Gain an edge over competitors by learning to navigate the sea of social media marketing.
The ways in which social media is utilized for business are nearly limitless, but it is especially valuable for building brand equity, highlighting company culture, enhancing public relations efforts, complementing customer service, augmenting business development, developing customer relationships and strengthening top-of-mind awareness.
Charlene Clark, co-owner of Signature CanvasMakers LLC, Hampton, Va., sees social media as becoming a more mainstream means of marketing for all industries, including the marine fabrication industry. “It is a powerful and relevant tool for finding and reaching potential customers and for engaging existing customers,” she says. “It allows for one-to-one interaction vs. the more traditional one-to-many forms of advertising and marketing.”
Clark finds that if Signature CanvasMakers’ customers are actively using a social media platform, they are generally on Facebook, so they focus their efforts there. Clark and her husband, Chandler, use Facebook to showcase their work, tout awards they win, provide tips on canvas maintenance and care, introduce new products and fabrics and use other fun posts just to stay top-of-mind with their base.
“Each social media application comes with a different set of rules, a different audience, different user expectations and preferences,” she says. “Take the time to understand your target market and the demographics of the users on each platform to determine which will best suit your needs.”
Grab your audience
Industry experts point out that social media is one tool in your marketing toolbox. It’s free, easy to use and a great way to build loyalty with a customer base, establish credibility and earn trust and respect in your field.
“Few specialty trade industries—and relatively few popular trade industries—use social media for marketing purposes,” says Katherine Kotaw, president of KOTAW Content Marketing in Burbank, Calif. “Some because they don’t see the value, some because they don’t know how to use social media and some because they don’t have the time. This presents a great opportunity for marine fabrication companies to gain—and own—a social media audience. Don’t wait for your competitors to catch on—grab the audience for yourself.”
Mark Hood, MFC, owner of Hood Canvas LLC, Merrimac, Mass., agrees. “Social media marketing is not as prevalent as it should be,” he says. “It is gaining in popularity, and those who use it faithfully and make regular posts get more business. We only use Facebook and we keep it current with daily posts. We have a LinkedIn® account, but it is not very useful for us.
“The big plus with social media is that it keeps your name out there among the locals at yacht clubs and marinas in our area far better than our web page for getting new jobs,” he says.
More than ‘free advertising’
Kotaw points out that too many businesses use social media marketing as free advertising. They post their products or services in an endless stream of “look at me” posts, then give up because no one is paying attention.
“If you think of social media as a cocktail party, do you want to be the person engaged in conversation with people who buy what you’re selling—or influence those who do?” Kotaw asks. “Or do you want to be the person who hands out business cards without even saying hello or spends his time in the parking lot putting flyers on windshields?”
Social media provides an unprecedented opportunity to gain free access to people you might never meet in real life—or spend thousands of dollars to meet at a convention. “Successful business owners use social media to build relationships, build their brand presence and use both to increase sales,” Kotaw says.
And while social media is often thought of as a business-to-consumer marketing channel, there is also a significant value in the channel for business-to-business (B2B) marketing efforts.
According to Danielle Barthelemy, senior brand manager at DAYTA Marketing in Waite Park, Minn., the Content Marketing Institute has completed a study on the social media marketing trends within B2B companies and the numbers are compelling:
- 85 percent of B2B marketers say lead generation will be their most important content marketing goal in 2016. Sales will be their second priority.
- 76 percent of B2B marketers say they will produce more content in 2016.
- 94 percent of B2B marketers use LinkedIn as part of their content strategy. Other popular platforms include Twitter (87 percent), Facebook (84 percent), YouTube™ (74 percent) and Google+™ (62 percent).
“There are certainly laggards within B2B, and especially trade industries, when it comes to digital and social media marketing,” Barthelemy says. “However, every year that passes by, more businesses are coming to realize that social media is a powerful tool and it’s essential for them to utilize it.”
You don’t need to spend a lot of time on social media for it to be effective. At the minimum, Clark recommends one post per week. Be mindful not to bombard your base with posts just for the sake of posting.
