Thought Leadership: The Key to Unlocking Industrial Social Media
How much is social media marketing (SMM) worth to the corporate world? The answer may surprise you: today, more than 200 billion dollars.
In 2014, Facebook alone had an economic impact of $227 billion for companies across the globe ($100 billion in the US) according to a Deloitte study. There’s no question that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube have allowed companies to connect with customers and foster sales in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago.
However, some industries have been understandably slow to embrace social media. I think Facebook takes the biggest rap when companies shy away from social media. After all, the typical manufacturing or technical service customer isn’t logging into Facebook, credit card in hand, to make a purchase – or even to do business or research solutions to problems. If they ARE on Facebook, it is more likely to be for a personal reason, unless of course they also have marketing responsibilities for their company.
Don’t get me wrong. I regularly counsel my industrial clients to have a social media strategy and maintain social accounts on the big four: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter. There are multiple reasons why this is a good idea, but perhaps the most important is that social media activity is one of the strongest signals Google currently uses to rank websites in searches. However, I’m not writing about social media in the context of SEO today.
For industrial B2B companies, a solid social media strategy requires an extra key ingredient to drive sales: thought leadership.
LinkedIn: More Than Facebook’s Boring Cousin
According to a recent IHS GlobalSpec study of social media use in the industrial sector, ¾ of YOUR potential customers are LinkedIn users. A quarter of those actively use the platform to research new suppliers. By simply creating a LinkedIn Company Page and keeping it updated with your latest products and services, you can more easily reach potential customers when they set out to choose a new supplier.
However, taking the extra step to become a thought leader allows you to establish a relationship with LinkedIn users who aren’t actively seeking new suppliers at the moment – but will most likely do so at some point in the future.
Companies have long been able to demonstrate thought leadership by publishing company updates on LinkedIn. These corporate status updates display prominently on your LinkedIn Company Page as well as on LinkedIn’s front page. But a newer feature can have an even more significant impact for those looking to establish thought leadership: long-form posts.
Think of long-form posts as a soapbox for your employees to demonstrate your company’s expertise to the entire industry. Similar to a blog but hosted by LinkedIn, long-form posts have the potential to reach a much larger, more focused audience than what the typical corporate blog can muster. Long-form posts have been shown to drive discussion, increase awareness, and ultimately lead to sales success. If your competitors aren’t already taking advantage of this free source of exposure, consider this your chance to gain a competitive advantage.
I personally held back from taking advantage of the opportunity to blog on LinkedIn until recently. I’ve been blogging away on my own website for years, and thought, “why do I want to do double work?” In a casual conversation with an associate, she mentioned that LinkedIn helped her grow her business significantly in the previous year. When I questioned HOW she used LinkedIn to do that, she credited blogging as the most important key. Well-written content, seen by the “right” people, creates the impression that you are a thought leader in the field you write about. You suddenly become someone on the “A” list for those in need of your skills.
Twitter: Not Just for Kids and Celebs
If you’re managing marketing in a manufacturing or industrial service company, it’s a safe bet you’re not sitting on Twitter, tweeting about the news and interesting events occurring real-time throughout your day. That’s probably not the case for the trade journalists covering your industry.
The Knight Digital Media Center calls Twitter “a must-have tool for journalists.” Trade journalists for all industries use Twitter to brainstorm story ideas, find new sources, and engage with their readers. In other words, the journalists who cover your industry are seeking thought leaders who can be relied upon to quickly provide insightful ideas. When a journalist is on deadline, savvy companies are there to help (and then reap the benefits).
To become a trusted media source, simply connect with relevant journalists on Twitter and then initiate genuine dialogue. Comment on stories related to your field or the industries you sell to. Provide actionable insights that the journalist may not have previously considered. Building relationships following this approach is a proven way to generate media coverage, not only of your products and services but also of your expertise.
This strategy works exceptionally well at trade shows, where the trade media covering your industry are sure to be. Almost all trade shows now have a hashtag (such as #pumpturbo15) that allows people interested in events at the show to communicate with one another. Make yourself a fixture on that Twitter “stream” by making regular insightful comments or observations about emerging technology, the companies exhibiting, new products being introduced, special events occurring during the day, and you’ll hit the journalists’ radar pretty quickly.
Google Hangouts On Air: We’ll Do It Live!
As you probably know, Google is the biggest search engine in the world. Quick, name the second biggest!
With more than 3 billion searches every month, YouTube handles more search traffic than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask, and AOL combined. Since YouTube is owned by Google and its content is optimized to rank well in Google searches, there’s no better platform for announcing your thought leadership to the world.
Google recently capitalized on YouTube’s popularity, combining it with their Google+ social network to create a new hybrid: Google Hangouts On Air. This easy and free platform allows you to broadcast live to the world on YouTube and Google+ simultaneously. And when your session is complete, a high-definition recording is automatically saved to your company’s YouTube channel.
Since viewers can submit questions and comments during your broadcast, Hangouts On Air is an ideal webinar platform that allows you to demonstrate your expertise to a very wide audience. (Simple privacy controls let you narrow down that audience if you don’t want the whole world watching.) And since the platform is free, you avoid the costs associated with similar products like Skype or Go To Webinar. Recurring broadcasts condition your audience to seek out your business for expert guidance and advice, which is a clear path to becoming a customer.
Generating sales through social media is a difficult task in the industrial sector. However, given the right perspective this is actually a golden opportunity. In most industries, the social media landscape is cluttered with marketing messages. Industrial thought leaders have a unique chance to forge profitable connections with minimal distractions from competitors. As Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Will you and your company take advantage of the opportunities that social media offers to become thought leaders?