Your website is still your biggest lead generation asset, but don’t overlook implementing social media strategy to reach the metalworking nation.
About five years ago, when I transitioned from a territory sales manager for AME and Hennig to Marketing Director, I became increasingly aware that the majority of our new opportunities were of the inbound variety (i.e. coming in from the web). I also knew our websites were stale, cumbersome, and unfriendly to search engines.
It was my job to change that, but I wasn’t seeing many examples from manufacturing companies of social media done right. All the self-serving sales pitches disguised as posts really turned me off. While I knew Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram were important, I didn’t really see how they were going to move the needle for businesses in the metalworking nation. So I focused our digital marketing almost entirely centered on improving our website.
Fast forward five years, and so much has changed. Our new websites were a big success and completely changed our approach to sales and marketing, For example, our previous approach consisted of exhibiting at more trade shows, hiring more direct sales people, and paying them salaries plus commissions. Today, our biggest lead generation asset is our website. It's the tradeshow that works 24/7, and the salesperson that never asks for a commission.
Despite this success, If I could go back in time I’d implement these five additional strategies to expand our reach through social media platforms. Since I don’t have a time machine I’ll write them here and encourage you to try one or more of them today.
Lesson 1: Focus on a Few Platforms
Social platforms have unique algorithms, audiences, and nuances. A one-size-fits-all strategy is the wrong approach, but when I first started at ground zero, I wanted to be everywhere. We created social media accounts on all the major platforms, mostly just to have them. We didn’t think about where our audience was and we didn’t make a commitment to engage consistently. As I was trying to be present everywhere, what I was finding, was that I wasn’t relevant anywhere.
Over time, I learned to narrow my focus on a primary social media platform that was a natural fit for my goals. For me, that was LinkedIn. As a sales director, LinkedIn allowed me to keep my finger on the pulse of the machine tool community. I was able to build digital connections with my customers and prospects that allowed me to follow their professional journeys and stay abreast with where the industry was headed.
LinkedIn is my favorite, but it may not be the platform for you. We’ve seen plenty of examples of success from metalworking leaders on other platforms.
The common denominator in each of these examples is consistency. If you’re like most of us in the metalworking nation, you don’t have an entire media department producing content and building communities on every platform available, so stick to a few that you feel confident in and stay focused.
Lesson 2: Don’t be Afraid to be Early
I remember years back when we started taking digital marketing seriously at AME. I would sit in managers meetings talking about how we needed to “get with the times” and I could feel the collective eye roll from many of our veteran leaders as I talked about how LinkedIn could help us with business development. To be honest, I understand where the guys were coming from. The company had grown consistently for decades and social media had nothing to do with it.
The majority of our customers and prospects were a lot like us and social networking was a distant afterthought. So we dipped our toe into social media, but didn’t commit. I genuinely believed social media adoption would increase in the future, but I was afraid to be too early to the party. I didn’t want to be that guy sitting alone at the bar pretending to be on a cellphone to avoid feeling like a loser.
Boy, was I wrong.
I see how social media adoption has skyrocketed in the past few years and I’m kicking myself for missing the opportunity. Audiences and communities take time to develop, and we’ve begun posting and interacting more to make up for lost time, but again, I wish I had that time machine.
On MakingChips, we always say it’s not your grandparent’s machine shop anymore. That mantra extends beyond the shop into the commercial marketplace. Don’t get me wrong, learn everything you can from those who came before you. There is invaluable wisdom that can only come from decades of experience, but when it comes to social media, you should probably look elsewhere for advice.
I remember my industrial marketing friends and agency founders, Joe Sullivan and Jon Franko from Gorilla76 prophesying long before it was true, that Instagram would become a popular platform for industrial companies. When I see accounts with 150k followers like Corey’s, I gotta tip my hat to them. They were dead on.
If you’re going to commit to being early, then don’t just dip your toe in. Jason and Jim knew they were early to the podcasting world as manufacturing leaders, but they jumped in with both feet and struck gold. The key is a consistent commitment and giving your community time to develop.
Lesson 3: Practice makes Perfect
Social Media is like diet and exercise. Results are more about consistent execution than the perfectly crafted dietary program or exercise plan. Keep score and see what works and what doesn’t. Marketing Automation tools like HubSpot make this easy.
