Welcome back to our series on marketing your industrial automation business. This installment, I think, will be the most interesting for many of you out there—and the one that will probably have you questioning your marketing mix. That’s right—this one is all about social media marketing, and we’re going to be talking a lot more than LinkedIn here.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Using the Channel Properly
First off, let’s talk about what social media is for, so we have some clear guidelines on how to use it, why you should be using it, and the overall value. I’ll kick it off by saying from the start that after organic search, social media is the number one driver of traffic to International Society of Automation (ISA) web properties. It’s not email. It’s not referrals or banner ads. It’s social media—and in some months, it actually beats organic search.
Social media marketing is valuable in that it can help build your brand, provide social proof, and get your products in front of people that aren’t on your email or physical mailing lists. It can be used to sell products, but it really shines when it comes to awareness, branding, brand affinity and humanization, and customer service. Let’s face it—these days, your customer service is just as important as your marketing when it comes to selling products. We’ll get into these in more detail later, but for now, just keep a high-level view of this in mind.
That being said, there are a lot of things that many people in the industrial automation field do on social media do that can almost guarantee they’re going to have a very bad time. As usual, it’s easier to illustrate what you should do by talking about what you shouldn’t do, so let’s cover those now before diving into how to improve.
How to Have a Bad Time on Social Media
As the name implies, social media is a social channel, meaning you should be using it to talk to people—not just shout from the rafters about how great your products and services are, how amazing your business is, or to shove boring technical whitepapers in people’s faces. There is a time and place for those activities, but if that’s all you do, you’re going to have a very bad time.
Think about it from the customer’s perspective. If your favorite consumer brand was only talking about the stuff they wanted you to buy from them over and over again, without providing any enjoyable content, engaging with their users who comment on their posts, or just being helpful at all, in any way, would you follow them on social?
People don’t go on social media to be just served a ton of ads or to hear a company talk about how great they are. Yes, the same goes for B2B. If you don’t bring any free, quality consumable content to the table, you’re going to be talking to yourself in a hurry—and speaking of talking to yourself, that brings us to the next way to have a bad time on social...
Relying On Organic Social Media To Sell
Want to know what it’s like to talk to yourself in the digital age? Try to run a business on organic social media and you’ll find out! Relying on organic (unpaid) social media as a brand simply will not work, and hasn’t in the past 10 years. The algorithms of all major social media platforms have shifted to prefer and show content made by actual people, not brands, even if you follow those brands. Think about it—how often do you see posts from brands that aren’t paid ads in your personal social media feeds? Not very often, right? That’s by design. As of April 2020, only about 5% of your brand’s own followers will ever see an organic post. The exception to this rule are posts that people really like. Here’s an overly-simplified view of how organic social for brands works on most platforms—at least at the time of this writing:
Awesome Automation Company makes a post and sends it out. The social media platform algorithm takes and analyzes that post to determine what kind of post it is (such as a photo, a video, or a text post with an external link) and tries to figure out what kind of engagement it would get based on that. Then the algorithm needs to figure out who to show this post to, so it looks at your followers and their history with your brand. It will consider how often each person engages with your other posts (taking into account comments, shares, likes, and so on), and then it will serve out the post based on timeliness, how often the followers are online, and so on—sort of like a small test to see what happens. From there, things can go either one of two ways: people will start to engage with the post and the algorithms will show it more, or no one will really do too much with it, and the post will fade into the social media ether as if it never existed.
Of course, again, this was the over-simplified version of how the algorithms work, but you get the idea. If people don’t engage with, comment on, or share your post, you are basically talking to yourself. How many times have you commented on, liked, or shared a post from a company that is trying to get you to buy something? Not often, right?
Organic social posts should be reserved for interesting posts that are not asking people to buy something. I mean, you can do it, and you might get a sale or two from it, but really, that’s not an ideal strategy. Save your sales pitches for paid ads, and provide useful and interesting content for organic. Ask your audience questions and encourage people to share and provide feedback right on the post. Also, help yourself out and use relevant and "real" hashtags (not something you just made up and nobody is actually searching for except if you’re branding something) in your posts when appropriate. Don’t spam viewers with a million hashtags, unless you’re on a platform like Instagram where it’s more acceptable etiquette. Speaking of Instagram…
LinkedIn Is Not the Only B2B Social Platform in Existence
If you take away nothing else from this entire marketing series, this would be it. I want everyone to take a deep breath and get ready for a gut check. Here it is: LinkedIn is not the only social media platform you should be on.
I know that a lot of industrial automation companies love LinkedIn, but it must be said. In fact, for us at ISA, LinkedIn isn’t anywhere near the largest driver of relevant traffic. For us, that’s Facebook—none of the others even come close. Facebook beats LinkedIn for ISA by literally hundreds of thousands of visits per month. Our audience on Facebook is more than triple the size of LinkedIn. While LinkedIn is our second-highest driver of social traffic, here’s something that might blow your mind—sometimes it is replaced by either Twitter or Pinterest.
Yes, I said Pinterest. Your mind is blown, right?
Industrial automation on Pinterest? Yes. We’ve made it work for us—even with only one or two paid ads. The rest of our traffic there is organic.
Now, you might say, didn’t I just tell you not to do only organic posts on social media? Yes, but you know why we’re successful over there on Pinterest? Because we’re "the only game in town" on that platform—that’s why. We also have a clean, regularly updated account that uses the proper hashtags on posts, and we post interesting—and funny!—content, among other things.
I’m not going to give away the store on how exactly we did it. I’m not telling you to run out and spend two weeks making a Pinterest account, or to drop 10,000 USD on Pinterest ads. But I am saying, don't be afraid to experiment on platforms. You never know what might hit.
