By Bridget McCrea
As the use of social media has exploded on the business front, many companies have struggled with the issue of managing the function in-house or outsourcing it to a third party. And, when the job is handled internally, exactly who should be charged with it and is a one-person team big enough to manage this growing communication and customer interaction channel? These and other pressing questions are forcing electrical distributors to rethink they way they manage social media and just how this marketing strategy fits with the rest of their outreach efforts.
Managing a Growing Trend
According to Socially Stacked, 72 percent of all Internet users are now active on social media and 83 percent of marketers use social media for business. Seventy percent of brands have a presence on Google+ (up 4 percent from 2012), Twitter is the fastest growing social network and Facebook has more than one billion monthly active users. According to industry reports, these numbers are only expected to grow as more companies get involved with social media and as more networking portals are introduced.
Rob Fisher, vice president of marketing at Madison Electric Products in Cleveland, says the distributor used to outsource its social media activities. Today, Fisher handles the task in-house. He says the decision to take the function in-house versus outsourcing is highly individual. Regardless of which route the distributor takes, he says it’s important to have an in-house gatekeeper to oversee the activities.
“Make sure your gatekeeper understands your firm’s brand, its brand objectives, and what it hopes to accomplish by participating in [social media] sites online,” says Fisher, who adds that Madison Electric Partners’ relationship with its third-party agency was largely positive because the latter took the time to become a part of the distributor’s brand.
“They were here all the time, sitting in on meetings and serving as an extension of our marketing department,” says Fisher, who points to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as the “big three” social networking sites that all distributors should be participating in. “Even if you don’t think your customers are using those sites, they probably are – and they are probably looking for your company on all three.”
At Werner Electric in Cottage Grove, Minn., Dustin Ranem, graphic design coordinator manages the company’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, and Vine accounts (among others). “We’re pretty active on social media,” says Ranem, who works with a 5-person marketing team that includes two individuals dedicated to digital media. “I’m the only one who manages our social media, but that’s not my only role here.”
Having a team behind him works well for Ranem, who bounces ideas off and receives suggestions from his team members. He often receives email that includes statements like, “This would be really cool to have on our Facebook page,” or “Here’s a great interview with someone from our company to post.” Ranem uses tools like Hootsuite to post across multiple social networking platforms at once but steers clear of automated programs (that allow you to develop multiple posts and then schedule them for release at future dates/times) because he’d prefers a more personalized approach. “I like to have more control over individual posts,” says Ranem, “so I usually just handle them manually as the news or information becomes available.”
Making the Right Choice
Commercial copywriter Mary Shafer of The Word Forge in Ferndale, Pa., says there’s no “one size fits all” answer to the in-house versus outsourcing social networking question. “In today’s world of many narrow and deep, mostly online marketing channels (as opposed to a few broad and shallow channels in the mainly print past),” Shafer points out, “every company has different priorities and needs, so how they staff and implement their web streams will vary greatly.” A few of the variables that distributors should consider include:
- How social media and the company’s website fit into its overall marketing plan. “The pitfall is not having such a plan,” says Shafer. “Unplanned, shotgun marketing never worked on a sustainable basis, and that’s even more true today, when much of the effectiveness of any promotional effort hinges on its synergy with other campaign elements to drive awareness and traffic.”
- How often the company needs to post to their blogs, provide fresh website content, and upload social media posts. “Companies fall into the trap of not posting often enough to create momentum for the blog or enewsletter,” say Shafer, “which also means a lack of fresh content to keep the website high in the search rankings.” Generally, Shafer recommends an ideal frequency for new posts of once a week, but at least once every other week. “Less presence than that will allow you to drop out of the front of your prospects’ minds,” she warns.
- The depth of specialized knowledge required of the content provider for these web streams. “A lot of companies fail to either designate an in-house marketing director with deep, broad knowledge of not just your company, but the entire industry you work in,” says Shafer, “or to hire a third party that is unwilling to commit to the training and education it would take for them to become conversant with your industry and products/services.”
To distributors that are trying to decide whether to handle social media in-house or outsource the job to a reputable provider, Shafer says one good place to look is at the company’s existing, in-house resources. “If you don’t have someone on staff who understands your brand and who has a marketer’s instinct for compelling stories, ideas, and what motivates your primary target audience – plus a decent amount of time to intelligently manage your web presence,” Shafer adds, “then seriously consider hiring an outside contractor.”
When looking to outside sources for social media management support, Deborah Reale, senior manager, social networking, for Reed Construction Data in Norcross, Ga., urges electrical distributors to carefully vet all candidates before choosing one. Avoid companies that over-promise and under-deliver (use past customer referral to do your homework in this area), and ask other distributors/companies similar to yours for recommendations.
Once you’ve selected a good partner, Reale says some training will be in order.
“Talk to them about basic rules, taboo subjects that shouldn’t be discussed, and other important rules,” says Reale, “before setting them loose on your social networking accounts.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.Tagged with tED