Social media marketing often appears irrelevant to companies in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. While the value of this channel is well-established in b-to-b verticals such as SaaS (software as a service) and business services, industrial marketers who want to move their organizations forward in this space can encounter significant internal objection. One of the most common arguments: "Our audience isn't on social media, so why should we be?"
To start, let's separate perception from facts. While the numbers indicate that industrial professionals are a somewhat passive social media audience, their usage is far from negligible. A recent IHS GlobalSpec study, "2014 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector," found that 44% of technical professionals spend more than an hour per week on social media for work-related activities, and technical professionals maintain the following social media accounts: LinkedIn (74%), Facebook (61%) and Twitter (17%). Furthermore, 47% of those LinkedIn users spend time reading product or industry news on the platform, while 26% research suppliers; and 69% of those Facebook users follow businesses or groups within their industry, while 38% research or read work-related content.
We can see there is definitely some social media momentum among this audience. Of course, not all platforms are created equal. From the numbers, it's clear that LinkedIn offers the most opportunity.
While statistics show there is real potential in social media for industrial marketers, it can still be hard for many companies to justify a social media investment when they don't see significant activity on social platforms among their customers, distributors or employees.
If you're a marketer in the industrial space, there are at least four reasons why you should be pursuing social media marketing -- even if you aren't seeing a great deal of movement in your immediate sphere.
1. Stand ahead of the crowd
Much of the marketing landscape is very crowded. Your emails compete in the inbox with hundreds of other messages, many sent by your competitors. It's difficult to get your booth noticed at major trade shows, and it's starting to feel impossible to get anyone to actually read your print ads or direct mail pieces. In many sectors, the same is true for social media. But industrial marketers still have the opportunity to jump into a landscape that isn't full of noise.
So, while you may be jockeying for attention on the trade show floor, you are likely to be the only one in your competitive set who is discussing the show's themes on Twitter or distributing a show wrapup blog post. The fact that your industry is behind the curve gives you a golden opportunity to leap ahead. Now is the time to be an innovator and claim some mindshare.
2. Connect with influencers
Getting your share of press from trade media can be a challenge. You're not the only one who has product announcements and perspectives you'd love to see covered by the media outlets in your market. Social media offers an excellent opportunity to amplify your trade media relations program, since journalists are typically active users. Additionally, you're likely to see industry analysts, consultants and other industry thought-leaders spending time on Twitter and LinkedIn. Developing a robust presence in these channels will help you build a dialogue with these influencers -- a key step to getting your company and your content noticed.
3. Build relationships
Industrial sales and marketing operations are heavily focused on relationships -- between manufacturers' sales executives and distributors, between distributors and end-users, etc. This makes social media a natural fit for the sector. When used properly, social platforms can amplify existing relationships and pave the way to new ones. Smart sales professionals are using social media to begin and extend dialogues, as well as to gather valuable information about what's important to their audience. You can learn a great deal about a prospect or customer based on their social media activities -- useful details like when they change jobs, what trade shows they're attending, what industry issues matter to them, etc.
While social media use has lagged somewhat in the industrial sphere, this trend is sure to change as the younger generation moves in. And as they do, you'll reap the rewards of a forward-thinking social media presence that overshadows your competition. The benefits won't just accrue to your sales and marketing function. One of the great challenges for industrial organizations is recruiting young engineers. If you want to hire the thought leaders of tomorrow, an innovative image supported by an industry-leading social media presence will be a significant asset.
Many industrial marketers choose to ignore social media, writing it off as unimportant in their sector. But it's wise to see the relatively uncluttered industrial social media landscape as an opportunity. Social media does require an investment in resources, but with an effective strategy and implementation, it does not need to be a burden.
You may choose to wait, but remember: Social media marketing is not like paid media, where you can ramp up your presence when you finally decide that you're ready. It takes time to build credibility along with a strong follower base. As Seth Godin says, "The best time to start was last year. The second best time to start is right now."