Here is an example: I had a hunch about a controversial sales and marketing post I thought would get a lot of engagement. I asked my LinkedIn community whether they felt sales was a subset of marketing, or marketing a subset of sales. I figured the marketing zealots would rally around the former and the sales leaders around the latter. I asked Jim and Jason to weigh in and comment (because I knew they were industry influencers with large followings).
Bingo -- Hypothesis tested and confirmed! It was one of the most engaging posts I’ve ever shared.
So what did I learn?
A little conflict and polarizing topics (with tact) can make the most engaging posts.
Comments on page views, especially if you’re getting engagement from industry influencers, make for the most powerful posts.
The answer to the “what’s more important sales vs marketing” question is irrelevant. Siloing sales and marketing hurts revenue growth. High growth companies focus on building cohesive revenue-generating teams that add value throughout the entire customer lifecycle, not segregating sales and marketing and debating over what function is more important. But I’ll save that rant for another post...
Lesson 4: Move Online Relationships Offline (and Visa Versa)
When someone hands you a business card, it should trigger a LinkedIn connection request. I still hang on to my business cards, but it’s so much easier to stay up to date with contacts on LinkedIn and saves loads of time. Most business professionals keep their LinkedIn profiles relatively current. Gone are the days of thumbing through a Rolodex or sifting through emails to remember a person’s contact information (info that over time may not be current or accurate).
The same principle goes for other social platforms. Brandon Kane, the young, entrepreneurial machinist we brought on as a podcast guest, is a perfect example. I started following his journey on Instagram and thought, “This is a story MakingChips needs to share.” Fast forward a few months, and I’m hanging out with Brandon, hearing him tell his story in person.
Chris Fox, one of our favorite industry marketers and film-makers, captured the epitome of this principle when social media superstar Alfred Lyon from AB Tools hosted a meetup at the 2018 IMTS in Chicago. It was an amazing experience where the most influential content creators and audience developers from the digital metalworking community were able to meet in person and shake hands.
Think of social networks as a digital trade show where you can share what you have to offer with the manufacturing community. Don’t forget the whole point of social networking is to build valuable relationships that go beyond the screen.
One more thing about online and offline social relationships:
Be authentic. Don’t have an alter ego on social media that’s different from your real personality. If you’re a bit smug and sarcastic in real life like MakingChips’ host Jason Zenger, then crack the same jokes online.
And if you’re the only guy in the shop with a tailored Armani suit like our partner Jim Carr, then carry the ‘Zoolander of Manufacturing’ brand through on your channels.
And if it amuses you to write articles that poke fun at your business partners, then follow my lead with this blog post and share your personality online.
The point is, online or off, just be the real you or people will see through it.
Lesson 5: Reframe Your Thinking — The Content is the Product.
No one logs on social media hoping to find thousands of promotional posts about “best in class”, “industry leading”, products and services. People tune in to be equipped, inspired, and entertained. The brands that understand how to create ‘content products’ that actually deliver value, are brands that generate buzz, win mindshare, and ultimately develop loyal audiences and profitable relationships.
If the content is your product, then think of your social media channels as the distribution channels that bring your product to market. Begin by building on the platforms you already own. This means constantly publishing new material on your site. Use your website and blogs as the central hub for your marketing content. Then modify the message to fit the platforms you’re active on. When you share those links in your posts, you’ll drive traffic back to where you want it -- your own site.
This is where applying the 80-20 rule to creation and promotion can make a big difference. If you spend 80% of your time/energy creating valuable content that equips and inspires your target audience, and you only spend 20% of your time/energy promoting it (i.e. sharing it with your audience), then you’re working really hard but not working very smart. You can’t expect your entire target audience to visit your site just because you wrote a great article and shared it one time.
This is a lesson I’m still learning. My new year’s resolution was to flip the 80-20 rule in the other direction and do a better job promoting the stuff we work so hard to create. Whether I’m creating (or managing the creation of content) for AME or MakingChips, I’m making a conscious effort to “bring that product to market” by making sure we have a strong promotional strategy that leverages social media. So if you got to this article from a social post, do me a favor and let me know what you think in the blog comments below so I’ll know it’s working.
Jim Carr told me his father used to tell him, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” In this industry, you never stop learning, and that includes learning how to connect with the metalworking nation online.
Social media is still foreign to a lot of us. The good news is you don’t have to have it all figured out to get started. If you’re unsure how to elevate your digital game, take one or more of these lessons from me and implement a new initiative today.
Listen to the MakingChips podcast episode on “How to have LinkedIn Success Without Becoming Social Media Obsessed.”