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Social networking 101 for distributors

By Bridget


social networking may have started out as a convenient way to connect with old
schoolmates, find a date, or meet new friends, but over the last few years this
Web 2.0 strategy has evolved as a valuable business tool. Today, companies of
all sizes and across all industries are using sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to engage current
customers, reach out to new prospects, and gain market share.

Social media
sounds simple enough in theory and the barriers to entry are both low and
cheap. All you have to do is set up a presence on one of the dozens of social
networking platforms currently available online and start posting information,
uploading photos and videos, and networking with customers, vendors,
colleagues, and other distributors. Interact enough, the experts say, and the
results will compound upon themselves and eventually lead to new business and
increased sales.

That’s when
things start to get a little more complicated. As it turns out, maintaining
multiple social media presences requires time, patience, and creativity.
Combine these requirements with the demands and the time constraints of running
a distributorship and it’s easy to see why many social media efforts wind up


Jim Devitt,
owner of Merritt Island, Fla.-based Devitt Consulting, says most industrial
companies miss the boat when it comes to social networking. Devitt’s worked
with numerous electrical distributors over the years and says that while most
will take the time to register and set up profiles on platforms like Facebook
and Twitter, that’s about the extent of the typical distributor’s social
networking efforts.

companies don’t know what to do with social media once they get up and running
with it,” says Devitt. “Facebook and Twitter are littered with firms that had
good intentions at the outset, but that stopped posting and participating
within a month or two.”

To avoid
that trap, distributors should integrate social media into their overall
marketing plans. So instead of just posting the occasional tweet or Facebook
update, look at social networking as an important component of the company’s
marketing approach. Use similar logos, company messages, and information across
all of your channels, says Devitt, and you’ll avoid confusing and alienating
potential customers.

As trusted
sellers of quality products and providers of critical services, electrical
distributors are in the perfect position to offer different specials and
promotions for their Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and/or LinkedIn
connections. The venues can also serve as fertile testing ground for new
products, lines, and options. If, for example, your company has a particularly
large Facebook following, you can even break some of your offers down by the
hour or day to test out interest in your firm’s products and services.

At Madison Electric Products in Bedford Heights,
Oh., Rob Fisher, vice president of marketing, says the manufacturer developed
its social media strategy about five years ago. “We set up pages on Facebook
and LinkedIn and then spent six months ‘listening’ and researching our
industry,” says Fisher. “From there we developed a strategy for establishing
ourselves as thought leaders in the space.” 

Madison has
since expanded its social media presence to include Twitter and other
platforms. Recent company posts – both of which stoked feedback and “likes”
from followers and friends – included a list of 10 tips for industry conference
attendees and the unveiling of a new 35,000-square-foot distribution center in
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Fisher says
the manufacturer has seen numerous benefits from its early-adopter social media
stance. “It has not only helped us establish ourselves as a thought leader in
digital marketing and new technologies,” says Fisher, “but it has also helped
us build valuable relationships online and has opened doors [to new customer
accounts, for example] that weren’t previously at our disposal.”

Develop a
Plan of Attack

darts and hoping something sticks doesn’t work in the offline world, and it
definitely is not a fruitful way to conduct a social networking campaign. To
get the most out of their social networking investments, distributors should
identify the top few primary audiences they would like to market via social
networking, and then devise a plan for reaching these groups. Be sure to
include in your research exactly which social media platforms will work best to
drive traffic to your website, catalog, landing pages, and other online sites.

To ensure
that their social media strategies don’t wind up gathering dust online, Devitt
says distributors must allocate time to the effort (either on a daily or weekly
basis) and understand that results don’t come overnight. “You have to let
things season,” says Devitt, who advises companies to spend at least 90 days
establishing themselves in social circles online. “Focus on building a fan base
first and grow it until you have critical mass. From there it will take off on
its own.”


Take the
First Three Steps

If the
thought of setting up, monitoring, and running a social media presence online
is daunting – or if you’re re-launching an earlier social effort – start by
taking these three simple steps:


Fill Out Your Profile. “One of
the worst things people can do when they enter THE social media arena is not fill out their profiles,” says Mike Wolfe, president at Katonah, NY-based
social media marketing consultancy WAM Enterprises LLC .Whether you’re using Facebook,
Twitter, or LinkedIn, be sure to provide information on yourself and/or your
business. “You get one chance to make a first impression and your profile is
it,” says Wolfe. “Make sure it is complete.”


Demonstrate Expertise. Social
media is a great way to demonstrate your

expertise in the electrical
distribution field. Make sure your social media platform answers the question,
Why should people do business with me? Show your potential customers that you
can solve their problems. Share articles within the industry (and some of your
own if you have a blog). “People are looking for information on the Internet,”
says Wolfe, “so why not be the one who is providing it?”


Join the Conversation. Remember
that social networking is not about you, it’s about the people you’re connected
with. Follow people in your community, your field, or those who have the same
interests. Join the conversation. “Show the people you’re connected with that
you are human and that you can communicate,” Wolfe says, “it will help develop
relationships that will lead to business.”

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 bridgetmc@earthlink.net or
visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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