Fishing tips for manufacturing social media success

By Derek Lothian. 

Blogger Brian Farrell once said that social media is a lot like fly-fishing: It’s deceptively complex. What looks like someone flailing around their arms and a fishing line is really a well-coordinated effort to get a near-weightless fly in front of a hungry fish.

Social media — particularly for manufacturers — is no different. It may seem overwhelming at first, or even pointless. But there is a method to the madness.

First, you need to make the right decisions around where to cast your hook. Timing and placement is everything. And then you need the right equipment, the right fly, and the right skill before you can reel in your catch.

It is an undeniable fact that more and more manufacturers are embracing social media. According to a recent report from the Content Marketing Institute, 85 per cent of manufacturers already use some form of social media to distribute business information. Of those, nine in 10 use LinkedIn, roughly eight in 10 use YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and two in 10 use Instragram.

Few, however, are having a fish fry at the end of the day. There remains a notable lack of sophistication and understanding in how to get the most out of social media tools. For the second year in a row, manufacturers ranked YouTube the most effective platform (at only 66 per cent), followed by LinkedIn (54 per cent), Twitter (43 per cent), Slideshare (30 per cent), and Facebook (30 per cent).

That’s not to say these channels are faulty or ineffective. An experienced fisherman can hand someone his junior all the right pieces of equipment, but without some guidance or practice, chances are the big, juicy trout will live to see another day.

So, what can you do to improve your chances of success? Follow these five, simple rules:

1) Know the stream you’re fishing in

Start with a ‘discovery session.’ Carefully articulate: Who is your target market? Demographically and geographically, who is your ideal customer? Who are your competitors? What are you trying to communicate? How important is this to you, and what resources will you commit to seeing it through? All of these questions need answers.

Never before have you been able to market so accurately to your target audience. You can now select with near-individualization who is exposed to your messaging. Know what you’re fishing for, know what bait works best, and spend the money to get the tackle you require.

2) Be authentic

Businesses don’t communicate — people communicate. There’s no magic to this one. You need to listen to what your customers are saying and truly interact with them. Social media is not a one-way foghorn.

This can be a tough thing to do, especially in times of crisis or when you’re dealing with negative feedback.

I’ve seen first-hand Canadian businesses in the midst of a crisis shut down their Facebook and Twitter accounts — which, people like me will tell you, is the absolute worst reaction you can have.

It’s true: Some people are not always willing to listen. Those individuals, though, will stick out and disqualify themselves from having any influence whatsoever — so long as you speak to those who will listen with genuine care for their concerns, and a tone you would expect from a neighbour, not a corporation.

3) Ask for help

The purpose of social media is to engage with your audience. But they generally won’t do this on their own — you have to ask. Manufacturers like John Deere and Hampton Creek frequently ask customers to submit photos, stories, and experiences using their products in an open and public forum for everyone to see. Often, this is paired with some sort of a contest to encourage responses.

Your best brand ambassadors are your customers, so provide them every opportunity and motivation to become involved! And if you can identify key influencers in your network (in the case of John Deere, a large farmer in southern Manitoba, for example), leverage those connections to create additional content that can be shared (blogs, videos, you name it!).

4) Be part of the community

The age of the internet has made forming global communities of common interest easier than ever. There are tens of thousands of forums, pages, and groups dedicated to exactly what it is you do — whether that’s manufacture for the B2B market or direct-to-consumer.

Be active in those communities. They’re no less important than being an active participant in the town or city in which you have bricks and mortar.

5) Hire an experienced fishing guide

This isn’t gratuitous self-promotion — on the contrary, there are experts right here in Western Canada far more proficient in this field than I. It’s actually a suggestion to save you money in the long run.

If you’ve never fished before, you probably aren’t going to become an expert without a little help. And if you enjoy eating fish, but perhaps don’t want to learn how to catch them on your own, that’s perfectly fine, too. There are plenty of resources out there to lend a hand. Don’t get taken, however, hook, line, and sinker (terrible pun intended).

Completely outsourcing your social media efforts can save you two-thirds (or more) the cost of a single full-time hire. It can also be an exercise in wasting tens of thousands of dollars if you don’t do your homework.

When hiring social media agencies or specialists, start by looking at their own social media profiles. You wouldn’t hire a fishing guide that fishes only once or twice a year. Don’t hire a social media guide with insufficient activity or poor quality content.

Derek Lothian is the editor of Prairie Manufacturer Magazine, and president of Lothian & Associates Management Group Inc. — an executive advisory firm specializing in organizational strategy, government relations, M&A, and communications.