Industry Market Trends

Expert's Corner: How Manufacturers Are Harnessing Social Media

May 14, 2013

In the latest Expert's Corner, Michael Keating sheds light on how manufacturers can deliver their marketing message via social media, and the specific digital tools and strategies manufacturers are employing to boost their business.

Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare - there's no shortage of social media tools that manufacturers can use to get their market message across. And manufacturers are using social media at a rapidly accelerating pace. Nearly seven out of 10 (68 percent) small and mid-size industrial suppliers are engaging with prospects through social media, according to research from ThomasNet.

"Manufacturers will miss a significant opportunity if they don't jump on the social media bandwagon," said Lisa Anderson, founder of Claremont, Calif.-based LMA Consulting Group. Anderson is the former vice president of operations and supply chain at PaperPak Inc. and the author of "Leverage Social Networks to Drive Business Results."

Anderson cites five ways that manufacturing executives can harness social media to improve operations:

  1. Leverage LinkedIn and Facebook for research and development;
  2. Use YouTube for product training and to create product excitement;
  3. Rely on Facebook and Twitter to gain customer feedback and input into product development;
  4. Use LinkedIn to research, source, and collaborate with suppliers; and
  5. Leverage LinkedIn groups to collaborate with customers and suppliers and to research technical and systems issues.

LinkedIn can be particularly useful for making business connections, said government marketing consultant Mark Amtower. "LinkedIn is the preferred social networking venue for B2B and B2G. You can reach out and connect with your clients (government or industry), define and demonstrate an area of expertise, develop a thought leadership position, and tie all your social networking back to your company website. Companies (including manufacturers) with an active social networking presence are growing much faster than those without one."

Manufacturers need to find the right people to manage their social media efforts, explained Jim Nichols, vice president of digital at Cranford, N.J.-based public relations firm Stern + Associates: "Whoever is running the program needs to have significant, deep knowledge in the product or service - this is usually a senior engineer, administrator, or executive instead of a junior-level marketing person typically assigned to such tasks. Finding a knowledgeable person with the time to interact with social media is very challenging, but highly rewarding when accomplished."

Nichols says manufacturers should fully investigate their range of social media options. "Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn - the often-touted social media trifecta - shouldn't be automatic investments for manufacturers. For most industries, there are forums, blogs, or communities that speak directly to their probable purchasers."

And blogs are a good way to obtain e-mail addresses to use for future marketing promotions, says John Sonnhalter, CEO of Berea, Ohio-based Sonnhalter, a marketing communications firm. His blog targets tradesmen in construction, industrial, and MRO markets.

"I have almost 600 posts up on my blog, and for our new business efforts, we are getting people and organizations coming to us that we would have never identified," Sonnhalter told IMT. Sonnhalter's firm obtains the e-mail addresses of prospective customers who respond to blog posts or sign up for the monthly newsletter offered on the website.

YouTube can also be a useful social media outlet for manufacturers, Sonnhalter added. "YouTube has 800 million daily users, and 4 billion YouTube videos are viewed every day, and manufacturers need to get on this platform," said the marketing specialist. "If you are Acme Manufacturing Co., you should have an Acme Manufacturing Co. YouTube video channel and have all kinds of things posted, including how-to videos, how to maintain your product videos, videos that promote the features and benefits of your firm's products, new product introductory videos, and more."

Slideshare, which offers users the ability to upload and publicly or privately share PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, and Adobe PDF Portfolios, is another social media tool that manufacturers should exploit. "Slideshare is more than just for slides, and it draws more than 60 million visitors each month," Sonnhalter noted.

For example, the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Association for Manufacturing Excellence has a Slideshare channel.

With a paid SlideShare PRO subscription, users can put high-resolution images in presentations and documents or upload e-books and research papers. They can also upload professional videos up to a maximum size of 500 MB.

Budding entrepreneurs and manufacturers looking for insights into new markets rely on social media tool Quora to give them the research and support that doesn't exist on other social networks, according to David-Michel Davies, executive director of the Webby Awards, which honor excellence on the Internet.

Quora is a source for knowledge. Through questions and answers, it aims to be a place where users can blend new content with the best of what's on the Web. Quora organizes people and their interests so users can find, collect, and share the information that is most valuable to them.

Using this resource, manufacturers can get answers to their questions, Davies told IMT. "One of the more interesting questions posed on Quora was: "What problems do manufacturing startups typically face and how are they overcome?

There are also entire groups on Quora, Davies added, "that are dedicated to topics like manufacturing in China, and offer real-time peer insight into a major market."

Michael Keating is senior editor for Government Product News and a contributing editor for American City and County, both published by Penton Media Inc. Read his 2013 government budget and spending forecast at the Government Product News site. Go here for his IMT 2012 report on how to land government business. His most recent item for IMT was about the 2013 government market for manufacturers. Keating has written articles on the government market for more than 100 publications, including USA Today, Sanitary Maintenance, IndustryWeek, and the Costco Connection. Michael can be reached through his website,