“You can certainly post multiple times each week provided that the posts are relevant and of interest to your base,” Clark says. “The important thing to remember is that you don’t want to start the conversation and begin engaging, then say nothing. It is also important to remember that sites like Facebook are not the place for a hard sales pitch. Build credibility and ‘soft sell’ by sharing your knowledge and showcasing your work.”
Kotaw recommends building a tribe of 10 or so people. “Make a few people fall in love with you and your brand, and they’ll help sell you to the world,” Kotaw says.
Even though social media doesn’t have to be time consuming, it can become so if you let it. And there’s an addictive quality that can make it all-consuming.
“If you successfully build a tribe, you can succeed in social media without spending inordinate amounts of time there,” Kotaw says.
It’s important, though, to keep near-constant tabs on social media. You don’t have to post something of your own every hour or every day, but if someone reaches out to you directly, you do need to make a timely response. And in social media, an hour’s delay can seem like days to the person waiting to hear back from you.
“Quality is more important than quantity,” Kotaw says. “A single attractive, original graphic that resonates with your brand image will get shared many more times than a steady stream of bland messages.”
A long-term effort
It’s important to remember that social media is a long-term marketing effort. To “do social” well, you have to be committed to it for the long haul. Sure, you can throw together a blog or publish a few posts within seconds, but you probably won’t see much value in it. You have to understand that social media marketing is not a quick fix to boost sales—it’s a long-term marketing effort.
“One drawback we occasionally see when amping up social media efforts is negative comments and responses to company posts,” Barthelemy says. “While this isn’t really a drawback of the channel, it is a reality. Social media can amplify what people are already thinking and saying about your brand. If you have a poor reputation, poor customer service or a bad product, using social media will give people another venue to tell you, and your entire audience, about it.”
Consistency is also a huge element of effective marketing on social media. “If you were going to put up five billboards, wouldn’t they have the same theme? Wouldn’t they have the same branding? Wouldn’t they have the same tone? Of course they would,” Barthelemy says. “If you are going be effective on social media, you need to be consistent in your timing, in your messaging and in your branding.”
Hood advises that if you publish a Facebook business page, you must make regular posts for it to stay relevant. “Just make sure they are posts of interest or sharing your work for others to see,” he says. “Make sure you upload your photos at the highest quality as potential customers could be viewing.”
Knowing your audience is essential to an effective strategy. To develop content that is relevant, timely and effective in reaching your goals, you need to know your audience. But even more than knowing your audience, you need to understand your audience. What problems do they have? What questions do they have about your industry? How would your product solve their problems? What questions do they have about your product?
“Social media is changing rapidly and it is important to stay on top of these changes to ensure you are communicating in a space that is still relevant,” Barthelemy says. “By engaging and following the trends of your audience, you should be able to stay in tune with the way they utilize digital mediums.”
What the future holds
Social media marketing is not going away. No platform that attracts hundreds of millions of people can be ignored.
Social media marketing continues to evolve, and social sites are now influencing more buying decisions than retail websites. Mobile devices have also surpassed the desktop as the primary viewing method for social media.
“Continuing to ensure that the businesses in the marine fabrication industry are prepared to market in the social space and looking for new, creative ways to engage consumers on a larger level via social media can benefit us all,” Clark says.
You don’t need a huge audience to succeed in social media marketing. You just need the right audience.
“Specialty trade industries are blessed in this regard,” Kotaw says. “Many still have the opportunity to be early adopters among their competitors, and any who use social media wisely as a marketing tool will attract and convert their target audience. Just remember the social component. Be a good listener. Be generous. Speak when you have something useful or entertaining to say.
“Everything you need to know about social media marketing you probably learned from your mom or kindergarten teacher,” she says. “Put all that ‘golden rule’ advice to profitable use for your company.”
Hood stresses that marine fabricators need to recognize that we are a computer society. Nobody goes to the Yellow Pages anymore, rather they search the web for answers.
“If you do not have a web presence, such as a web page, you are not a serious contender to potential customers,” he adds. “To keep your name out in front of your customers, you must use social media. Those that do will have a big edge up on the competition in years to come.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.