High society: how sign-makers are using social media
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By James Matthews-Paul
23 January 2012
Greg Barons is one of a number of sign-makers at Signs Express's Warwick branch using social media to connect with customers
Adoption of social media in the sign-making industry has come a long way since I last wrote on the subject 18 months ago. My Twitter list of UK sign and print producing businesses totals 245 at time of writing, and I get new requests from active companies in our sector on LinkedIn every day. And, increasingly, people give me less of a dumbfounded look when I use the word 'hashtag'.
Our perception of social networks as time-wasting mechanisms has altered significantly, and now we see Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook used for a combination of short-term promotions, brand promotion and marketing, local networking and after-sales support. They're also the latest way to catch up with your favourite trade magazine, research new products – and opinions thereof – and read the very latest buzz about events.
It seems one platform is fulfilling these criteria best for British sign and display producers. "Twitter has been the most successful for us so far," comments Fleur Napier, who handles the account at Signs Express Warwick. "It has allowed us to connect and converse with [local] firms, especially through our membership and involvement with the #Warwicktweetup."
Tweet-ups of this nature allow businesses in a given area to link up in person, putting paid to the fears that tweeting is ethereal and not translatable to real world leads and conversions. "It also keeps us up to date with local news and events, and provides us with an easy method to stay in touch with our existing customers," Napier continues. "This has resulted in a handful of enquiries and orders, which cannot be said of the other social media sites. Most of all it has enhanced our brand recognition, with internet searches for 'Signs Express Warwick' experiencing a huge increase."
"Twitter is the main one for us," agrees Gary Gosney, sales and marketing manager for Kremer Signs. "We use it to engage with new customers; it helps us gauge the customer's personality and their business's needs, as well as track when our business is recommended by an existing client. Recently we ran a promotion offering our in-house studio's design services for free, which translates to a saving of £299 plus VAT, to entice new custom. We have converted at least seven customers this year with that offer alone."
It's important to get the technique right with Twitter; thinking about how your approach would work in person is a good yardstick. Nobody sells anything by locating a potential client and shouting a list of products in their face repeatedly. What works is informing and conversing, working out what your lead needs and how to provide it to them – and the same goes for when you're tweeting.
LinkedIn is probably the best virtual representation of my real life business network; when I receive someone's business card I request a link straight away. Again, it operates on the real world principle: if you sent a friendly message in the days after an initial meeting, you're likely to be remembered, and it's easier to make contact for business purposes later on.
Gosney maintains Kremer Signs's company profile on a regular basis and everyone, from individual sales representatives to the managing director, is linked to it. "Mainly, LinkedIn helps us stay connected with existing customers. It's also a great way of showcasing who you are and what you do," he adds.
One thing hasn't changed since my last article: people want to keep their Facebook out of their business life. "As a B2B company within a visually orientated industry, Facebook is useful for displaying our work. However, we find driving traffic and making contact via this site alone quite difficult," says Napier. Gosney agrees, adding that people 'prefer to keep Facebook personal'.
Most companies don't think of Flickr, Vimeo and YouTube as social networks, but with their huge traffic pull and comprehensive searchability they make for an excellent portfolio mechanism. This is especially true of display makers, whose products are readily identified by sight but perhaps not by description. Kremer Signs, for example, keeps a Flickr gallery of its work for easy reference by clients who might not be familiar with technical sign industry terms, and Signs Express Warwick has recently produced its first YouTube video showcasing the artistry of its vehicle wrap specialists.
As each of these companies has realised, it's selecting the right mix for your purposes that's important. Most importantly, don't drop the ball: there's nothing worse than an empty feed, and a little planning and staff training goes a long way.
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