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The Power of Social Media for Printers

Smaller companies are more likely to already be engaged in social media for low cost marketing.

Smaller companies are more likely to already be engaged in social media—a function of their flexibility and the low cost to leverage social media.
One of the guiding principles of InfoTrends research these days is the need for printing companies to evolve beyond print and the traditional ways of doing business. The markets have become too intensely competitive for printing organizations to remain successful by doing things the same way now as they did just a few short years ago. We’ve been using a diagram to help explain how we believe that industry players need to evolve along two axes.
On the vertical axis we have the operations-driven side, which can enable improved performance in a number of ways, providing higher production levels, improved quality, and greater levels of efficiency, perhaps addressing sustainability, and better customer service. Along the horizontal axis there is the innovative aspect wherein companies develop new ways to provide new services, build new products, find new customers, and even create new business models. In an ideal world, printing organizations would continuously improve along both lines in parallel, but in the real world this is almost never possible. Due to the amount of time, effort, capital, and other resources every company has, they have to decide which initiatives are going to make the biggest difference in their individual businesses (Figure 1).
No matter what types of initiatives print-service providers undertake, it is critical to communicate these improvements to clients, prospects, associates, and employees. Printing organizations should not ignore the opportunities to communicate presented by social networking.

Why social networking?
I’m not going to be one of those guys who goes on-and-on about how every printing company simply has to jump onto every technological fad that comes along, but I will say this: The statistics that exist on the adoption of social media are simply amazing both in the volume of users and the velocity of their growth. There are three major social networking sites that have become the leaders at this point: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, so just consider some of the numbers on these three.
Facebook was founded in 2004 and is looking at a billion users worldwide. More than half of those users log in every day. Think about that—that is the equivalent of 1.3 times the entire population of the United States—every man, woman, and child—going to one Website every day.
Considering Twitter, more than 250 million Tweets are sent every day. In October 2009, LinkedIn announced that it had 50 million users. By April of 2011, just 18 months later, the company surpassed 100 million users. In February 2012, less than one year later, LinkedIn announced it had surpassed 150 million users.
There are many other social-networking sites and I am not going to get into which ones are going to emerge, especially because it seems that increasingly they are connected. That is, a post to one can be published to others with the click of a button.

Are these people just killing time online?
Not exactly.
A recent study done by Performics involved surveying nearly 3,000 people that use social media. It concluded that 50% of users actively seek purchase advice and 50% of users actively give advice on social networks. Sixty percent of users are somewhat likely or more likely to take action on product, service, or brand recommended by a social contact. There were 59% of users who follow a company or brand who are more likely to recommend that company or brand, and 58% are more likely to buy the products of that company themselves. Social networks are used by 53% at least “frequently” to provide feedback to a brand or retailer. As many as 53% of users state that companies should communicate using social networks at least once a week.

Setting and meeting objectives with social media
The last finding there is critically important. Over half of those people using social media expect regular communications from the companies they engage. Regardless of company size or operation type, strategy needs to accompany a print business’ venture into social media (Figure 2). Any social media strategy should consider all of the constituencies that organizations need to communicate with and how a social media strategy can help improve operational efficiency and the innovation of the company.
For example: How do you communicate with these constituencies now and what level of effort or investment is required? Using social media effectively can help reduce these costs and facilitate faster communication. Remember, use of all of the social networks identified above does not cost money except in the time that you use to use these tools. That means telling your customers about the new capabilities you have using your new equipment is free, telling prospects about one of the cool projects you’ve done recently is free, and finding prospects and even potential employees using LinkedIn is free.
While it is free and easy to set up an account on any of these networks it is important to design some goals for both the objectives of your company and the deployment of communications. Social media should be used to address specific issues at the strategic level. Different elements of your company should contribute to these efforts; sales and marketing, production, and administration all will have separate goals that should be factored in to your social media strategy.
With the idea that people want to hear from you on a weekly basis, here are some ideas for Tweets, Facebook posts, or LinkedIn group communications that can help you get started, but can also facilitate communication across the groups you need to reach.

Ask/answer questions—get your customers and prospects interacting with you, answer frequently asked questions about your products or services,

Advise prospects and customers on the best ways that customers use your services.

Celebrate the completion of cool or interesting
(and profitable) projects.

Communicate regarding business conditions in emergency situations.
Write about any new or interesting technologies.
Introduce and welcome new employees.
Celebrate business milestones and anniversaries.
Recently, InfoTrends surveyed printing companies in North America about their social media usage. Only about 37% of the printing companies surveyed indicated that they are using social media for business presently. However, another 34% indicated that they are thinking about it, which just shows that these companies recognize the importance of social media in today’s market. Our research also indicated that smaller companies are more likely to already have engaged social media, which we think is both a function of their flexibility and the low-cost to engage social media.
The survey respondents that were using social media were asked to specify their top three objectives to utilization. As the chart below illustrates, most of the effort is an exercise in business promotion or brand building, using new channels and technologies to get the word out about their company.

Respondents also indicated that social media serves the purpose of connecting with customers, while also attracting new ones.

Top objectives when using social media
As the chart shows though, the utilization of social media tends to be very outwardly focused for the most part. There is still a great opportunity to leverage social networks for internal functions such as identifying potential employees or applying knowledge from social networks in the business.
There is a great example of the latter going on in one of the LinkedIn groups I am in right now. A company posted asking if anyone else in the group knows of a manufacturer of a very specific substrate. They post that question on their group and get answers to their question from around the world over the next several days.

The message
The message here is that social media represents a way for companies to communicate both internally and externally. The speed at which social networking messages can be delivered is nothing short of astonishing. Many printing organizations are using social networking sites as a business building tool, so if yours is not, you definitely want to develop a strategy for utilizing social media that helps your company achieve its business goals.

 

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