Twitter for Manufacturers, Part 3 – How Industrial Companies Can Use Twitter
If you’re an industrial marketer and a social media skeptic, it will be hard for me to convince you that Twitter can be valuable to your business. I’m not going to try and do that. Because Twitter is arguably the last major social media frontier for industrial businesses, this post speaks primarily to those of you who already see some possibilities for social media use in your business and marketing plans.
I won’t even completely disagree with the skeptics, because there are some industrial companies who will be hard pressed to find their customers and prospects ON Twitter. I’ll admit, that can be a little discouraging; but it will only dissuade those who think that the only thing social media is good for is sales. Social media – and especially Twitter – are SO much more than sales and marketing tools.
In fact, for the skeptics: consider what Shel Holtz, author of “Blogging for Business: Everything You Need to Know and Why You Should Care” says on his blog:
“The benefits of social media to B-to-B companies is simple: It’s all about relationships. B-to-C companies nearly always need to get their messages to large, amorphous groups of people; the companies have no relationship with the vast majority of those people. In most B-to-B environments, companies know exactly who their customers and prospective customers are. Social media provides B-to-B companies with a channel to have conversations that you’d like to have one-on-one with every customer and prospect, but just can’t.”
First things first
Before you can use Twitter for anything, you need to start following some people (and gaining some followers of your own.) Your Twitter experience will only be as good as the quality of your “tweeps.” There are plenty of articles in the blogosphere about how to find the ‘right’ people for you and your business on Twitter. You can use search.twitter.com to find people in your industry, but the results can be overwhelming since it pulls every result for your keyword in tweets, not just when it shows up in profile information. I personally like to use Twellow.com. Twellow scans bios, names and locations while ignoring tweets. On the flip side, make it easier for people to find YOU by carefully crafting your Twitter bio to include keywords related to your business, industry and profession.
Build brand awareness
For me, this is one of the main reasons any business should be on Twitter. If you’re able to find customers and prospects on Twitter, you have an incredible opportunity to build brand awareness and credibility. Twitter allows a company to create a ‘personality’ for itself. The person behind the company tweets is the face of the personality and the tweets are the voice of the personality. Craft your Twitter presence with your company’s brand messages and desired image in mind. Tweeting ‘on brand’ does not mean blasting out self promotion 5 times a day. It means tweeting about things that are important to your customers and industry in such a way that you are perceived to be an expert or authority. As your Twitter following grows, your company will be perceived as ‘larger,’ ‘more knowledgeable,’ ‘more worthy,’ even ‘famous.’ (OK that might be pushing it.) However, over time, persistent and consistent tweeting that is ‘on brand’ WILL strengthen your brand’s identity, recognition and credibility.
Enhance customer support
Whether your customer base is 20 companies or 20,000 companies, Twitter is a great tool to use to monitor your customer’s conversations – which may include either positive or negative statements about your company or industry. One of the first things I did when I got on Twitter was check to see if any of my clients were on Twitter. My business is small so I was able to do that easily myself. If you have a lot of customers, delegate this responsibility to an admin. Follow as many of your customers as you can find, and make it a practice to check their conversation streams at least once a day. Reply with helpful information. If there’s a complaint – take care of it. If there’s a problem they have that you can fix – offer to help. And by all means, if they say something positive about you or your company, thank them! Do you want to know what your customers REALLY think? Take your questions to Twitter. Many large corporations are using Twitter in this way and gaining favorable brand recognition, appreciation, and loyalty.
Give something of value away for free. Offer discounted pricing for a period of time. Announce a contest or free drawing that will culminate at a trade show or other special event. Promote free ‘lunch and learns’ or webinars. Do something meaningful or charitable in your local community and let your followers know about it. I know it’s not as easy for a manufacturing or industrial service company to create excitement as it would be for a retail business with a large, local customer base; but get creative. There’s got to be things you can do and tweet about that will stir some conversation about your company within your follower base.
Recruit employees or search for jobs
Twitter is a great place to search for new hires and people or companies to partner with. Stop using expensive recruiters or newspaper classifieds. Conversely, it’s also a great place to locate new jobs and hiring managers if you’re looking to create a career move. I’ve engaged with a number of people through social media channels who have either become collaborators or have brought business to my company. With advanced search features, Twitter is a great resource for finding people with certain skill sets or qualifications.
Because I’m in the marketing communications field, I have lots of competitors on Twitter. It’s interesting to follow a competitor and see what they’re tweeting about. It’s also interesting to look at that competitor’s list of followers. Like me, I’m sure if you do this, you’ll find among that competitor’s followers potential customers. The beauty of Twitter is that you can follow anyone! Nobody has to approve you, so it’s instant access to the conversations of anyone you choose.
Find partners, collaborators and vendors
As I mentioned before, I have found several collaborators and a strategic partner through social media. Because you can search Twitter profiles, it’s easy to find a group of people or companies who are potential partners for your business. Think about non-competing companies who sell to the same customers you do, and search for them. You could possibly help each other get business. What about vendors? I like to find good vendors and give them the majority of my business; but we all need fall-back options. On Twitter, you can see how people interact and engage before you make any kind of commitment. You don’t even have to meet them face to face. Follow them for awhile. If you like the exchanges you have with them, arrange a phone call so you can learn more.
Develop new business
Yes, it absolutely is possible for an industrial company to gain a new customer through Twitter. It may not happen often, but the potential is there. You are building relationships with people. Who says that over time, a potential customer can’t be approached directly and asked for a meeting? The trick is to walk the social media line of interacting and not selling. You approach prospects AFTER you’ve interacted with them for a time, without pitching them. I know social media success stories for industrial companies are few and far between; but my take on that is that manufacturers are too busy manufacturing to be spreading the word about the new customer they found on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Become more knowledgeable
If you build a good following on Twitter (customers, prospects, competitors, potential partners and vendors, and any other individuals you can learn from) you WILL become more knowledgeable overall. Interact, listen, read the news items or blog posts that people tweet. You’ll find that eventually you have more of a bird’s eye view of your industry and business. (Bird’s eye view – Twitter – get it? Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
And finally . . .
The most important reason to be on Twitter, in my opinion, is that social media is here to stay. If you resist learning about and embracing this ever expanding communication tool, you may wake up one day and suddenly realize you are a dinosaur. Commit to it. Live it. Don’t give up if you don’t immediately see evidence that it’s ‘working.’ Always keep in mind that building a social media presence that your customers will trust in and interact with takes time and energy. As with most of life, you get back what you put in.