Just don't ever test with more money than you're comfortable with losing, because it could always fail. That's why it's called a "test," right?
Right now, we're showing major success on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as you would expect. Still, our following and traffic from other sources, such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Reddit, is high as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment on other platforms! At a bare minimum, I recommend doing paid ads on Facebook, Instagram, and maybe Twitter to start. (When you do a paid Facebook ad, you can get an Instagram and a Facebook Audience Network ad included in the price.) At ISA, in terms of social media, we do paid advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and a little bit of Pinterest, and we’re showing solid results on those channels.
By the way, since we’re talking about LinkedIn and paid ads—LinkedIn is the only platform where I would personally not recommend doing paid ads. The cost-per-click/acquisition is extremely high compared to other platforms, and there are sometimes other "interesting" issues with paid LinkedIn ads—especially in terms of ad spend. Try them if you want—just don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you are looking for leads on LinkedIn, your sales team can try one-to-one prospecting, but actual paid ads are usually not a good idea.
What You Should Do On Social Media
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what to do on social media. But just in case, I’ll do a quick bulleted list of some things you can start doing today with minimal spend and effort to get started. This is in no way a complete list, and it should not be considered a guide to what we at ISA do on social channels, but this can help get you comfortable enough to get started. Plus, the internet is full of ideas for social—all you need to do is Google if you want to go further.
In no particular order:
- Make sure all your social media profiles are completely filled out and linked on your website and in the footer of your emails. This helps people find you, not only on the platforms themselves, but also in search channels. There’s no point in having social media channels if no one can find them—or worse, if someone does find them and thinks they’re fake because they had no idea your company even had an account.
- Prepare to run paid ads on social. Before you start paying for ads, you’ll want to make sure you target the right people and can track your returns properly. Upload your email lists into the social media ads platforms. Once you have them there, the platform will try to match the addresses on your list to their user database. That’s good for finding your existing audience, but the best part is, you can create lookalike audiences on some platforms, like Facebook. This can help you find new potential customers that may not know you yet!
- Implement social media conversion pixels on your website and landing pages. For this part, you may need some help from your IT team, but this is a crucial step. If you don’t do this, you’ll never know what your efforts are doing or how many sales you get from them. You won’t be able to retarget previous site visitors or make lookalike lists based on page visitors.
- Test everything. Don’t just have one version of your paid social ads in your campaigns. Make multiple ads with different combinations of ad copy, headlines, imagery, video, targeting, and more. Just because you think something will work, doesn’t mean that it will. The only way to know what your audience will like is to test. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—never test with more money than you’re prepared to lose entirely. Not everything is going to work, but you won’t know until you try. So start off relatively small and scale up once you’ve landed on something that works for you.
- Tools will make your life a lot easier. If you’re new to social media, get yourself a tool like Hootsuite, Buffer, or my personal favorite for paid social, AdEspresso. They can help you quickly make, report, and test multiple versions of ads all in one place. Some even have automatic optimization that can help take the guesswork out of optimizing your ad spend between multiple versions of your ads. You’ll also want to invest in a solid content calendar tool so you can schedule your posts in advance and so you’re not posting too much. In terms of frequency, I like to follow the rule of three—no more than three posts per day on all platforms. Two posts are brand-related (either product or content) and one post is curated content from another source that is of interest to the industrial automation or engineering audience like news, interesting formulas, or other information.
- Engagement and customer service are crucial. If you’re not going to engage with your commenters and people who message you on social, don’t even do social media. Seriously. Other brands have set the bar extremely high in terms of engagement and customer service engagement, and if you can’t or won’t keep up, this might not the channel for you. Be responsive to people who ask you questions or reply to comments on your posts, even negative ones—but don’t feed the trolls. Nobody wins in a flame war.
- Be mindful of what you post. Remember, this is social media, and if you post something tone deaf, offensive, ridiculous, or something that could even be misinterpreted that way, you will be roasted by the public. If you want to see examples of what not to do as a brand on social media, head over to one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Condescending Corporate Brand Page. You will see plenty of examples of real posts by real brands that really failed—by being condescending, tone deaf, or otherwise misjudging what their audience wanted to see. Get multiple opinions on your posts before you put them up there—especially from people outside of your industry if you can, since they will likely have a different mindset than you and your colleagues. When in doubt, don’t post.
- Build your brand and experiment with different voices on different channels. Don’t use the same brand voice on LinkedIn as you do on TikTok or Instagram, or vice versa. The demographics on these different platforms vary wildly, and what will work on one will not on others. Don’t be afraid to be funny on TikTok or Instagram, but the humor should feel genuine, not forced (not like "dad joke," "how do you do, fellow kids?" funny). Keep your serious, professional tones for your LinkedIn. Twitter and Facebook are where you can successfully pull off a good mix of humor and professionalism.
Nobody is telling you to become a comedian, or turn your business page into a meme account (although don’t be afraid of posting relevant ones on your Instagram!). But it is possible to demonstrate your expertise and humanize your brand at the same time on these channels—people don’t buy from robots, not even in this industry.
Industrial automation companies do not do enough brand building and awareness. You might think everyone in this niche knows you already. That may be true—they might know your name, but do they know why they should support you? Are you top of mind when it comes to making a sale, or are you just another name in the pack? Brand awareness campaigns are important. They don’t lead to instant sales or traffic, but they keep you top of mind when that time comes, sort of like a TV commercial. And speaking of TV commercials…
Join us next time, when we’ll cover some of the more modern channels such as OTT, CTV, and audio ads. These are some channels that many people overlook, or may not think would be a good fit for an automation company, but guess what—they can work for you. We’ll talk about how to find the right ones and test them out.
Refresh your memory on previous posts in this series, or catch up now:
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