We're going to switch gears this week on Small Business Marketing Talk to discuss the social media efforts of a company that is not necessarily a small business – but whose core customer is.
I had pleasure of interviewing Roger Phelps, Promotional Communication Manager at STIHL Inc. If you are a green industry professional, then you are familiar with the line of STIHL products that includes chainsaws, leaf blowers, string trimmers, and more.
If you happen to be a weekend lawn and garden warrior and are not familiar with STIHL, then you may want to take a look. STIHL also markets their products to homeowners who are tired of wasting their money on throw-away power tools. It is tempting, especially in this tight economy, to save a few bucks on a chainsaw or blower. Yet, your hopes quickly vanish when it doesn't start, and when it does, it lacks the power to perform.
I've been there too. There isn't enough room here to cover those frustrating experiences, so just know that when I sold my landscape business I kept a STIHL blower and saw for my personal use.
Listening and Learning from Customers
As small business owners, we can learn something from Roger's interaction with his customers. He is pretty much an evangelist for STIHL – traveling around the country telling the STIHL story to those that support and otherwise interact with the STIHL brand. Think about how much easier you can do this in your local market. Are you?
Are you getting out there to learn how your customers are using your products and services? In addition to the obvious benefits, this is a source of valuable anecdotes and stories that you can use in your social media marketing. We all love to hear about successes, and along with them, the inevitable challenges that you helped your customers to solve.
It was actually an off-hand Tweet from Roger a few months ago that made this interview possible. In so many words, his message was…"Can we start moving beyond the hype and hear about some practical uses of how social media is working."
I had already been thinking about this series so I asked Roger to step up to the plate. What I learned was manufacturing companies like STIHL are faced with the same social media challenges and opportunities as the rest of us. They don't want to waste their time on the networks either if it can be otherwise productively spent face-to-face with the customers they serve. So, thus far, they are focused on listening, learning, and monitoring their brand.
Aligning Your Social Media Strategy
Roger is helping STIHL to learn about social media by dipping a toe into the social media waters. He understands that one of the greatest social media opportunities is for extending the brand. Yet, he is also aware that social media marketing has to be aligned with the core marketing strategy of the business – and this is true whether your business is large or small.
STIHL has used social media to engage with a number of specific communities. One is the sporting event seen on ESPN2 and ESPNU, the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series. Another that is very close to my home here in the Chicago area is the STIHL Tour des Trees. As a Certified Arborist and a triathlete for over 20 years, this project with the renowned Morton Arboretum is one that I am especially fond of.
STIHL is combining their obvious alignment with tree care professionals with a cross-country bicycle tour to support the Tree Fund, America's largest fundraiser for tree research and education. How can you beat that – get some exercise, commune with nature, and support the environment!
Collaborating with Communities
The lesson I take from how Roger and STIHL are using social media is to build and bridge their online communities with the social Web. This is the art of social media marketing – helping communities to do what they want to do.
You don't have to create communities – they are already there. You just have to get involved and meet them where they are. And when you do that, you build the trust that encourages the kind of customer driven marketing that we have historically know as word-of-mouth. This type of customer support is not created; it is co-created through engagement. And the collaboration that comes from that not only builds sustainable relationships, but sustainable products too.
What's next for organizations like STIHL? They have to determine if they should develop unique strategies for each of their profit centers and divisions, or create one umbrella that serves everyone. The challenge is to respect the unique qualities of the community members – what is sometimes referred to as their social graphs.
The social networks are changing (or should) how you approach your marketing. Your customers should be driving your strategy over the long term, and that means your social media presence should be providing content that supports what is supporting you and your business – those customers.
As a small business, your job is simple: focus on creating and managing content that takes your experience and expertise and delivers it in a manner that is easily consumable by those that can benefit from it. Rich, multi-media content is easily embedded into a blog that can be the hub for your social media marketing.
You don't need a big budget to make this work. Like Roger and STIHL Inc, you simply need to get to listen and learn from your customers, and never stop letting them know that you are here for them.
When I write any blog post, and especially with this Small Business Marketing Talk series, I am always looking for the practical lesson that we can all use from these real experiences.
In this case, I think Roger said it well even before our interview.
Move beyond the hype of social media – just get to know your customers and they will show you the way to your own success.
You can connect with Roger Phelps on Twitter where he is @uphelpsr
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