November 2011, TruckingInfo.com - Feature
Although I work in a demographically top-heavy industry that's been understandably slow to embrace free online tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube, I'm convinced that you don't have to know the title of a single Justin Beiber song
to be able to recognize that even trucking is entering an organized, intricately woven social B2B-branding age.
So, what is social media good for? And in which forms can you as fleet managers take advantage?
A few months ago, I was invited by the Ontario Trucking Association to be part of a webinar that focused on that very question. As editor of todaystrucking.com, I had already been dabbling casually in social media and multimedia, such as blogs and videos.
Trained originally as a print reporter, but maturing in the job market during the wild adolescence of the mass media Internet, I'm today somewhat of a hybrid media user/producer-equal parts cynical and curiously enthusiastic.
The turning point for me, though, was Twitter.
You've all heard of it, but like me a couple of years ago, you might still be asking, "what the heck is it?" Fair enough. Like the name suggests, think of it like a flock of birds perched on a branch, chirping to one another. You're a "tweeting" bird in that conversation.
Basically, it allows you, personally, or through a brand name, to send notes or share info in short, quickly digestible 140-character bursts with like-minded or interested "followers." Those followers in turn might "retweet" your messages or "mention" you to their own followers, constantly exposing you to new contacts via the multiplier effect.
As many businesses are starting to realize, relying on social media as a stand-alone marketing channel won't do much for you. But used to accent your overall processes, it's highly effective.
Business-wise, social media is evolving into a multifaceted tool, but for beginners, sites like Twitter and the more corporate-minded LinkedIn essentially serve three main external purposes:
1. To acquire and share knowledge and monitor the mood of a particular business community. I can't tell you how many of my articles have been inspired by ideas from these forums and peo- ple I've made contact with who have turned into valuable sources.
2. Free and limitless self-promotion and brand exposure. Many of you splash your company nameplates and logos on the sides of your trailers. I presume this is done to stake your slice of marketing share on the highway. Why not brand yourself the same way on the information highway?
3. Enabling two-way interaction for revenue-generating business. Some of you travel several times a year to attend networking events and conferences. Surely it can't hurt to make yourself known to hundreds of like-minded companies and professionals from all over the world without leaving your office.
JAN Kelley Marketing's Peter Petch, with whom I shared the panel at the OTA webinar, says smart users "sell" business- to-business offerings by spreading positive mentions and endorsements.
"Your sales team is no longer the only information conduit," he says.
By tapping into professional social ecosystems, a business can with the click of a mouse expand its reach like never before. (Twitter's reach, for example, is said to be double its 50-million-plus active user base).
Users learn about customers' changing needs or appetite for new products simply by monitoring conversations and testing reactions to the market in a particular sector, says Petch.
As well, social tools are great problem solvers. Many a time, I've thrown out "how-to" questions to the Twitterverse and received prompt, informative responses.
Let's say you're a four-truck fleet owner tripling as a driver, mechanic and IT guy. "Following" the right people on Twitter or "Liking" a related Facebook page could lead you to a solution for that software problem long before you get an answer from the 1-800 customer service rep in India.
It should go without saying (though, I'll say it anyway) that you'll need to be vigilant and selective. A fruit-bearing social network doesn't grow all on its own; and left unmaintained, it could get overrun with weeds. Also, be prepared to be hit by online pitches from companies you've never heard of.
We constantly hear consultants evangelize about the importance of company culture. However you define that, I do know that it involves buy-in from staff as well as ongoing dialogue concerning how they communicate with each other and the outside world. And with such a large percentage of your workforce out on the road or based in other terminals, is there a better way to routinely express and reinforce these messages than through the Internet?
A Facebook page, for example, can be an information depot for staff-company updates and notices, industry news, etc. The beauty of Facebook, unlike a standard corporate webpage, is that it's interactive, allowing staff (or customers and clients if you wish) to contribute to the fabric that goes into building that tight-knit culture so many companies struggle to establish.
Facebook is also where you can post pictures and host Youtube videos from company events.
If you think of your company as one big family, this is a virtual, cost-effective tool to bring that family together.
With capacity tightening and driver demographics being what they are, social media is another mechanism to market your business to potential new recruits. In an industry that struggles mightily to attract young people, it shows a certain level of sophistication that next-gen drivers are on the lookout for. As well, it provides an enhanced level of connectivity between drivers and their families and friends while they're away from home.
A creative promotional video about your company uploaded to Youtube will probably get a more effective response from young people still in the process of making career choices than a classified ad in the newspaper.
We've all been appalled by anti-truck articles by a mainstream media that is at best ignorant of our industry and at worst, openly hostile. Well, you don't have to sit back and let the media control the narrative anymore.
I know you don't always have time to write a letter to the editor in defence of your profession, but Twitter and Facebook give you an opportunity to have a say instantly. Counter biased articles about "polluting" or "dangerous" trucks with your own environmental or safety facts and expose the media outlet's readers to alternative viewpoints.
In the end, that's what trucking PR is all about -- humanizing our industry and winning the hearts and minds of the public (i.e. your customers' customers).
Social media is also a great way to make the popular press and public aware about milestones, charities or initiatives at your company or keep them apprised of special projects that might affect them. I've seen a few carriers do this when they're involved in a large heavy-haul convoy.
With little effort, each of you can affect how people see trucking.
To some of you all of this can be strange and overwhelming. I know that the personal intrusions can be uncomfortable and the information overload can be noisy to the point of turning into background static.
You're not alone.
But don't let age or your lack of experience deter you. Playing along can be as easy as you want it to be.
If you don't know where to start, my biggest piece of advice is to ask someone around you. Talk to each other about your early experiences -- what you think works or doesn't work. If they'll give you the time of day, be sure to ask your kids. Even if they just give you a tutorial on the basics, they know more about this stuff than anyone.
And who knows? If we old guys take over Facebook, it's only a matter of time before the kids think it's uncool and we'll have it all to ourselv