Social marketing and the new Web2.0 tools that are now available are changing the interaction consumers have with customer-facing businesses, and this is altering the way we market products and services.

Marketing Control in Community's Hands, Not Company's

What has prompted this change? Many reasons can be cited, but probably the predominant issue is the lack of trust that customers have of particularly large corporations and the growing distaste of “marketing-speak.” This over-hyped (oversold benefits and undersold risk) mentality undoubtedly fueled our current economic situation.

Customers now rely more and more on personal recommendations by their peer group and want to get behind the marketed business face of a corporation and connect with real people. New social-media tools allow this to happen, and these interactions take place on platforms that are now far more public, so everyone has the chance to see the real face of a business.

Social interactions handled well can result in business growth. If handled poorly, however, they can rapidly destroy a business brand and reputation. Do we have a choice about using these tools? If our customers use these tools to discuss their experiences, then we need to be part of those conversations. Whether to defend against criticism or take advantage of a recommendation, we need to be on the same page.

Social-media audience size saw a 31% growth (302 million people) during the last year, compared with 21% growth of e-mail (277 million people) during the same period. The statistics are from users in the U.S., several European countries, Australia and Brazil (August 2008 to August 2009). The popularity of these new sites is based on the “always-on” community. There is no need for in-boxes as information is streamed to applications in real-time, and some applications show status updates so we can find out what people are doing and where they are just by connecting to their social sites.[1]

http://heattreat.eurotherm.com

Heat Treatment and Social-Marketing Tools

Websites and Blogs
A website or web blog site is termed your social-marketing headquarters. This is where you ultimately want your customers to click through to and contact you (and subsequently purchase your services or products). A website rank is by total number of visits – the more the better. There are many ways to increase traffic to websites. Search engines, social-media sites and eZines/e-mail newsletters are typically the major tools utilized to drive traffic to your website.

In the heat-treat industry, www.industrialheating.com and www.heattreaton line.com are two vibrant websites that have undergone significant changes over the past few years. These sites now offer expert insights, customer videos and free training, including the recently launched MTI TV that shows online heat-treatment courses hosted by industry experts. The RSS feed for daily news from Industrial Heating is useful to automatically feed your e-mail inbox with the latest heat-treat industry news.

Some useful tips for a successful website from an online marketing plan:[2]
  • Capture your vision
  • Explain your purpose or problem you are trying to solve
  • Provide excellent content that educates your visitors
  • Created in mind for your ideal client
  • Showcase your services
  • Provide recommendations or “social proof”
  • Company background information
  • Contact information including e-mail and phone
Blog Sites
The “blog” name comes from a shortened version of web log and is termed a website in which items are posted regularly in reverse chronological order (Wikipedia, November 2008). Heat-treat blog sites such as www.themonty.com and http://heattreat.eurotherm.com show you the latest news either about the industry or latest products and solutions.

Microblogging - Twitter
This service allows users to send up to 140- character messages to people (followers) who have subscribed to see them.[1] There is a magic of connecting with customers on Twitter, networking with experts in the industry and staying connected to future customers and prospects.

This tool is useful to monitor communications around companies and their performance and in order to garner valuable feedback. A good practice is to find your loyal customers and encourage them to be your best marketers. This can be motivated through special incentives.[3]

Other uses for Twitter are to find and offer advice, offer proactive service and, as previously mentioned, drive traffic to the company website or blog.[4] Some current twitter usernames in the heat-treat com-munity are @ipsenupdate, @indheat, @heattreatforum, @heattreat news and @htbeyond. To access these accounts, type twitter/username (e.g., http://twitter/ipsen update).

Facebook
With over 300 million active users, Facebook now ranks as the most-used social networking site worldwide (Wikipedia, December 2009). This site offers a deeper, richer level of engagement than other sites (e.g., LinkedIn) and enables us to build stronger bridges of trust with others.[4]

Although used primarily for personal and family contacts, Facebook pages are an application designed for groups and company use. A search in groups for “heat treat” gave 317 page results (December 2009). Most of these are related to companies offering treatments for medical conditions, but the occasional group like Heat Treatment Technicians and Heat Treatment and Beyond are targeted specifically at the heat-treat industry.

