROI, the Marketing Sherpa 2012 Mobile Marketing Benchmark Report revealed. Another 61 percent said that mobile marketing is expected to be a significant aspect of future success. Mobile marketing is in the six-month plans of a majority of marketers, and 53 percent of those surveyed reported mobile taking 30 percent or more of the 2013 budget. Despite these statistical findings, however, more than half (55 percent) of them do not have an effective mobile strategy in place.

The inter-relationship between the print and mobile mediums is clear. InfoTrends has reported that printed mobile codes (e.g., QR codes, data matrices, Microsoft Tags), which can be scanned with smartphones to display additional content, have seen rapid adoption as well. Its Mobile Technology: Making Print Interactive study found that 20 percent of marketers said that the ability to connect to social media was an effective way to prompt interaction with mobile codes. In a print twist, 24 percent considered coupons or discounts to be very effective in prompting consumers to interact with mobile codes.

“As mobile technology is now a focal point of consumers’ lives, marketers are seeking tools, technologies, and strategies that will help them drive revenue for their companies,” said Kaspar Roos, associate director for InfoTrends’ Production Workflow & Custom Communications Solutions Services. “Personalized URLS, QR codes, augmented reality, and physical extensions are all examples of ‘print plus,’ which adds interactivity to traditional print channels. This makes it a more effective medium for communications. Mobile is only going to become more important to consumers over time, so it is important to stay connected to the emerging technologies that are making print more interactive.”

For several years, companies’ direct mail pieces have pointed end users to branded websites and social media accounts. But Debra Ellis of multichannel consultancy Wilson & Ellis encourages marketers, including print firms, to flip the script. Direct mail printers can use Facebook and Twitter to help customers build online awareness and excitement about pending campaigns.

Here’s a strategy to pass on to clients: “Instruct the people in your community to sign up to receive your mailer, then count down the days until that piece is in the mail,” Ellis advised readers of the USPS’s Deliver marketing magazine. Ellis scoffed at the notion that modern marketing is all about the conversation. She urges clients to build social media communities with the goal of selling, not simply trying to be the customer’s friend. “The only thing that motivates the customer is a need or a perceived need,” she said. (Read about print firms who track and get sales from their social media efforts: “Sign Shops Log On”)

“At least once a day, throw in a comment about your direct mail pieces,” urged Ellis. “You could even go to the point of creating a YouTube video of the products presented in your direct mail piece so people get an interest.”

Photo and Video Sharing

Facebook turns nine years old in 2013 and went public 10 months ago. The massive online social network now boasts between 700 million and one billion global users, depending on the research statistics used, up from 500 million three years ago and one million in 2004. Its popularity and trove of personal data have attracted many companies to the site to create so-called fan pages where they can promote products for free. These pages also enable the firms to send offers, coupons, and event reminders to users who have become fans.

“Facebook has become the heart of social media marketing for a number of businesses,” blogged John Foley, Jr., CEO/CMO of InterlinkOne and Grow Socially. “The social networking site has taken steps to encourage conversations between businesses and customers by adding a number of interactive features to Facebook Pages, the public profile for businesses.” 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.

Plus, “the value must be instantly obvious,” wrote Daniel Burstein of Marketing Sherpa. “After all, sharing your social media content is likely only one of many other objectives your potential customers have when using a mobile device. The value proposition question would be along the lines of, ‘Why should I share your content instead of talking to my friend, walking into that store, or watching the rest of this TV show?’”

Print firms need to leverage their “Likes,” too, advised Foley. Use Facebook to encourage customer reviews, he explained. “The Internet is often the first place people go to leave reviews about their customer experiences,” Foley wrote in Target Marketing magazine. “If you know your business could benefit from public reviews, you should strategize how to incorporate social media. Why? Because social networking is becoming integrated into almost every aspect of email, websites, and more.”

One such interactive feature cited by Foley is Facebook Questions, which “allows marketers to create an open-ended question or a poll for their Facebook networks to answer directly from their news feeds,” he explained in his blog. “This gives marketers the ability to gain instant feedback on particular concerns they may have. One example of using an open-ended question to leverage reviews on Facebook would be asking your audience what services they like most and why,” Foley offered. “This sets up your audience to think about the positive experiences they've had with your business and what they've enjoyed most about it. It also gives them an accessible outlet to quickly share a compliment about your business.”

