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How Industrial Companies Can Succeed With Social Media

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How Industrial Companies Can Succeed With Social Media

Photo of peopleMore and more, the conversations I have with manufacturing and industrial service companies about social media don’t start with questions like “What can Twitter do for my business?” – but rather, “OK, I’ve got a Twitter page – but how do I keep coming up with things to say?” I’m sure that if I didn’t have a social media calendar and the help of some amazing tools, there would be plenty of days when I, too, struggled to come up with interesting posts for all of my social media pages.

Even though more and more industrial companies are stepping into the world of social media, very few that I talk to are approaching it strategically. It’s more like they’re experimenting, and if they see any benefit THEN they’ll start taking it seriously. For any company to be successful with social media, it has to be considered in the same way in which any other marketing communications initiative would.

Develop a social media content strategy; determine your company’s social media persona; then make your social media campaign efficient and keep your posts updated regularly by utilizing a social media calendar. There are lots of ways to develop a social media calendar, from very simple (for those of us who are more right brain) to detailed and complex (for the true project managers!) Following are some basics to help you get started.

Start with a strategy

The very nature of social media demands more spontaneity and frequency in contact than other, traditional forms of marketing communications; but that doesn’t mean companies should toss out basic principles of sound marketing or any other complex project. You need a strategy. Go back to Marketing 101 and ask yourself these questions in regard to social media:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. Where are you most likely to find them?
  3. What objective (results) do you hope to achieve?
  4. How will you measure your efforts?

After you identify your target audience (and there may be more than just potential customers) you need to think about what kind of information they would want to hear from your company. This is critical to your strategy. You really have to put yourself in the mind of your target audience and think about THEIR needs – their requirements – their problems – and how YOUR company can communicate with them about what’s important to THEM.

Create broad categories that will house ideas for future posts. For instance, if you’re a company that provides industrial safety services to refineries, chemical plants, drilling companies and other industrial plants, your Content Categories may include:

  1. Safety compliance
  1. How proper safety management saves money
  2. Safety regulatory issues
  3. Legislation affecting your customers’ industry
  4. Current events and news that would be of interest to your audience
  5. The latest safety equipment
  6. Managing shutdowns and turnarounds

The list could go on and on! Think of it as a filing cabinet and each of your Content Categories is a file folder full of content “ideas.” Since you’ve determined that all of these categories are of some interest to your target audience, you will want to intersperse posts related to all of them in your Content Calendar (more on that.)

Determine your social “persona”

If you’re serious about a consistent brand image for your company, it’s key to consider the “voice” and perspective that your social media posts will reflect. Even if you have multiple people handling several accounts, there has to be a written policy about the content of all your posts. In fact, if more than one person will be posting and writing blog content, this is critical.

  1. Will you post and respond from the first person “I” or from a more collective business perspective, “We”?
  2. What is the image (picture) that will be shown for your company on each site? The company logo or the individual’s picture that is the “voice” of the company on that particular site?
  3. Will your posts be strictly “on brand”? (Will they deal only with your own company?)This is difficult to pull off successfully unless you are a huge, world-wide organization.Typically, a combination of “on brand”; industry news; media that applies to your business (books, webinars, trade shows, etc.) and a broader perspective of how the world is effecting your business works best.
  4. Will your posts’ personality reflect a light and friendly, or serious and informative tone?

Answer all these questions, and then keep all posts and responses to posts consistent.

Develop a “Conversation Calendar”

Conversation calendars achieve several important objectives related to social media marketing.

  • They make your campaign pro-active instead of reactive.
  • They alleviate the stress that comes from the ongoing question, “what will we post about NOW?”
  • They ensure accountability for posting.
  • They ensure consistent posting.

There’s no magic formula for how many times you should post something on any social media platform. On some – Facebook for instance – blasts of posts all throughout the day can become a little annoying since the quantity of YOUR posts limit what a person sees when they check their news feed.

Twitter, of course, allows for more frequent posting – but you also need to consider when your target audience is most likely to be checking Twitter. If your audience works 8-5, Mon-Fri, it doesn’t make sense to post in the evening or on the week-ends.

I’ve heard it all when it comes to blogs. Some say a minimum of 3 posts per week. Others say once every week is fine. Personally, I think if your content has value and is truly relevant, there’s no magic number.  A blog almost needs its own, unique strategy. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, on a blog you are writing more than a few sentences about your subject. A good blog post takes more time and effort. Many companies are enlisting multiple individuals from different departments so that their blog covers topics from different perspectives (not just marketing!) and posts are more regular.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of finding resources outside of your company for your social media posts. Find websites and blogs that contain the same kind of content you want to deliver. Register to receive information through email or set up RSS feeds so you are regularly getting information pushed to your desktop that can be used for Twitter tweets, LinkedIn discussion topics, even blog posts.

Once you’ve done all of the above: it’s time to create the Conversation Calendar.

Here’s a basic way to do it:

Use Excel (or Word if you’re Excel challenged) and set up a spreadsheet – one for every month.

Create columns for:

  • Date
  • Day of the week
  • Time
  • Content Category
  • Column for each social media platform (Twitter, Facebook, Blog, etc.)
  • If there is more than one person posting, a column that indicates the individual responsible

Remember to post items for all of your Content Categories over a month’s time. Certain topics will appeal more to some than others. You can gauge which topics seem to be more “hot” by checking analytics through the month. For instance, if visitors to your website spike every time you post something about a certain topic, that’s an indication you should post a little more on that topic. Give your audience what they seem to want to hear.

Measure your success

You’ve already determined what you hope to achieve with your social media campaign with your strategy. Did I mention that “gaining new customers” should probably fall somewhere near the bottom of the list in terms of priorities? This is perhaps the biggest misconception about social media marketing: that the number one goal is to get new business. Of course, any company that invests in a marketing initiative has the ultimate goal of growing their business. However, social media marketing is unlike any other type of marketing. It is SOCIAL – therefore, it is about RELATIONSHIPS. There are many positive things that can occur as a result of networking that do not necessarily end in a sale – so be open minded when you decide how you will gauge success.

If you build a social media network and the people in your network feel you are providing value to them personally, I guarantee that eventually you WILL get new business. How long that takes will be determined by many different factors. Initially, start gauging success with easily measurable goals. Here are some examples:

  • A percentage of new “likes” on your Facebook page.
  • A percentage of new QUALIFIED “followers” on your Twitter page. Only you can define “qualified.” My definition is a company that is a potential customer, strategic partner, industry influencer, potential vendor, and sometimes – even a competitor. In this changing world of digital communication, the lines between competitors are blurring.Sometimes a competitor can become a strategic partner.
  • An increase in visitors to your website – and even deeper, visitors coming from specific social media accounts.
  • An increase in the number of people who register to receive your newsletter or RSS feeds of your Blog.
  • An increase in the number of comments you receive on your Blog.

All of the strategy and planning in the world can never generate the truly human moments when you or your social media ambassador is present, genuine, and delivers true value to someone. In the end, it may be the spontaneous moments that truly mark the success of your social media efforts. But – as I’ve said throughout my marketing career – if you don’t have a plan to tell you where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? It’s no different with social media. Plan for success!

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