The value of social media can be hard to quantify for manufacturers, and that makes it a hard cost to approve for many of us with a very data-intensive mindset. It’s time to turn that thought around and focus on quantifying outside reach instead of internal numbers.

People spend 6 billion hours on YouTube every month and one of the fastest-growing segments on the space is product demonstrations from companies and their brand advocates. Part of this explosion is the increase in YouTube and social media in search results for products, comparisons, and explanations.

The world has gone social and it’s proving to be a strong business tool. Manufacturing is at the tipping point where social media is about to become a major differentiator, and online research is going to heavily favor those with a bigger presence. Today is the day to develop a strategy and tag into the growing trend of positive content and outside advocates to build your brand.

Set Your Strategy

Manufacturing may feel like a unique segment when it comes to social media or even an online presence in general, but customers for every industry share some broad trends such as an increase in the amount of digital videos they watch and increases in Web research before major purchases.

Don’t regret the loss of a unique industry because this means that established principles and strategies can work for your business—no need to reinvent the social wheel as it were. While steps differ depending on which marketing company or partner you’re speaking with, there are four main areas where you’ll need to develop your strategy.

  1. Set a goal for your efforts. It’s okay if it changes over time, but you need an initial goal for social media. Common goals are lead generation, customer acquisition and increasing awareness. Start with a goal that is easy to track before specializing for your purposes, such as seeking brand advocates.
  2. Research your audience. Manufacturing audiences like videos, and not just the impressive ads like Volvo’s “Epic split” with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Customers want to see your operations and products because visuals give them a good way to approximate your quality. Look at your customers’ accounts and see what they’ve shared or what has sparked conversations.
  3. Pick a straightforward strategy. Marketing channels need to be direct and easy when you start off. Since videos are a big part of the equation for many manufactures, YouTube is often a must because of its sharing and embedding options. If you’re in that boat, look at services such as Twitter that can drive industry-specific traffic to those videos. LinkedIn is also a key place for manufacturers since it plays well all across the B2B space.
  4. Create your content strategy. After you’ve picked your strategy, start to develop content for each channel and see what you can do. Don’t put initial pressure on your team for a specific rollout right away. Test your capabilities and production rate, and then review it. This is a great way to identify if you’ve got in-house talent or need a marketing partner.
  5. Allow enough time. “Viral” marketing has been boiled down to a science by many innovative marketers. That means a lot of time and testing has helped them create a guaranteed success that companies pay a lot for. Don’t compare yourself to the viral hit; allow your marketing plenty of time to ramp up and start to grow. What’s most important first isn’t big numbers, but making sure your strategy is feasible for your team. Manufacturing purchases come with a lot of research, so content will play a role in more long-term plays than instant gratification days.

Extending an Invitation

LinkedIn touts its most popular accounts as influencers because we’re willing to read what business leaders say and hope to glean information from them. We actively click posts and share thoughts, driving a consistent force of traffic to the site.

LinkedIn doesn’t pay a dime for the vast majority of those posts. It helps individuals show off their expertise, and they’re willing to trade that service for the free exposure.

You too can use the same approach by inviting people outside of your company to speak, blog, share photos, or join you on videos. When you select top talent and give them a voice, they’ll serve to advocate for your brand and they’ll expand your reach through their connections.

There are a lot of tips and tricks we’re told about establishing this type of advocate program, but it boils down to two fundamentals: have a relationship and ask for help.

You want a relationship with your vocal customers because they’re the most likely to tell you what they love and hate. Negative feedback is just as important because it allows you to fix processes; it also creates a great case study for you. If you can take a customer’s problem—whether it’s with a general process or your specific operation—and fix it in a fashion that saves time or money, you’ve created a specific ROI.

We all like products that save us from a headache, and almost everyone has a sense of pride when it’s our suggestion that made something better.

After that type of connection, it’s time to ask for help. Many customers are willing to provide testimonials and they’re happy when it can be in their own voice. You’ve seen this in conferences where short interviews are recorded for YouTube. Those often become the most-shared piece of content around a conference because everyone wants to show off their expertise and grow their personal brand.

Manufacturing Marvels

Manufacturing in social media is currently seeing a renaissance of humor, which is great for the industry. It’s helped us shed the “boring” mantle and expand our reach by engaging customers in ways they enjoy.

The good news for you is that you don’t need to be a stand-up king or queen to rock the social media space. Some of the best brands in manufacturing are able to build large followings by mixing in humor with relevant news, production-floor videos and even what’s going on with their competitors.

SpaceX is a great example of this type of diversity. Their accounts feature relevant and engaging space travel news with an emphasis on visuals—all social media is becoming a visual medium—that draw anyone end and get people excited about the industry itself.

Posts are regular and upbeat, even if it is an accomplishment from a competitor, because SpaceX is tying itself to the emotional appeal of exploring a new frontier instead of purely selling its own brand.

Social media is the next avenue to establish credibility and convince potential customers that you know your industry. We’re still a world that trusts knowledge and leadership, but shies away from most aggression. Use social media as a leverage point for information and inspiration and you’ll find it to be a good source of leads and awareness building.