Many articles have been published about how businesses use social media, but very little information is available about how specific industries, such as the plastics industry, are using this new marketing medium. This article will show how a group of companies in and around the plastics industry are using social media, what they have learned from their experience, and what advice they have for companies that are just getting started in this new and somewhat confusing realm of the internet.
How Are Plastics Companies Using Social Media?
In summary, plastics companies are using social media to build brand awareness, expand their networks by engaging with potential customers, and effectively broadcast information by being where their customers already are.
- We use social media “to create brand awareness through engaging, informational, and entertaining content.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
- “Our social media strategy is not only to build brand awareness, but to demonstrate to our customers and prospects that social media can be an effective part of their marketing plan as well. We want them to know that if we can do it, they can, too!” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
- “We’re focused on opening the lines of communication with potential customers or industry thought leaders that we can learn from by offering quality information about industry challenges that affect their daily operations.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “We use social media to create awareness of our brand and foster interest in our products through engaging conversation and network-building. Social media is also part of our link-building strategy with regard to search engine optimization.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- Industry publication Plastics News uses social media to give readers the information they want in the format they want to be reached in, according to editor Don Loepp.
What Are The Biggest Challenges For Plastics Companies in Social Media and What Are They Doing About it?
Some of the challenges faced by plastics companies in social media include a lack of participation from target markets, getting through to the right people, and keeping communications interesting. According to the following companies, these challenges are overcome by setting examples, being as engaging as possible, and getting creative with communications.
- “Aside from slow growth for the first several months, one of our biggest challenges has been the lack of a social media presence from our target market. We continue to seek them out on different sites and invite them via email and our newsletter. Another thing that can be challenging is that most often, the person managing social media for companies is usually the marketing person, not the purchasing agent. This makes it a little tougher to get the “message” to the right person. This is usually easy to overcome just by being engaging and building relationships.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
- “We found many of our clients a little reluctant to participate in social media due to the sensitive, propriety nature of their businesses. To overcome this challenge, we present our own social media efforts as an example and share ideas for ways to participate in social media without losing control of the overall message.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “Finding companies in our target industries to converse with via social media is difficult. A lot of our target customers are just starting to incorporate social media into their routine, so they’re not as present as we’d like them to be. To work around that, we cast a wider net and engage with any business that is willing to engage with us. This not only generates increased exposure, but also positions us as an active participant so that when our target customers eventually tune in, we will be there to catch their attention and make it clear that we’re ready to converse with them.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- “Finding a balance between relative content and engaging content. Surprisingly enough, plastic packaging and film is not the sexiest product out there. We’re really focusing on thinking outside the box as we create and find content that is both engaging and relevant to our industry or products.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
The absence of the presence of certain markets in social media was noticed by Don Loepp of Plastics News as well. However, Loepp indicates that he sees an upward trend, especially in recent months and weeks, of firms getting involved in Twitter. Plastics News lightly advertises their social presence, but without much effort on their part, the publication has seen their follower count grow significantly in the very recent past. Loepp attributes this to portions of those markets coming online and seeking out known industry publications as one of their first choices to follow on Twitter. Plastics News expects to continue to see this trend grow, and will continuously focus on social media strategy in an effort to keep satisfying the expectations of the modern reader.
How is Social Media Different For B2B Versus B2C?
Most plastics companies sell to other businesses as opposed to individual consumers. For B2B firms, social media can be trickier than for those marketing themselves to individual consumers. Plastics companies agree that offering relevant, valuable, and genuinely useful information is the key to drawing in business customers via social media.
- “B2B social media requires more of a focus on customer relationships than products. Rather than speaking directly to the person in charge of purchasing, you’re communicating with an employee with many responsibilities. Because the sales cycle is usually longer, providing content that helps them do their job builds a trusting relationship that continues after the sale.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “The message has to be targeted differently. A B2C strategy requires entertainment, interest, and appeal. It has to be memorable. A B2B strategy requires that you showcase what your product/service can do for the potential customer business. A B2B strategy should focus on what value will be brought.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
- “Social media is different for B2B firms. A steady stream of genuinely useful information establishes credibility in the eyes of the potential business customer. When a business prospect discovers your website, blog, or social profile, they will be much more likely to engage with you if they can scroll through a history of posts that are loaded with information that is truly useful to them.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- “I think the biggest difference between B2B and B2C social media strategies is the audience. There are fewer opportunities to make an impact in B2B compared to B2C. The target market is (or should be) much more defined with B2B. Because the market is narrower, the message/content really needs to valuable and relevant.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
When asked whether they have concerns about competitors being able to see their social media activity, plastics companies offered the following comments:
- “Absolutely not. Everything we share is meant to be…..you guessed it, shared. With that in mind we are not going to share any private, secretive, or otherwise confidential information about our company, clients, products, or employees. Everything we put out there is meant to be informational and hopefully engaging.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
- “Not really. It’s relatively easy to ensure that trade secrets are not broadcast via social media. There is a bit of a concern that our content marketing strategy could be mimicked by the competition, but that’s a natural concern with any inbound marketing strategy. Even if competitors did mimic what we are doing, our unique strengths will still differentiate us as they always have.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- “Yes, there is a small amount of concern about what our competitors may see on our social media accounts. Presently, there is really not a huge social media presence from our competition, and we are very careful not to reveal any trade secrets. As long as we are cautious about the information we share, the benefits of using social media more than outweigh the risks.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
- “While some of our products share similarities with those of our competitors, UniTherm offers a much higher level of service to our customers. Our social media efforts really just provide another opportunity for us offer our industry experience as a support tool for our customers. At UniTherm marketing works directly with all departments, not just sales, to ensure that we maintain an appropriate brand message.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
How to Get Started in Social Media
Plastics companies have some great advice to offer those that are interested in diving into social media. Having plans, content, and goals laid out in advance is essential, as well as educating yourself and not being afraid to reach out for help.
