Hashing Out Social Media Marketing

Back in May, the North East Regional CrossFit Games were held at the Reebok facility in Canton, Mass. As at many sporting events, there were a few zealous spectators who painted their bodies to support their favorite athlete. One female competitor’s supporters painted their torsos to spell out her name, one letter per body, and there was something rarely seen before at a sporting event: on the first body was painted a hashtag (#).

Welcome to the social media age.

The hashtag—aka the pound sign, number sign, octothorpe, etc.—has become a ubiquitous symbol, indicating the mainstreaming of social media, in much the same way the @ sign heralded the emergence of e-mail—and the Internet in general—as a mainstream communication channel in the 1990s. (The hashtag, by the way, is a way of organizing social media posts by tagging keywords or topics, such as #print, #crossfitgames, or #[athlete’s name]. Clicking on that hashtagged keyword will bring up all the tweets or posts so tagged. Although the hashtag started in Twitter, it has spread to other social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, where it is used in a similar fashion.)

The term “social media” has traditionally referred to the big three social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. New networks that have also become popular include Instagram (famously acquired by Facebook for $1 billion) and Pinterest. Google also has its own Google+. Social media has become the way that a growing number of people—predominantly young people—communicate with each other, and that companies communicate with customers.

As social media has become more prevalent, social media marketing has become more important. If you aim to communicate with customers, you need to go where those customers are and, increasingly, that place is social media. How do companies use social media to connect with customers? And, more to the point, how can today’s print providers use social media to market their services? What works and what doesn’t?

“Being active in social media reflects that you’re not stuck in the Wayback Machine,” said Margie Dana, a printing industry veteran—famous for her weekly Print Tip—who provides social media content services for printers and other graphic communication businesses. “Social media can build your reputation. Every printer should be doing it.”

Content vs. Dis-Content

Being active in social media is just the first step; the second is to make sure you do it right. “You don’t want to go heavy on the self-promotion,” said Dana. “Don’t post ‘I have a holiday sale this week.’ That’s not social, that’s anti-social. Social media is not just a scrolling Yellow Pages. It has nothing to do with ads.”

Instead, she advises, you want to provide interesting and informative content that customers would find useful. “Go light on the promo and heavy on the information,” said Dana. “Think about who your customers are and the problems they have. Address their challenges or knock down some of the myths about wide-format printing. Become a resource for them. Provide helpful insights.”

Some good ideas for content include:

  • links to relevant industry articles (such as, say, Wide-Format Imaging features) or useful articles or blog posts that you may have read
  • your company’s own blog post or other Web site content that offers tips and suggestions (“10 tips for designing vehicle graphics,” for example)
  • “live tweet” from a conference or seminar like SGIA or Graph Expo (“a speaker just made this great point...,” “I just saw a great new wide-format print application...”)—and be sure to use that conference’s hashtag (they all have one these days) to connect with others at or following the conference
  • a successful or unique project you just completed for a customer, and/or a customer testimonial—and include images

What has changed about social media is that it has become more visual, and now even Twitter supports images. This provides a great way for specialty printers to showcase their work. Showing off a unique or exciting project is self-promotion, yes, but can have more value than an ad. If it’s interesting, said Dana, “followers will favorite it and share it. You stick in their minds.”

Share and Share Alike

A big part of social media is the “social” aspect of it, and that means following basic social media etiquette. “It’s not only about you,” said Dana, “it’s smart to mention other people. You want to follow other people and other Facebook pages, you should ‘like’ other pages, and share and retweet other people’s posts.”

Specifically, on Facebook you can friend other individuals or like other companies’ pages, you can like other posts, and share other people’s posts. Doing so will make others more likely to share your own posts.

On Twitter, the same basic rules apply. To be followed, you must also follow others, and retweeting posts also makes others more likely to retweet your own posts.

Another piece of social media etiquette is to not post too much, or you risk turning followers off. What is the ideal frequency? Opinions vary, but, Dana advised, “On Twitter, a couple of tweets a day, on Facebook at least one post a day, or at least three a week.” You can do more, of course, “but it can’t be schlock.”

A Time for Everything?

You may be thinking, “I spend most of my day running my business and keeping the presses going. Who has time for this?” That’s a valid point, but you don’t have to do it all yourself.

“If you don’t have the time or the talent to be active in social media, you can find someone to do it,” said Dana. “You can hire professionals such as freelance bloggers.” The key, though, said Dana, is “they must know about the industry.”

A lot of it can also be automated. A company blog post can automatically repost to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and tools like HootSuite can effectively manage all your social media. And setting aside specific times to manage social media—rather than “when I get around to it”—is also an effective strategy. “Once you get into a rhythm, it becomes easier,” said Dana.

If you’re new to social media, you don’t have to be active on all networks at once. You can pick one network and build your presence there, gradually adding other channels with time. “You can’t be everywhere,” said Dana. “Start with one site. I’d start with Facebook, because that’s where your customers are more likely to be, and your Facebook page can be designed to be a replica of your Web site.”

You should promote your social media presence by including the various social media icon buttons (or “Chiclets”) on your own Web site as well as on other marketing collateral materials, such as business cards, letterhead, and so forth.

A Moving Target

Today’s social networks may not be tomorrow’s. Some of us recall when MySpace was the top social media destination (and remember Friendster?). Facebook is also not making any friends, as it were, with some of its privacy policies. Teens and tweens are less enthused about Facebook—especially since their parents are likely to be on it—and are hanging out elsewhere, such as SnapChat. So 10 years from now, we may be talking about a whole different set of networks—but we’ll still be talking about social media. How do we stay up to date? “Follow whoever your most respected news channel or media site is,” advised Dana. “Develop a small group of experts you pay attention to.” And pay attention to what other Web sites are doing. If you start seeing unfamiliar social media icons next to Facebook and Twitter, investigate them. Even if you don’t intend to be active on a new network, at least recognize it by name lest it start to become a dominant one. It may just end up being where your customers are going.