March is Social Media Month at the Marketing Maven, with blog posts focusing on how suppliers and manufacturers can best incorporate social media into their marketing efforts to connect with engineers and technical professionals. At the end of the month, we’ll report the findings from the latest IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions social media research survey.

A key concept that industrial marketers should embrace is that social media success comes from taking a disciplined, planned approach rather than thinking social media is some kind of popularity contest. Sure, you can do something outlandish on social media and you might get your post or video to go viral and garner many views, but whether that rampant visibility contributes to your marketing objectives and strengthens your company’s brand is highly doubtful.

Another thing to realize is that social media is no longer new. Its use has stabilized in the industrial sector, and research shows which social media platforms technical professionals prefer and how they want to use social media for work-related purposes. The more you approach social media as one of a portfolio of tactics in your overall integrated marketing strategy, the more social media will serve as a valuable asset to your company.

CREATE A PLAN BASED ON OBJECTIVES
As with any marketing program, social media is an effective tactic for achieving a certain set of objectives, and less effective at others. For example, social media is oriented towards interaction, education, and networking, and therefore may not be a direct driver of qualified leads and sales. On the other hand, it is effective for distributing content to your target audience and raising your brand visibility in the early stages of your customers’ buy cycle.

If you’re putting together a social media plan in order to generate fast leads and sales, you will likely miss achieving those objectives. However, if your plan is based around building thought leadership, fostering a sense of community, and generating brand awareness that will lead to engagement opportunities, then you may experience a high level of success.

FOCUS EFFORTS ON THE PLATFORMS YOUR CUSTOMERS USE
There are a multitude of social media platforms in play, and it seems as if new ones are popping up all the time. It’s impossible to spread your social media efforts across every platform available. Nor would you want to. Instead, focus your efforts on the social media channels your customers use.

According to the latest Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Research Report, which will be released later this month, the three most popular platforms for engineers and technical professionals are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. If you can devote resources to only a few platforms, those are good places to start. Also, more than half of this audience uses video-sharing platforms like YouTube, so video can play an important role in your social media outreach. Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have much less value for this audience. No other social media platform is relevant to them at this time.

Use this information to inform your social media plan. You might include tactics such as establishing and maintaining a company LinkedIn page if you don’t already have one. Post news and content to it. Invite customers and prospects to follow you. You can do the same with Facebook and Google+.

GIVE CUSTOMERS WHAT THEY WANT
Two of the biggest complaints technical professionals have about social media are that there’s too much noise and not enough substance, and that other channels such as search engines, online product catalogs, and supplier websites are more efficient sources of information.

We’ll devote an entire post to the content marketing side of social media, but for now, follow this one guideline: use social media to deliver what engineers and technical professionals seek. Their top uses of social media are to find product reviews and to keep abreast of the latest news on companies, products, and technologies. Therefore, social media is a great place for you to provide links to reviews of your products, relevant news stories or press releases, and thought leadership articles and white papers.

As for videos, how-to videos, product demos, and training videos remain immensely popular with this audience.

Your social media plan should include an editorial calendar that lists the types of posts and content you will publish. Naturally there will be impromptu opportunities that pop up, such as a mention of your company, products in the media, or a published interview with an executive, but planning keeps you from scrambling for content and helps keep down the annoying, irrelevant social media updates that turn off engineers and technical professionals.

REVISIT AND REVISE YOUR PLAN
Your social media plan should support marketing and business objectives, and therefore you need to establish metrics to determine how your plan is performing. Here are a few measurements that might be important to your social media efforts:

• Increase interactions with followers by X percent
• Successfully resolve X number of customer service questions over social media
• Solicit X number of suggestions from followers
• Increase content downloads by X percent

These are just a few examples. Your metrics will depend on your goals.
If you’re missing your targets, you should revisit your plan. Do you have unrealistic expectations of what social media can do for you? Are some platforms not working as well as others? Are you missing opportunities to better engage your audience? Revise your plan as necessary or reconsider your objectives—or both.

Social media appears to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. If you have a solid plan in place and devote the appropriate resources, social media can be a valuable contributor to your overall marketing strategy.

Up next: social media and content marketing.

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How are you using social media to reach an engineering and technical audience? What advice or tips would you give your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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