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Printers Monetizing Social Media

June 2011 By Julie Shaffer and Mary Garnett

A headline flashes—"500 Million Ways to Make Money from Facebook." Others shout "LinkedIn—Top Source for Customer Leads" or "Blog Your Way to Sales." Today, there is a whole industry built around convincing companies that, by using a prescribed method or tool, they too can start raking in sales through social media.

Can these claims be true, or are they just modern-day purveyors of snake oil? For some businesses, especially B2C companies such as restaurants, social media platforms do provide direct sales opportunities. For many, however, measuring the actual ROI of their social media investment remains elusive.

That said, social media engagement is already nearly ubiquitous for businesses of all sizes. On the big business side, a recent Burson-Marsteller study found that 84 percent of Fortune 100 companies are actively engaged in at least one social media platform. The "2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report," measuring the responses of 3,300 marketing professionals at primarily small-to-medium size businesses, notes that 93 percent are using social media for marketing purposes.

Follow the Money

A new StrongMail study asked 925 marketers where they are spending their marketing dollars in 2011; 57 percent said they are increasing their social media spend. While the ROI on this investment is not entirely clear, that hasn't deterred businesses of all sizes from deep and increasing engagements.

Printers, too, are engaging in social media for their businesses. A Printing Industries of America study done 18 months ago indicated that 35 percent of printers were actively engaged in social networking for business. And, although the number from a current study is not yet available, it is certain that percentage is far higher today.

For some, social media engagement means that the company has a Facebook page, and perhaps a Twitter account or a company blog. For others, social media engagement means that they have a LinkedIn account and have built a network of business acquaintances. Some are even checking in wherever they go with a geo-social tool like FourSquare! A growing number of PSP/MSP companies have designated at least one staff person as a social media leader. Typically, this is a marketing manager but, especially at smaller companies, it can be the owner/president.

Scott Cappel, president and founder of Sorrento Mesa Printing (near San Diego), is a perfect case in point. Cappel, the 2010-2011 NAPL/NAQP Printer of the Year, describes his shop as lean (less than 10 employees), profitable and very nimble. The company has won 23 national awards for printing excellence, an achievement of which Cappel is very proud.

But his passion today lies in growing the firm's already stellar brand—and he sees social media, especially LinkedIn, as the primary platform to do so. "LinkedIn is the place to build a personal and company brand, and it's where all the buyers are," asserts the printing exec. "It's a total gold mine for the selling owner."

Cappel is an expert at using LinkedIn to find prospective new customers. He says that when you're prospecting for potential new clients, reviewing an official company Website shows only so much information about it, whereas LinkedIn can provide far more insight, especially details like a personal contact.

He recommends first following a prospect company on LinkedIn (more than two million companies maintain a LinkedIn company account). It shows you how the company describes itself, but also a stream of what's happening within that organization. This includes things such as Twitter mentions and news feeds but, more importantly, who works there and what role they play in the organization.

Finding an Opening

Some advice from Cappel: Watch the "New Hires" section on Linked–In company pages for firms you're prospecting. If you see a new marketing manager or C-level executive you wish to contact, it provides a perfect opportunity to initiate that contact and congratulate the person on the new position.

When it comes to LinkedIn introductions, Cappel doesn't use the third-party introduction feature that LinkedIn recommends. LinkedIn offers the contact name and information, but a salesperson can still use personal contact or other marketing tools to actually get in touch. "If you're good on the phone," he says, "just give the person a call. Or send a small gift such as a calendar," a dimensional piece that's likely to be opened.

Cappel also uses "Groups" to extend his network and find common areas of interest with potential customers (he has tapped out his membership in the 50 maximum groups that LinkedIn allows). He looks at his existing contact profiles frequently, especially the "Viewers of this profile also viewed..." option, which he likens to a divining rod for finding potential new contacts.

While Cappel has found his greatest success through Linked–In, he does engage in Twitter and Facebook, and also maintains an active blog. In fact, many companies engage in more than one social platform, although, like Cappel, most use one in particular for their deepest engagement.

Quad/Graphics maintains very active social engagement on many platforms (see its social media Website,, but seems to have built a real community through its weekly #PrintChat meetings on Twitter.

Matthew Kammerait, a member of Quad/Graphics' marketing team, was tasked with growing the company's social media efforts. Concerning Twitter specifically, he noticed that, while the organization was getting a respectable number of mentions, Kammerait wanted to "turn the dialog up a notch." He watched how people engaged in two-way dialogs using Twitter chats.

