But here are some facts that may prove helpful. According to the Digital in 2018 report from We Are Social and Hootsuite, there are now 3.2 billion social media users across the world, a 13% rise over the previous year. With so many people regularly using social channels, it’s no surprise that in recent years we’ve seen a surge of social media marketing activity.
The amount spent on social media by businesses, particularly big brands, has grown astronomically. CMO Survey figures show that back in August 2009, spending on social media equated to just 3.5% of the typical marketing budget. By August 2018 the average amount was almost four times as large, at 13.8%. And if anything, the pace of growth is speeding up. The most recent CMO Survey pointed to a bigger rise in social media spending than in any previous year. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the CMO Survey, it collects insight and opinions from top marketers.)
Clearly, the consensus from marketers in the know is that it’s definitely worth using social media channels. What, then, does that mean for our sector? What are the best platforms for print businesses to use? And how should you go about using them?
Julian Hocking, managing director of St Austell-based Nationwide Print, recently crowned Environmental Company of the Year at the PrintWeek Awards, says whatever your views on social media, “it’s here to stay and will become more important as time goes on”. Nationwide uses Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Linkedin.
“They all generally do the same thing, brand awareness being key,” says Hocking. “But Facebook is generally more business-to-consumer and is linked to our Twitter page. We use Google+ to try and help our positioning in Google and LinkedIn is business-to-business and far more targeted.”
Although Hocking considers social media channels important for creating brand awareness, the “bottom line” for judging effectiveness is winning new customers. LinkedIn has proved the most successful for Nationwide “with two good size accounts coming from it”. Nationwide’s current strategy is to concentrate on the platforms mentioned above, with Hocking keen to put greater resource into social media marketing. “We really need a full time social media employee,” he says.
Print-Leeds director Isobel Hainsworth-Brear uses Instagram personally and is currently researching how other B2B businesses use this platform effectively. The business does have a Facebook page, but she admits it has done very little with it.
It’s a different story with respect to Twitter and LinkedIn. “We use Twitter to ensure we are out there – promoting products, retweeting interesting news pieces, Print-Leeds news, and in the past we have run offers for the digital side of the business,” says Hainsworth-Brear. “We use LinkedIn for specific messaging – recruitment, our blog/news and to interact with specific people. We are cleverer about our use of LinkedIn. We use it mainly for new business development.”
How does she measure success? “Purely down to engagement, which is rudimentary in today’s world of SEO. We are going to be changing this as we plan our marketing strategy for next year. I know we can be a lot smarter with our digital communications and how we generate sales.”
Hainsworth-Brear adds that Print-Leeds has also used LinkedIn to engage with “specific people” in a way that has proved good for business. Experiments with using the platform to attract talent into the business have fared less well.
“We have tried to use LinkedIn and Twitter to recruit more staff but have failed miserably and I’m not sure how this is possible, especially given the number of recruitment agents I have chasing me with roles on LinkedIn,” she says. “Having spoken to a number of digital agencies I know we can use these platforms and others to better effect.”
Certainly it’s important to bring some planning rigour and professionalism to bear on your social media activity. Establish clear objectives as you would for other forms of marketing communications activity and keep these in mind.
That said, there are great opportunities to exploit seasonality – countdown to Christmas, anyone? – and major events in the business calendar, such as trade fairs and industry awards. If you’re not using one already, it’s worthwhile investigating content management tools such as HootSuite, SproutSocial and Buffer. These can simplify regular postings.
“As a B2B supplier of spare parts for printers, you might think our business isn’t fashionable enough for social media, but you’d be wrong!” says Christie Harman, marketing communications manager at Bluprint UK. “We use Twitter and LinkedIn to good effect to support company objectives and corporate mission.”
Twitter, say Harman, is great for “reading the now” and joining a conversation. In his view, it’s perfect for events, finding the latest news and growing brand reputation through opinion leadership. “Twitter is our heartbeat, it shows we’re still alive. It is also one of our best branding tools, communicating our values and corporate character through what we choose to post and how.”
LinkedIn, on the other hand argues Harman, is good for adding a personal voice to corporate messages, humanising them and sharing with a wider network. Bluprint encourages its employees to be active on LinkedIn, developing relationships and generating leads through engaging with their connections.
At Drupa 2016, Bluprint was crowned one of the exhibition’s daily social media champions for its contributions about the event on Twitter. Having the trophy for the day was “great fun and enabled so many conversations, relationships and kudos”.
In terms of judging performance, Bluprint UK follows its analytics closely and generates reports monthly. Harman says he keeps an eye on key performance indicators, without getting carried away by the ‘vanity metrics’ (likes, follows, etc) and tries to understand the significance in each interaction.
“Social media is only successful if you enter into it with purpose and planning. Know your goals and think about how you might reach them,” says Harman. “Social media is not only about spontaneity and being ‘in the moment’, it can be planned and scheduled too.
“Beware the loud voices and find your own. As we learned from GDPR, the nosiest users were often those acting unnecessarily and with little impact. Don’t copy the loud voice through fear of being left behind; find your own. Imagine you didn’t have anything to sell, what might your business talk about? Your brand has its own voice and audience.”
It’s vital not to forget the social aspect of social media. It’s about conversations. You’re not only there for yourself. So engage with what others are posting. Enter into the wider community and exploit relevant opportunities as they crop up.
“On Twitter, make good use of lists and advanced searching to cut out noise that can become an irritation,” concludes Harman. “Create content that is worthwhile and adds something to your brand or a wider conversation. Think: why would someone like, share or click on this?”
Pureprint Group marketing manager Amy Gregory says video is working really well for the company on Instagram. Showing a beautiful printed product in video brings it to life, she says. For example, sharing the company’s Pureprint Works publication on Instagram brought “many” enquiries.
Gregory also has some sound advice on the dos and don’ts of social media marketing. “Do post regularly and do ask your customers before you post their work. Show behind the scenes – people love to see how you create something. When you are in print, you forget how interesting the process is to others outside of the industry. Don’t be afraid to try different things to understand what engages your audience – that’s the great thing about social you get to see what works well and what doesn’t very quickly.”
She also recommends engaging your sales team with your social media to amplify your content and messages. That’s a smart move because you really want to derive the maximum commercial advantage from time and effort ploughed into social. Otherwise, you may as well stick to viewing the funny videos your mates have shared.
LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are rightly regarded as the Big Four social media platforms for B2B use but there are some others you might consider.
The video sharing site YouTube offers scope for posting demo videos and any other snazzy moving images. As does its less famous rival Vimeo. The more engaging the video, the more likely it is to generate responses. But at heart these are really platforms for content created by consumers.
Instant messaging app Snapchat used to be seen predominantly as a channel for teenage sexting. Now, however, it has grown up a bit and has around 10 million UK users. But while some big businesses such as PwC have experimented with campaigns on this platform, it remains very much a consumer channel.
If you Google ‘Pinterest B2B case studies’, page after page of search results appear. The image curation network is great if you’re an artisan or run a cottage business selling products to consumers. Much less so for more serious B2B profile– or relationship-building.