Job Shops and Online Marketing, Version 2.0

We’ve now had years to watch various digital media tools find their place. Some of my opinions have changed.

Small manufacturers are becoming more aware of the importance of marketing. Granted, perhaps there was nowhere to go but up—job shops as a whole have historically done little in the way of disciplined promotion. Now, that seems to be changing. 

One of the signs I am seeing is an apparent surge in job shop website redesign. I say “apparent,” because the evidence is only anecdotal. But a striking share of the manufacturing business leaders I’ve communicated with recently either have just revamped or will soon revamp their company’s website.

Another sign: Readers are contacting me after searching out past articles I’ve written related to job shop marketing, particularly as it relates to social media. I cringe a little at this. People’s habits and expectations with regard to social media have now had time to settle in, including my own, and not every opinion I’ve written about social media represents a view I would still offer.

So let me wipe the slate clean. Here are my thoughts today with regard to various options in digital media and how useful they are to an independent manufacturer. Some of these opinions have evolved and some are the same as ever:

1. Question general marketing advice. This one has not changed—a job shop is a distinctive type of business. Not everything said about online or social media marketing, even in a B2B context, applies to a part maker. Reasons include: (1) the influencers whom shops aim to reach are particularly time-crunched people, less likely than others to split their attention across a range of media options, and (2) a job shop does not need mass attention, but instead can thrive off just a small number of very good customers. Evaluate promotional efforts according to what makes sense in this world.

2. Invest in your website. Your shop’s website remains its most important media presence. Prospects will form an impression of the culture and competence of your shop based on the organization and content of your site. That impression might not be valid—your work is parts, not pages—yet even the most proudly analytical engineer is still an emotion-driven creature. Invest to create a site that conveys the value of your shop, and also imparts the feeling you want people to have about doing business with your company.

3. Blog. Here I part ways with something I wrote several years ago: Do task yourself to write—or film—something new about your shop at the rate of at least every couple of months. Adding this content to your site gives prospects a sense of the dynamism of your shop and what is meaningful to it now. (It also gives you and the rest of the shop’s staff the same awareness.)

4. It’s okay to mass email. Send a periodic email update to your list of customers and prospects. Just don’t overthink this email and don’t be a pest. As few as three email updates per year might be sufficient. In each case, perhaps send short summaries of the two or three most recent blog posts, with links to the complete posts online. Say something interesting in the subject line. In general, your contacts will not resent this emailing if you do not bother them with excessive or irrelevant messages. The aim is to keep your shop near the front of mind for prospects who do not have a need for you today, but might tomorrow.

Why is email better than social media for conveying these reminders? Because email is where people live. The social media platforms themselves actually demonstrate that this is true. When I neglect Facebook and Twitter, the way they try to get my attention is by sending me an email. 

5. Use LinkedIn. The social media platform for business contacts is the greatest Rolodex ever—far more useful than a collection of business cards, because the contact information remains current. LinkedIn is also useful for researching companies and their management, and you can expect that some of your prospects are using the site this way. Your company should have a profile on LinkedIn, and key personnel who engage with customers should have profiles as well. (One caveat: LinkedIn seems not content to be a Rolodex and a research tool, and in my view, recent changes have moved the site in a less useful direction. Also, if you do use LinkedIn, consider joining the conversation in our discussion group, which is just for owners, managers and key personnel in machine shops.)

6. Dabble in Twitter. I like Twitter as a discovery tool. I dip my toe into it occasionally to see what people I follow are thinking about. In 2015, I’ve resolved to look at Twitter more frequently.

If you use Twitter, replace your hopes for self-promotion with the expectation of surprise, and you will do all right. That is, follow a lot of people relevant to your shop, and watch as some follow you back. Then, occasionally look at the tweets at the top of your feed. Perhaps retweet or respond. Add your own posts that might catch people who are dipping in the same way. Twitter is not a place for mass marketing, but for micro-connection.

7. And maybe that’s all. Should you create a company Facebook page? It is not heresy to do social media without taking this step. LinkedIn and Twitter are two social media resources directly deployable for business communication, but Facebook, a recreational space, does not fit that description. Users differ in the extent to which they welcome their work lives into this space. If your shop is not present in Facebook, the absence won’t cost you. 

Indeed, the really new thing about Facebook, and social media in general, is this: It’s not new anymore. Social media is mature enough that we can now see not only its promise, but also the extent of its reach. That reach has definite limits (many will never be strongly interested in it, for example), so our attention to it ought to be limited to the same extent. For the aims of a job shop seeking exposure and connections relevant to winning business, LinkedIn (first) and Twitter (second) are the best uses of that limited attention. If doing just this much fills what bandwidth you can give to social media, that’s okay. In fact, if you do just this much, you’re already doing more in social media than most other shops.