Baby Steps, Giant Results –Dana
Be thankful for social media. The opportunities that they offer the printing industry to get ever closer to its market are just phenomenal. Too many service providers focus on the negative. Yes, digital media have been taking large bites out of the print spend. Customers are absolutely moving a lot of otherwise printed materials online. Print volumes are down, and digital printing is on the rise.
It's true, it's sobering—but it's not all bad. The popularity of new media, social and otherwise, offers a big, fat silver lining to graphic arts service providers.
If you're active on a few social networking sites, you can continuously learn about your particular market and what the business trends are. You'll find out what prospects and even customers think about communications media. You'll come across people talking about your industry and maybe even your business.
Customers have always had opinions. Until sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were created, these opinions were spoken face-to-face, over the phone or sent by e-mail. There was very little recorded. Now everything's public and sharable.
Service providers must be a part of this virtual soapbox. Those to whom you market your firm are already there, expounding on the pros and cons of one printing process over another, praising printing industry practices (or slamming them), asking for help and recounting experiences they've had as print customers.
This is your chance, as a service provider, to join these conversations. Jump in to be heard, to provide answers, to learn about market trends and to see for yourself who the influencers are.
In no particular order, here are 10 small steps that service providers should take to inch closer and closer to their target markets and print customers.
1) Go toward new media, not away from it. Learn everything you can about your market's tastes, especially those of Gen X and Gen Y customers. Assuming that digital media, especially social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are only for the fringe and not mainstream business people is a mistake.
2) Be curious about what your top customers are doing with social media. How are their firms using it? If their strategy includes using social media to promote their products and services, how does this relate to their print materials? What if you could help strengthen the connection between their print and social media campaigns—wouldn't that service be valuable to them?
3) Pay attention to your own corporate Twitter account, assuming there is one. What's being tweeted about your firm, by your firm—and maybe by others? What do posts on this microblogging site say about your firm? Are you more informational or promotional? Find out what your competition is doing on Twitter.
4) LinkedIn is the top social networking channel for print customers, so strengthen your LinkedIn profile and participate in "Groups" there. Go to your home page on LinkedIn. Search under Groups for key phrases like "print buyers" and "print production." There are dozens! You can join 50 Groups on LinkedIn, but I don't recommend it. Be judicious. Choose a few Groups that are relevant. Start participating. Don't sell: inform.
5) Take a hard look at the message on your Website. Why do your customers come to your Website (or do they)? How about your prospects or other visitors who search on your keywords? Is the content they find about you—or about them?
6) Ask your customers what kind of information and education they need from you. Simple online surveys (i.e., Surveymonkey) are affordable, effective tools for eliciting customer feedback.
7) Consider the educational needs of first-time print customers vs. more savvy ones. Identify how you're addressing these unique needs via your promotional materials, Website, sales pitches and customer service. By not acknowledging how different these two market segments are, you risk overwhelming one (new clients) or insulting the other (savvy customers).
8) Update your Website. Sites are becoming leaner as companies leverage other media options to connect with their markets. Get rid of stale content, too many pictures of manufacturing processes/equipment and bloated verbiage. Strive for a streamlined site, in which you name management members, show more pictures of people and feature social media buttons so visitors can connect with you elsewhere.
9) Go where your market hangs out. Conduct searches not only on LinkedIn Groups, but also on Twitter, for example. On your Twitter page, is a search box up top? Enter a hash tag (#) before a term or keyword. That will show you who's leading those particular discussions.
10) Generate content! Though listed as #10, this point is the most important one. Today, you need to have ongoing, concurrent conversations across multiple media. Find the social media channels frequented or preferred by your market and jump in. At your fingertips you have YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and your own Website, for starters.
Take full advantage of this rich media "buffet." Not only will you be sharing information that spotlights you or your company as an industry leader (or at least a player), you'll also be privy to conversations about your market and your customers' businesses.
Print customers of all kinds have taken to social media to locate new resources, ask questions of peers, showcase their own knowledge and comment on the state of the industry. Print and other graphic arts services providers need to be there. Join these virtual discussions.
How's this for a goal: make sure that all public comments about your company are glowing reviews. Think of your customers as your social media ambassadors. By participating in these media, you can influence what's said about your company and your own expertise. Those are powerful results. PI
About the Author
Margie Dana is the founder of Print Buyers International (www.printbuyersinternational.com), which offers educational and networking opportunities to those who work with the printing industry. She produces an annual print buyers conference (www.printbuyersconference.com) and has written her popular e-column, "Margie's Print Tips," since 1999. Dana speaks regularly at trade events and offers consulting services as a print buyer specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.