Business & Technology
Monday | 14 May, 2012 | 3:18 pm

Digital relationship building

By Lauren Duensing

May 2012 - From golf games and phone calls to videos on YouTube, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to reach customers. However, online interaction is a brand-new endeavor for many industrial companies, and sketching out a plan of action can seem daunting. Rita Lieberman, director, marketing communications for Thomas Industrial Network, New York, recommends “implementing a technology or Internet strategy the way you would treat any large project—dividing it up into more manageable chunks.”

Today’s customers research a company’s products and services thoroughly, often searching beyond a company’s website, making social media strategies an integral part of a growth plan.

“For buyers and sellers of industrial products and services, use of social media has become mainstream,” says Lieberman. “Suppliers that aren’t already hopping on the bandwagon are losing their competitive advantage. In fact, our Industrial Purchasing Barometer, a monthly survey of more than 300 buyers, shows that engineers and purchasing agents are researching companies specifically through this channel. Fifty-six percent of them recommend that suppliers establish a presence through the social media if they want to do business with them. That’s very compelling and suppliers have caught on.”

Companies can post videos of their plants and capabilities on YouTube or their websites, linking their Twitter and Facebook feeds to the videos, Lieberman says.

Metal Resources Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is using YouTube to engage its customers and illustrate its expertise. “We have added content from YouTube to our website,” says Michael Persky, owner. “We have featured a section called Amazing Short Videos, which contains many unique, useful and unusual videos showcasing metal production, processes and the many applications for fabricated metal products. By engaging our audience and showing them that we are experts in our field by providing them with valuable information about our products and services, they continually return to us for more information and business.”

Willbanks Metals, Fort Worth, Texas, finds YouTube helpful for selling used equipment. Videos show potential buyers that machinery is running smoothly, says Ryan Letz, vice president. “In the used-machinery market, everybody wants to know if it’s actually a running machine, if it’s working properly. I can email a potential buyer a link, click and he’s got it. If I don’t have YouTube, the video is probably not going to transfer over email because it’s too big of a file. Or I can post it to our website—if somebody searches how a decoil line works and clicks on our video, it’s got our name on it, so it’s good free advertising for us.”

To use social media its full potential, it’s necessary for companies to move beyond posting information to interacting with customers.

“Social media had become an essential tool for businesses to compete in the marketplace,” says Dolores Burks, online marketing manager at Big Ass Fans, Lexington, Ky. “Most companies only dabble in social media as a place to park their company name. They think they can create a presence by dumping press releases and product announcements out on their networks while completely missing the point of social networks—to be social. If you look at the Facebook pages for Starbucks or Coca-Cola, you will see masters in action. They know where their target audiences live and they have built a strong presence, not just for branding but for social interaction. They actually talk to and have fun with their customers, reinforcing a positive business image.”

“Social media platforms provide a unique way of communicating with external audiences on current events,” says a representative from Majestic Steel USA, Cleveland. “We use social media platforms as a medium for effective two-way communication with our customers, suppliers, partners and the community on news and upcoming events.”

Ultimately, many industrial companies still regard social media as “a bit of a grand experiment,” says Scott Fasse, vice president of marketing at United Performance Metals, Hamilton, Ohio. “It provides another opportunity to connect with customers, but creating content that is engaging has been challenging. As future generations of buyers enter the workplace, I think we might find that social media becomes a relationship-building tool—just like lunches, golf outings and ball games.” MM

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