Social media such as blogs, podcasts and online networking sites are getting a lot of attention, both in the consumer and business-to-business world. Does this mean it’s time for suppliers and manufacturers in the industrial sector to add social media to their marketing programs?

The short answer is: Maybe not yet. However,  it is time to learn more about social media and how you might effectively use it as part of your online marketing strategy in the near future.

Social Media Trends
While engineers and technical professionals have fully embraced the Internet for work-related purposes, most are not using the newest online media. Engineers ranked podcasts, blogs, online discussion groups and networking sites all near the bottom of the list of resources used to research a potential work-related purchase, according to the results of the 2008 GlobalSpec Engineering Trends Survey.

Yet some engineers are using social media. After visiting a supplier Web site, 20% viewed a Webinar, 10% listened to a podcast and 9% joined an online discussion group or responded to a blog. While these percentages are not high, part of the reason may be that few suppliers are deploying social media in their marketing communications efforts. According to the 2008 GlobalSpec Marketing Trends Survey, only 2% of suppliers are using podcasts and 6% are using blogs. 14% are using Webinars.

While you may not have to jump into social media right now, it’s important to know your options and how they can work for you.

Blogs
Blog is a term for Web log, which is an online journal. Many blogs are standalone Web sites that are frequently updated with new postings. The most successful blogs have a unique and interesting voice, take a thought leadership position, avoid sales and marketing speak, and encourage and accept reader comments — including dissenting opinions.

Corporate blogs are a great way to engage with your customers and prospects, and you will gain valuable insight into how they think. You an also set up a blog quickly using third-party services if you don’t have your own IT resources.

On the other hand, blogging requires a time commitment. You must post to it regularly; once a week is probably the minimum if you want to hold an audience. And you must be able to take the negative along with the positive. By all means, avoid getting into online arguments with readers who disagree with your positions.

Another way to get started with blogs, other than launching one of your own, is to follow other blogs relevant to your business and industry and post comments on them. It’s a good way to get your company name out there as well as links back to your Web site which can help with search engine placement.

For a more in-depth look at blogging and how to get started, read “Is it Time to Start a Company Blog?

Podcasts
A podcast is a set of audio and/or video files that are broadcast over the Internet. They can be streamed live or downloaded and saved later for listening and viewing on a variety of devices, from MP3 players to PCs.

Podcasts most often are used for entertainment (radio, television shows) or educational (training, lesson units) purposes. For suppliers and manufacturers, podcasts could be a way to distribute white paper content in audio form, a speech, or an interview with an industry expert.

A term often associated with podcasts is RSS, which stands for Rich Site Syndication. RSS is a way to distribute media such as a podcast. Users install an RSS reader on their device and are alerted when new content is available for them to view.

Online Communities
Online communities and discussion groups have been around for a long time, but have become more popular the last few years as more people are online and broadband has become pervasive. Online communities typical are devoted to specific interest areas, from dating to gardening to B2B marketing.

In the industrial sector, online communities can spring up around products, technologies, and events. They can serve as tech support, product design discussions and more — all valuable ways to interact with customers and prospects.

Unlike a blog, an online community or discussion group doesn’t have a singular voice or limited number of writers. Users are the voice, and a disparate group it might be. However, many online communities post rules and moderate comments, and remove any offensive, slanderous or inaccurate language or comments. 

Networking Sites
Business-to-business networking sites are used to build relationships with potential customers, suppliers, colleagues and other business contacts. Networking sites are focused more on connecting individuals than companies, although individual profiles offer opportunities to get your company name out there.  Some examples include LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) and Ryze (www.ryze.com).

Webinars
It’s not clear if Webinars fall into the realm of social media, but we mention them here because of all the newer media, Webinars are used most often by engineering, technical and industrial professionals. Webinars are a cost-effective and convenient alternative to in-person events and a good way to educate and connect with your audience.

To learn more about hosting Webinars and gaining your audience’s attention, read “How to Host a Successful Webinar.

6 comments

  1. You’re right on saying now is the time to start learning about all these new avenues. It’s amazing how quickly all this spread and how impactful it can be in business! I’ll add Twitter to your list. It’s another tool that is spreading like crazy. Btw, I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to it.

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  2. Thank you for this very interesting and helpful article! An easy and free solution to add social bookmarking so that your blog articles can get shared is at Addthis.com. There you can get code for a window of social media widgets including Technorati, Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Facebook, etc.

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  3. You’re right that the B2B industrial sector may not be ready to implement social marketing right now. However I’m advising clients to start by participating in Twitter, Facebook or starting their own personal blog just to see how it works. The phrase I hear most often from seasoned bloggers is this, blogging doesn’t make sense until you do it. And integrating social into your marketing mix won’t make sense unless you know how it works and what it can do for you. I think every B2B industrial products marketer should set a goal of integrating at least one social marketing tactic by the end of 2009 or sooner.

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  4. Thank you for the very informative article and discussion.

    The fact that you are addressing us on a “Blog” plainly demonstrates the vitality of SMO – Social Media Optimization.

    I am not an engineer. But I do know this, SMO is a huge part of SEO, and SEO is what gets your website noticed by those who are seeking your message…including Internet savvy engineers.

    I absolutely say, “YES”, large companies should hop right on the social media bandwagon, and catch up with the rest of us.

    The search engines are interested in “fresh content” and “quality incoming links” to your corporate website. Each social site allows a profile to be set up with a link to your website.

    They also provide a steady stream of fresh content to index for “Google Searchers”. Social site profile pages, blog pages, article writing…they all get indexed in the SERPs and serve as landing pages that are only one click away from your corporate message.

    Here’s my point: “After visiting a supplier Website, 20% viewed a Webinar, 10% listened to a podcast and 9% joined an online discussion group or responded to a blog.”

    Okay, “after visiting a supplier website” – there’s a much better chance of the supplier website being found at all if it is actively engaged in SMO in the first place.

    Is it “time for suppliers and manufacturers in the industrial sector to add social media to their marketing programs”? Yes. Way past time!

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