A Twitter chat involves setting a specific time and date for a conversation via Twitter, where participants discuss specific topics live. They communicate with one another and track the conversation by using a specific hashtag (a unique phrase with a # sign in front of it used to reference a common topic in the Twittersphere).

Several months ago, Kammerait started #PrintChat, a Wednesday afternoon discussion around a wide range of printing and related topics on Twitter. PrintChat, he says, "gives us the option to begin a conversation and make connections. It's about building a community."

The number of participants increases every week, typically 70 or more, and many folks in the printing industry take part in the discussion. All are welcome and Quad invites people, both inside and outside the organization, to join in. Salespeople also invite customers to take part in conversations that are relevant to their businesses.

Interestingly, Quad/Graphics uses Facebook more for employee engagement than for outward-facing marketing efforts. As a company with many employees in diverse locations, the social networking tool is used for just that—keeping the staff engaged with one another and the company. Quad is also helping clients with their social media marketing efforts as part of a multi-channel marketing program, where data gained from social engagement might be infused in the print parts of a campaign.

Any social media effort should be part of a larger marketing plan; therefore, any social media ROI discussion is only part of the evaluation. While Sorrento Mesa Printing and Quad/Graphics are very different print-centric companies, especially in terms of size, both are using social media engagement as part of a larger marketing effort. In both cases, they engaged to enhance customer communication and increase brand exposure (which leads to more mentions and improves search rankings)—all of which leads to sales.

Determining the Payoff

Here are a few steps to consider as you engage in your own social media program to help measure the ROI of that effort.

Know your own engagement stats. A recent Hubspot study found that 41 percent of B2B companies have acquired a customer on Facebook, and 51 percent of Facebook "fans" are more likely to buy from brand companies that they "like." So, the first step is to ask, how many fans/likes do you have on your Facebook page? Are you talking to your existing clientele, potential new customers, industry peers, or friends and family? On your company Facebook page, how do the "like" numbers compare to your customer list?

Don't know? It's pretty easy to compare the two lists and see how much crossover you have. If you do this repeatedly in several month intervals, you can begin to determine if you have added customers as a result of your Facebook page or deepened your relationship with current clients.

Don't forget to factor in how many of the contacts are "business" contacts vs. friends and relatives. Remember that friends and relatives frequently recommend your services, so keeping them up-to-date on your business activities can strengthen that connection for business referrals.

Keep track of the amount of time your social media outreach people spend on engagement. How do you gauge "appropriate" time to spend on social media engagement? The "2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report" indicates that 58 percent of the more than 3,000 marketers surveyed devote more than six hours per week to social media, with 15 percent spending more than 20 hours per week using social media for business.

Website analytics will also show how many people are visiting via your social links, and vice versa—most of the social platforms offer copy and paste code to implement link tracking. Does your sales team have a formal method for following up on sales leads that come through social platforms? Outside of the company profiles, much of social interaction is personal, so it can be hard to grab metrics of how or whether a possible lead is being followed up on.

Recently, a printer told us that to not engage in social media is short-sighted, and that social media has become a cost of doing business. We tend to agree, but it's critical to be aware of "how much" time is spent in this pursuit—and tracking results is really critical to assessing the full truth of that statement! PI

About the Authors
Julie Shaffer is vice president, digital technologies, and Mary Garnett is executive vice president, both at Printing Industries of America.


Companies Mentioned:




The graphic communications industry is facing some very serious challenges, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of life and opportunity in our future. 

Competing for Print's Thriving Future focuses on how printers can create their own positive future by understanding and taking advantage of the emerging changes — the changes that are shaping the printing industry of today and tomorrow. 

Use the research, analysis, and forecasts in this book to: 
• Assess the changes taking place
• Understand the changes
• Design a plan to deal with the changes

Topics include: 
• Economic forces, life cycle, and competitive position
• Place in the national and global economies
• Industry structure, cost structure, and profitability trends
• Emerging market spaces--ancillary and print management services
• Competitive strategies, tactics, and business models
• Key practices of SuperPrinters
• Combating foreign competition
• Social network usage
• A ten-step process to survive and thrive Competing for Print’s Thriving Future

The graphic communications industry is facing some very serious challenges, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of life and opportunity in our future. “Competing for Print's Thriving Future” focuses on how printers can create their own positive future by understanding and taking advantage of the  changes that...




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