Some business owners are downright proud of their social media following. Shad Interligi of Real Hit Media, White Plains, NY, told me his firm now has more than 4,200 fans on Facebook ( The vehicle-wrap specialist also is active on Twitter and Instagram, posting links to each channel on the bottom of every email he sends.

Snap and Share

Last April, popular photo-sharing application developer Instagram had 13 employees -- and no revenue. Then, seemingly overnight and out of nowhere, Facebook spent $1 billion in a defensive move to acquire the San Francisco firm as part of Team Zuckerberg’s IPO strategy. (Actually, it was Facebook’s second courtship; Instagram had rejected an earlier offer, according to Tribune Newspapers.) Twitter reportedly was in the hunt to buy Instagram, too, but offered “only” $525 million. Why did Zuckerberg’s financial advisors authorize payment of a premium twice that amount? Because the code of viral growth on mobile had been cracked. If the main reason people use Facebook is to share photos, then Instagram was threatening FB’s dominance on mobile, which is where consumer computer usage is going.

In less than two years, the free Instagram iPhone and Android photo effects app had racked up some 30 million users – an impressive number but still representing less than five percent of Facebook’s 700+ million subscriber base. Still, Instagram has placed Zuckerberg’s empire at the forefront of the increasingly critical use of photos as communication online. Snapchat, the 17-month-old photo app with short-term memory -- images disappear seconds after being received -- is hugely popular among teens and 20-somethings. With more than 50 million snaps daily as of late December 2012, it may be the next big acquisition, soon to be gobbled up by Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Yahoo, perhaps, all of which may feel threatened by its skyrocketing usage.

The meteoric growth of this photo and video sharing trend will continue. Pinterest now is the fastest growing online site for social sharing. With 20.5 million unique visitors, the content-sharing service ( was the 61st most visited website last June, according to comScore. One in four consumers report that they are spending less time on other social sites in favor of Pinterest, beating out big names such as LinkedIn and Google+. See sidebar to learn more about how businesses are using Pinterest, which allows members to “pin” images, videos, and other objects to their pinboards.

Stelzner’s research at the Social Media Examiner found that more than three-fourths of nearly 4,000 survey respondents are increasing their use of YouTube and other video-marketing activities in 2013. For mobile video content, “‘shareability’ is critical, as it’s been shown that mobile users are twice as likely to share videos than non-mobile users,” Brendan Cournoyer, content marketing manager at Brainshark, told Marketing Sherpa.

When More is More

Integrated marketing for print firms and all businesses still boils down to a multichannel mixture of similar messaging. “Social media, by its very nature, is transient,” wrote “marketing sherpa” Burstein.

One of his favorite analogies about Twitter is that “it’s like a pebble drifting down a slowly moving creek –or, occasionally, [a] raging river. If you don’t look at just the right time, you miss the message,” Burstein explained. “This analogy is even more so true when users on mobile devices are just snacking on bits of information quickly flowing by while distracted by their environment. That’s why while social media can certainly be a way for you to reach prospective customers on mobile devices, it shouldn’t be the only way you reach these distracted customers.”

Where have we heard that before? I can think of a few places -- and mediums.

PIA Integrated Print Forum

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It’s Social Media Time!

Don’t think you have time for social media in your business? Use your employees’ circles of influence to your business advantage, suggested John Foley, Jr., CEO and CMO of interlinkONE and Grow Socially. Employees “are very visible and engage in their own social media circles, which can at times be very large,” Foley wrote in a blog post. “Your employees can all be brand ambassadors. Have [them] get on Twitter and engage with industry professionals, potential clients, and other businesses. The more engagement your employees participate in, the higher their number of followers.”

Foley went on to explain that “Twitter is unlike Facebook in that you can just accrue friends because you will already know a good deal of people using it. You have to do a little legwork to get Twitter followers. And if it’s done right, the followers your employees can acquire will be relevant people to your work, and they will actively engage in conversation about [the] industry and new trends.” Employees should tweet links to new blog posts that go up on your company blog, linking to new videos or podcasts, or any new content, Foley noted. “Use Twitter and your multiple employee accounts to build a strong network.”

He concluded with some cautionary words: “Make sure all of your employees take care of their social media accounts and keep them clean and professional. Understand that irresponsible social media accounts can be very bad PR for your company.”