- “Develop a plan, learn the best way to implement it, and go go go! The whole landscape of social media changes constantly. Faster than any one can keep up with. The longer you delay in implementing a strategy, the more likely the strategy will not be relevant to the landscape anymore.” Also, “Don’t be afraid to try something new or different. That’s what people are most interested in and that’s how you stand out.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
- “Consider social media a tool for developing relationships with your customer and not just a sales venue. Develop a plan for your social media by researching competition, setting guidelines and pre-planning several weeks or months worth of content.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “Educate yourself webinars from thought leaders in the social media industry, such as Hubspot. Then find some other B2B companies to follow that have a lot of engagement going on. Look not only for high follower counts, but for a lot of “likes”, comments, and conversations. Follow these companies and take note of how they get people talking. Then start doing what they do, but do put your own spin on it. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but you want to be unique, so think creatively.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- “Definitely have a goal in mind. Determine how social media will be most beneficial, know your market and know where they are (what social media channels they use). Once you get going, don’t be afraid to engage! It can be overwhelming at first, but there are plenty of people out there to help you. Stick with it and don’t get discouraged.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
What (or Who) Are the Social Media Resources Plastics Companies Look to For Guidance?
- Mashable (www.mashable.com, @mashable)
- Hubspot (www.hubspot.com, @hubspot)
- Chris Brogan (www.chrisbrogan.com, @chrisbrogan
- Mari Smith (www.marismith.com, @marismith)
- Social Media Examiner (www.socialmediaexaminer.com, @smexaminer)
- Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com, @constantcontact)
- Plus peer groups, various webinars, white papers, and blogs
Social Media Tools and Applications Used by Plastics Companies
Managing social media can seem overwhelming without organizational tools. Plastics companies are primarily using Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com) and Tweetdeck (www.tweetdeck.com) to help to organize social activity. Some even use mobile phone applications to answer tweets and messages on the go. Measurement tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights are also used to analyze valuable performance metrics.
Promoting Social Media Presence, Online and Off
Plastics companies are using the following tactics to promote their social profiles both online and off:
- Social media icons on website
- Links in emails and email signatures
- Icons and links in printed materials (brochures, packing slips, etc.) and on business cards
- In person and at events
- A “Social Media Update” column in the company newsletter
- Sales team giving applicable social media content as a resource for customers with specific concerns
- Cross-promoting social profiles (for example, mentioning Twitter in the blog and mentioning the blog on Twitter)
How Plastics Companies are Measuring Their Social Media Success
Measuring success in social media is tricky and can vary based upon your goals. Plastics companies had these perspectives on the matter:
- “Aside from the innumerable value from relationships and branding, we measure our social media success in terms of web traffic and sales leads through both internal and Google web analytics systems.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “We try not to focus too much on follower count, but we do try to foster a steady incline, even if it is gradual. We keep an eye on our Klout score as a measure of engagement, and we of course take note of how many leads we receive through our social media efforts.” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- “We don’t really base our success on followers and fans, but on whether or not people are noticing us and engaging, retweeting, commenting, etc. We also use the ‘Insights Summary’ on Facebook.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
- “Right now our focus is on engagement. So we’re looking at interactions, impressions, re-posts, and comments. As the engagement builds and becomes more self-sustaining, we’ll be more equipped to measure leads and sales generated from the various social media efforts. We want to establish a solid base first and foremost.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
It is clear that engagement is a goal for companies involved in social media, but engagement-based metrics shouldn’t be the only focus. Don Loepp, editor of Plastics News, gives an interesting perspective on social media interactions, such as blog comments. He says that he often encounters people at trade shows and receives emails from people who tell him that they have been reading the blog and share their feedback with him. “They want to share their thoughts with me,” says Loepp, but they may not want to share publicly or tie their name to their comments. This is a great point to keep in mind for those who may feel disheartened by a lack of comments and responses on their social media efforts. Measuring the number of impressions your content gets can help ascertain how many people are exposed to your content in the absence of comments and direct feedback.
Unexpected Benefits and Additional Thoughts
Participating in social media has resulted in some unexpected benefits for plastics companies, primarily the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from companies other than potential customers.
- “Through social media, we’ve been able to connect with other marketers in related fields. In addition to nurturing business relationships, our social media communication helps us find new ideas and tricks for promoting our company.” – Ashley Jernigan, UniTherm International
- “It was quite a learning curve fitting a plastics manufacturer into a social media environment. But as we started and continue to connect with other SMBs we were provided with more ideas than we could keep track of. By engaging more, we found more ways to engage.” – Johnny Bravo, PolyPak America
- “At first I thought social media was all about promoting our product, but we have found a couple of really good suppliers and freight companies [through social media] that have actually saved us money! We have also formed some valuable relationships from some very supportive businesses.” – Jennifer Toolis, ABC Plastics, Inc.
- “We were actually surprised at the number of leads that came in within the first few months of participating in social media. Knowing that an effective social media presence can take time to build, we really didn’t expect to get leads through these efforts as fast as we did. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be out there for a very long time in order to get people’s attention; you just have to be there at the right moment when they need you!” – Pam Aungst Teubner, E&T Plastics
- Don Loepp of Plastics News found that blogging allows for things that traditional publishing does not, such as sharing links to resources and providing opinions. The blog, launched approximately three years ago, turned out to be one of the most read sections on the Plastics News website.