In July 2009, a former PrintWeek staffer made an astonishing prediction: “This time next year no one will be talking about Twitter”, positing the idea that, one year to the day, Twitter’s traffic would have dropped by (a curiously specific) 74%. So confident was he about the imminent demise of what is today the world’s second-most popular site, he took several £10-per-head bets with colleagues.
Over the following 12 months, as the evidence against his theory mounted, said staffer did his best to make sure the bet was forgotten. To be blunt, reader, he welched.
Eight years on from this unfortunate prophecy, and on the 10-year anniversary of PrintWeek’s earliest musings on social media, just how has print embraced this channel?
A truly modern outfit, Awesome Merchandise originated from the Leeds University bedroom of student Luke Hodson in 2005. Fast-forward 12 years and he presides over 70 staff, a figure that has almost doubled in the past two years alone. As a millennial making his way in an ageing industry, Hodson places lots of stock in the power of social media.
“We have grown out of being based around the internet,” he states.
“When we started 12 years ago the first customers we got were from message boards, even before MySpace. Message boards and MySpace were 70% of how we started building in the first place.”
Awesome’s social media offering spans a whole range of media, and Hodson employs a full-time photographer who has recently started to shoot video for social media, taking advantage of new trends, such as Facebook Live and Instagram Stories.
He adds: “Social media is built into what we do. As opposed to more traditional print firms – some suppliers just rock up at our door and do an old-school sales call – we’re not as comfortable with that side of things as we are posting a picture on Instagram.”
Unlike Hodson, social media aficionado Asif Choudry, sales and marketing director at Leeds-based print marketer Resource, chooses to focus his and his five-person team’s energies solely on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Upon arrival in Resource’s marketing division, new employees are handed a phone with a pre-loaded Twitter and LinkedIn account ready for use; Choudry does not do things by halves.
“Social media here is as essential for us as picking up a phone,” he says.
“The key to social media success is that if you put out a post somebody has to engage, if there is no one there to engage in the conversation back then there’s probably no point sending the post.”
Choudry, who spent two years researching the market before even launching Resource’s Twitter account, recently oversaw his 10th CommsHero marketing conference, part of a marketing initiative that secured the company a PrintWeek Award in 2016.
“Without social media we couldn’t have got CommsHero off the ground. It’s impossible for a printer to do a marketing conference without social media.”
Choudry believes the strength of a company’s social media lies in the conversation and doesn’t hold back from encouraging his team to use personal accounts to get conversations going. He cites ProCo, Pureprint and Rapidity, among others, as companies doing well in these social spaces.
Fujifilm digital printing and press systems product manager Mark Stephenson is a keen user of social media himself and agrees with Choudry that it is important to let staff use personal accounts to good effect.
He says: “You get certain individuals within any organisation who tweet or use LinkedIn more than others and they become a secondary source of promotion.”
On the manufacturing side, Fujifilm is an example of a company that has recently looked to up its social media game. This type of work was recently outsourced to a PR company and Stephenson oversaw the session in which the digital print marketplace was explained to the agency. He stressed the need for targeted social media campaigning and “knowing your audience”.
“I guess our strategy is based on knowing some products can be promoted better on social media than others. I don’t want to decry analogue products like chemistry and plates but there’s probably not a lot of new and exciting things you can say about pressroom founts.”
The B2B hurdle
For some, this much-maligned modern marketing tool hasn’t worked out so well. Gary White, who heads up Northern Irish printer Northside Graphics and its various online arms, says he has never quite cracked the B2B market on social media, despite having spent more than £1,000 on promotional posts.
White and his team began using social media when he launched online arm DigitalPrinting.co.uk back in 2013.
He says: “We do a lot of blog posts, which are on the website and then on social media, but we find engagement isn’t very high.
“I had thought there would be a lot of people using it to contact us, but there weren’t and I think that has to do with the fact that we’re B2B and not B2C.
“I fully get our marketing and e-commerce, it’s very clear cut, but in the B2B arena I just don’t get how you turn social media into sales.”
White’s experience is proof that social media can be a tough nut to crack, and some use it more successfully than others, largely dependent on their markets, but there is no doubt that this is an exciting time of innovation for the industry and social media is playing a big part in that.
“I get lots of competitors on LinkedIn and knowing they are looking at what I post I start to feel more at one with them,” says Stephenson.
“We are all trying to promote print, all trying to get people to look at new and interesting ways to do things. If the pie is big enough, we can all have a little bit of it.”
It’s not about direct selling, but building relationships
Matthew Parker, director, Profitable Print Relationships
Social media is an essential sales channel that is not very well used by the majority of printers.
I think a lot of people don’t understand how to use it effectively and people either use it as branding or go out and hit people they’ve only just connected with with a massive sales pitch when it’s way too early to do that. Good social media is done by those who reach out personally, as opposed to using it as a brand.
I’m biased because I provide training in social media but people need to understand the system of how they’re going to use social media to win clients. They also need to have encouragement and guidance from their companies to use it and they need to be able to set aside time to do a little bit of social media work every week.
The basic advice I give people is have a really good social media profile, go out and connect with prospects in the right way, then carry on and build that engagement and finally take that relationship offline when you are ready to start having a conversation about something meaningful.
Most of the engagement should come from personal accounts and it’s not about direct selling at that point, it’s about building relationships. You turn those people into prospects and then you may or may not be able to move them into your sales pipeline afterwards.
I think in the future more people will come on board with it, some people will try and outsource it, which is a mistake, some people will ignore it. It’s the same as the print industry generally, some people are very focused on evolving their companies, creating new products and new services for their clients, and some are just stuck on the old quality/service/price triangle selling commodity print.
How effective is social media for your business?
Clair Trebes, sales and marketing manager, RT Litho
“I think particularly for B2C it’s very valuable. We as a company do a lot of networking and as a result we have quite a good online presence and find ourselves getting quite a lot of recommendations. It’s hard to pin it on one area but since we employed a more concentrated effort on the right way to do social media our inquiries have increased by about 50%. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and I think if your website presence isn’t very good or social media presence isn’t very good then it doesn’t give people confidence.”
Dominic Streeter, marketing manager, Harrier Print
“I think we’ve noticed that trends are changing and in an increasingly digital world it has added importance. We find more and more that it has become a really important channel in terms of our promotions. We ran a campaign last year with Friends of the Earth where we sold a personalised book through them and we did most of the PR through celebrity endorsement on Twitter. Print sits a little behind the curve and maybe has been slower to catch on than some of the newer media industries but I think we’re getting there.”
Rob Armistead, marketing executive, Webmart
“Social media is something we’ve really driven, particularly in the last eight months. We do all sorts of fun and exciting things here at the Yellow Shed. We want to attract people to our office to show them what we’re about, and we felt using social media as a platform was a great way of sharing how we are different. In B2B it can be difficult to reach the right audience online. However, it is about establishing who your target audience is and delivering useful and engaging content that they can benefit from.”