LinkedIn
This is a business-oriented social-networking site founded in 2002. It now has 50 million registered users spanning more than 200 countries worldwide (Wikipedia, November 2008). While the site initially provided a link to find jobs or employees, it now has grown in application and provides opportunities to connect with industry experts, find vendors and consultants, develop and market your business and generate leads.[4] Some current heat-treat-related groups include:
  • Bodycote Thermal Processing Forum
  • Heat Treatment
  • Heat Treatment & Beyond
  • Metallurgy and Material Science
  • SECO/WARWICK Furnaces & Atmospheres for Today’s Technology
  • TMS - The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society
Communities with Online Registration
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.” George Bernard Shaw

The Harvard Business Review[5] in November 2009 embraced social-media tools in an article titled “Community Relations 2.0.” They highlighted the increase in pace required to meet and address customer activity utilizing a social community to develop rich, deep bonds that helped improve knowledge-building and transfer as well as filtering of information.

Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups can be created to form social communities. Now, specific web applications also exist such as the Heat Treat Forum (www.heattreatforum.com), which allow like-minded individuals to meet virtually and discuss common issues.

A discussion topic in the heattreatforum on Protecting Your Intellectual Property (IP) and Social Media serves to illustrate the valuable information you can gain from linking into other people’s knowledge base.

Local Meetup communities (www.meetup.com) take this to the next level by also encouraging face-to-face meetings (generally monthly) to take online conversations offline.[4]

Videos and YouTube
A rich multimedia platform for social media includes the use of videos. As mentioned, both Industrial Heating and the MTI have now embedded the use of videos on their home pages, and there is starting to be a large collection of heat-treatment-related videos appearing on YouTube.

A search for “heat treating” in YouTube yields 2,790 entries, including those from equipment manufacturers and captive and commercial heat treaters. Some of these companies are as follows:
  • ALD-Holcroft
  • Bodycote
  • Ipsen
  • Nevada Heat Treating
  • Midwest ThermalVac
  • Solar Manufacturing
Julian Bashore (Bodycote Representative Director Japan) says, “Our facility in Highland Heights, Ohio, allows potential customers to virtually tour the inside of the factory using YouTube.”

Challenge to the Industry - Social-Media Planning

Many companies are now asking various questions about social media. Two typical questions are:
  • How do I start?
  • What time and resources are required?
The three key issues in social media are to (1) listen, (2) engage and (3) measure. Use the tools described earlier to listen to your customers and prospective customers. If the worldwide web is a giant restaurant, start by “joining the conversation and getting a seat at someone else’s table.”[4]

Once you have listened, start engaging further with your customers by setting a table of your own (creating blog sites, profiles, groups, etc.). Once you have your own table, you can then monitor and measure the effectiveness of your activities and adjust your plan accordingly.

To help, a generic timetable is suggested:[6]
  • Blogs: 1 hour twice per week
  • Twitter: 15 minutes every other day
  • Facebook: 20 minutes a day
  • YouTube: 10 hours a month
  • LinkedIn: 1 hour a month
  • Meetup: 1 hour a week per event


Conclusion

What does all this mean as a heat treater in 2010? The Internet has been termed the information superhighway, but now the buzz is all about Web2.0. This is where the web has become “an interconnected maze of conversation, a global symphony of voices speaking at once.”[4]

To be successful in social media you have to find a way to break though all the noise, humanize your brand and, above all, communicate that unique ingredient that customers find special and interesting about your company. To do this you need to formulate a Social Marketing Plan.

Further valuable information is available at the social-media guide site www.mashable.com. IH

For more information: Contact Peter Sherwin, business development manager, Eurotherm (Heat Treatment North America) 741-f Miller Drive SE, Leesburg, VA 20175; tel: 571-246-3809; e-mail: Peter.Sherwin@eurotherm.com. Peter runs the Eurotherm Social Media sites “Heat Treatment and Beyond” on Wordpress (Blog), LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.