So how much time should you spend on social media marketing tasks each week? Here’s how the 3,800 respondents to the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report answered:

59% – 6 hours/week or more33% – 11 hours/week or more15% - 20+ hours/week

(Source: Social Media Examiner)

Putting the Plus in Google

President Obama created a buzz in mid-February when he appeared in a Google+ Hangout, using Google’s group video-chat service. For the remainder of 2013, Social Media Examiner research found that only 40 percent of marketers are using Google+ yet 70 percent want to learn more about it, and 67 percent plan on increasing their Google+ activities. Google+, a social networking and identity service, was launched in June 2011. As of December 2012, it had a total of 500 million registered users of whom 235 million are active on a monthly basis.

Unlike other conventional social networks, which are generally accessed through a single website, Google has described Google+ as a “social layer” consisting of not just a single site but rather an overarching “layer” that covers many of its online properties. According to social media news website Mashable, Google+ integrates across a number of Google products, including Buzz and Profiles. One of its key elements is a focus on targeted sharing within subsets of a social group, which are what Google calls “circles.” (Circles are simply small groups of people that you can share to, each with names like friends, family, classmates, and co-workers.)

Google also has created a section specifically for viewing, managing, and editing multimedia. The photo tab takes a user to all of the photos he or she has shared, as well as the ones he or she is tagged in. It’s not just photo tagging, Mashable explained: Google+ includes an image editor (complete with Instagram-like photo effects), privacy options, and sharing features.

Another widely discussed feature is “Hangouts,” Google’s new group chat. Instead of directly asking a friend to join a group chat, users instead click “start a hangout” and they’re instantly in a video chatroom alone. At the same time, a message goes out to their social circles, letting them know that their friend is “hanging out.” Friends can then join the hangout as long as they have been placed in a circle that was invited by the person who created the Hangout.

Mashable also has reported that users are spending an average of only 3.3 minutes monthly on Google+ compared to Facebook users currently spending 7.5 hours monthly, according to a CNN report. But the President’s recent Hangout video chat may help boost those numbers going forward.

What Is Pinning?

“Pinning” the Pinterest way is the act of visually sharing content. Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, curate, and discover new interests by posting, or “pinning,” images or videos to their own or others’ pinboards (which are a collection of “pins,” usually with a common theme). Users can either upload images from their computers, or pin things they find on the web using the Pinterest bookmarklet, pin it button, or a URL.

Pinning is not only for craft-conscious consumers. Business-to-business organizations can benefit from the use of Pinterest, especially as a site traffic driver. Any business that relies on driving a high-volume of website traffic to increase sales, should consider joining Pinterest, said Mohawk Paper. Early research shows it is more effective at driving traffic compared to other social media sites -- even Facebook.

The biggest challenge for B2B companies wanting to use Pinterest as a marketing channel has been a lack of visual content. Luckily, print firms and marketing services providers are in charge of their customer’s visual content, so taking charge of integrating Pinterest into overall campaigns is a natural fit. The visual content is already there:

Ebooks, brochures, and white papers create a board with instant credibility.Include photos of happy customers using your products!Interesting videos that your business has produced, including industry speakers.Showcase executive management with bios and photos.Repurpose images from blog posts.Infographics are hot—and highly viewed on Pinterest.

“Unlike most other widely used social media platforms, Pinterest provides a way to present a highly organized grouping of visual elements,” said Julie Shaffer, VP of digital technologies at the Printing Industries of America, “so a company can show off specific products around a vertical market, a product type, or a holiday, event, or specific topic.”

The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) is one of Pinterest’s newest members (as of February 2013, The agency said it will share historic photos, videos, products, and government publications on the social media site. GPO already has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as well as its own blog.

“GPO is constantly evolving and keeping up-to-date on public trends and the popular ways to access and share information,” Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks said. “GPO’s expansion of social media supports our mission of Keeping America Informed. Joining Pinterest is one more way GPO can engage the public and continue to serve as the official link between the federal government and public.”

Here’s a look at how print industry partner Grow Socially uses Pinterest: Be sure to check out MyPRINTResource on Pinterest as well:

Print and Pin

Using Pinterest for your print business is as easy as:

  • Adding a Pin It button to your website.
  • Pinning examples of your work—and work you love.
  • Creating resourceful boards based on a few core keywords that you already use in your SEO strategy—how about packaging, invitations, and annual reports?
  • Start following users you think would want to follow you back.