How To Win Fans And Influence Posters


"There’s a hot new marketing platform called social media,” is how this article would have started if it were written in 2008. Ten years later, the phenomenon needs no introduction. Social media is the de facto face of the internet today and represents one of the primary ways people interact with each other—and with businesses.

The Pew Research Center reports that approximately 75 percent of U.S. adults use at least one form of social media on a regular basis, with most using multiple platforms several times a day. The average user will spend five years and four months on social media in their lifetime, according to Social Media Today, compared to just one year and three months socializing directly with people. In other words: your customers are using social media, and you should be too.

You already know that, of course, and you have all your accounts up and running. The question is, are you doing it right? How should suppliers and distributors be using social media today? To find that out, PPB spoke with some of the most prolific social media users in the promotional products industry to learn what you should—and shouldn’t—do to make the most of your online image.

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DO inform and entertain.

Despite what you may think, the key component of social media isn’t two-way communication. When people click their Facebook or Twitter app, they’re looking to be entertained, so your posts should be designed to grab and keep their attention.

There are many ways to capture eyeballs, but Mark Graham, founder of Toronto, Ontario-based distributor RIGHTSLEEVE and chief platform officer of business services company commonsku, has found a strategy that he thinks works best. “If you look at anyone in the industry—or anyone outside the industry—who is really effective at social media, chances are you are going to see people who are nailing it when it comes to education and inspiration,” he says. “Good ideas spread very quickly on social media.”

Things like infographics and informative TED Talk-style videos are perfect for capturing attention while selling the most important thing you can on social media: yourself. Speaking of which …

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DON'T sell.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to pitch products. It may be tempting to show new releases, but that’s the quickest way to get someone to swipe directly past your post.

“Today, newer generations openly detest traditional invasive advertising,” says Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS, CEO of The Scarlet Marketeer in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “They are born of the generations where they can shut off and avoid ad messages, and view content they want, when they want it.”

Product posts on social media are treated like ads: they get in the way of what the user wants. Worse, they can reduce a supplier or distributor to just another vendor. “The minute we just feature pictures and descriptions of products, and not include why and how the ideas can be used strategically, we’re putting ourselves on the same level as the internet sources who sell cheap items, not strategic branding campaigns,” Sokalski says.

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DO engage with your audience.

Where social media stands apart from traditional advertising is interactivity. Social accounts and apps allow for direct contact with your clients and prospects, creating conversations and relationships more organically than traditional media.

“The most important part of using social media is to be responsive and engage with people,” says Anna Henley, marketing director for business services company PromoCorner in Middleboro, Massachusetts. “So many people miss the ‘social’ part of social media and simply look at it with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude. That idea won’t get you far.”

The basic tenets of social media interaction—create posts, respond to comments, open dialogues—are easy. The next level of audience engagement is being proactive. Instead of waiting for prospects to come to you, find and follow them. Comment on their posts with genuine interest. Find their industry groups and join those conversations. Getting your name out there and displaying a level of engagement shows not just your commitment, but also that you are an individual.

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DON'T forget to post.

“The last thing you want is for someone to find your Facebook page or your Instagram account and discover you haven’t posted anything there in months,” says Josh Storey, social media writer for Issaquah, Washington-based supplier SanMar. “Inactivity makes you look lazy or unorganized at best. At worst, the customer will assume you’re no longer in business.”

If keeping up with social media is a challenge, create an editorial calendar with content ideas throughout the year. This can make it easy to keep a schedule and to always have a topic ready. If it still seems overwhelming, start small. “Focus your efforts on one or two networks at first, and then slowly expand as your mental bandwidth increases,” Storey says.

And don’t forget that responding to other people is just as important as making regular updates. “Don’t post and ghost,” says Charity Gibson, national account coordinator for Newark, New Jersey-based supplier Peerless Umbrella Co. “If people are messaging your page, reply to their messages. If they are commenting on your post, comment back and keep the conversation going.”

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DO use #hashtags.

Remember that mark we used to call a “pound” or “number” symbol? Today, that’s called a hashtag, and it’s a way to associate your posts to relevant topics and become part of the larger conversation on #marketing, #thoughtleadership or how #catsarejerks (because they are).

“Hashtags are huge,” Gibson says. “The tags you add into your posts will determine who sees what you share.” She suggests suppliers use hashtags that are relevant to distributors, such as #promotionalproducts and #ppaiexpo. Distributors will need to do research into the topics that are relevant to their clients and prospects.

“What events are your clients attending? What hashtags do they follow? If you figure this out and then use these hashtags (when relevant) in your posts, there is a much greater chance of the right people seeing your posts,” she says.

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DON'T talk about politics, religion or anything controversial.

We live in a highly polarized era where a single comment can go viral in a way you didn’t intend. So, while it may be funny, posting that political meme does you no service and can backfire quickly.

“It’s pretty bad to get into political issues when your social account represents your business,” says Dale Denham, MAS+, chief information officer for distributor Geiger in Lewiston, Maine. “It risks alienating customers who feel strongly.”

To avoid a firestorm, keep personal opinions off your professional accounts. You may even want to avoid posting anything on private profiles, since they can be linked back to your company and cause serious damage to your reputation.

Of course, the internet being what it is, sometimes controversy is unavoidable. When this happens, Kirby Hasseman, CEO of distributor Hasseman Marketing in Coshocton, Ohio, suggests keeping a level head and doing damage control. “There will always be people who don’t like you, but you don’t have to engage with them,” he says. “Getting into an argument or a mean-spirited conversation on Facebook is never going to be a blessing. If you need to have the discussion, take it offline.”

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DO target your audience on their preferred platform.

Today’s social media ecosphere includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest and Tumblr, with new platforms popping up all the time. “The reality is you have prospects and customers on all these platforms, and they’re trying to engage with all sorts of different partners,” Graham says. “If you aren’t there, you won’t be able to reach them.”

It can be nearly impossible to maintain a presence everywhere. To make the most of your efforts, Hasseman recommends focusing on the platform that best represents your audience. “The best social media platform depends on the client base,” he says. “If you’re selling to Millennials it might be a different answer than if your clients are Baby Boomers. If you’re selling to women, it might be different than men.”

It’s hard to go wrong with Facebook as your default medium. Mark Zuckerberg’s baby still has the largest piece of the pie, boasting more than 2.2 billion active users as of August 2018, according to content marketing analyst Dreamgrow. Twitter and Instagram are also easy and popular entry points with large user bases.

If you’re still lost, play to your strengths. “If you’re a great writer, then you might be into blogging and putting it on Facebook or LinkedIn,” Hasseman says. “If you’re into taking pictures or video, then maybe Instagram might be a better play.”

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DON'T use social media if it isn’t for you.

Finally, the hot take: social media isn’t for everyone. Despite the popular narrative, it is possible to be a success without social media. “I believe [social media] can be valuable, but I would not say it is important,” Denham says. “Many people do very well without social media while others succeed with it. Social media is a tool.”

Like any tool, social media is only effective when someone knows how to use it. When handled poorly, your online posts can make your company look out of touch, out of business or just out of its mind. If Facebook isn’t working for you, it’s OK to walk away.

If you do decide to stop your social media efforts, shut down your accounts. Leaving them active without new posts can create the impression that your company is outdated or closed. Plus, you don’t want your online legacy to be a Grumpy Cat meme.

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Kyle A. Richardson is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia and the former editor-in-chief of Promo Marketing magazine. Reach him at www.karichardson.com. 

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