By Tom Jacobs, President, Jacobs Agency
Manufacturers have long nurtured channel relationships with added-value tools and programs. But until recently, communicating or sharing those tools to their partners sometimes was a clunky, hard-to-measure effort. Today, social media makes it easier than ever for manufacturers to streamline communication to their channel partners. And the “sharing” nature of the platforms makes it even easier for the channels to repurpose the content in turn. There are social media platforms tailored for video, photographs, presentations and thought leadership — and even a perfect little 140-character platform for alerting partners about all of the great content that is available.
The catch? Your social media efforts are only as effective as your partners’ social media savvy. And since manufacturers are at the top of the food chain, it’s up to them to do the heavy lifting in putting together an effective social media program. So whether you’re just getting started with your social media efforts or have already established them, here are a few simple steps to ensure social success.
Step 1: Assess your channel partners’ social media savvy
Look to your partners’ activity first to figure out where your contributions can have the most impact. Use these questions to evaluate the sophistication of their efforts and determine a strategy for your own content.
1. What social media platforms are your partners using? (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, YouTube, etc.)
Develop your content for the most commonly used platforms, so they can plug and play.
2. How are they promoting their social media to their customers? (via web site, e-mail, mailers, catalogs, etc.)
If they’re not communicating their social presence, their customer engagement levels will likely be low.
3. What is the frequency of the activity: Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Multiple times a day?
Different frequencies are appropriate for different platforms, but this will help you evaluate your partners’ dedication to using each platform.
4. What appears to be the percentage of content devoted to your product category? To what products in particular?
A follow-up question on low percentages might help to clarify if the partner is simply lacking in content for that category, or if there is a mindshare issue because too many other products and offers are competing.
5. Who else is the partner following? Are they sharing content from those manufacturers? What types? Are your competitors on that list?
This can help gauge what types of content appear to be the most and least valued by your partners.
6. What is the end-customer’s level of engagement? How many followers, “likes” or views does your partner have? Are customers participating via comments, re-tweets, re-pins, etc.?
Taking note of what initiatives or types of content garner the most engagement will add focus to your plan.
7. What is the partner using social media to accomplish? Are their communications weighing too heavily on a single type of objective, such as event invitations, product showcasing or promotions, or is there a good mix?
Answering this question will help indicate each partner’s level of sophistication with using social media, and uncover opportunities for you to offer more diverse and unique content into their mix.
Step 2: Educate Or Ameliorate
Once you’ve assessed, you’re either ready to have a more strategic social conversation with your channel partners, or you’ve determined that some social media education is in order. If your channel partners don’t appear to be savvy about social, your social efforts will be in vain. Consider developing a “Social Media 101” webinar to share key platforms and examples of how other partners are using social to drive demand. Try to get an understanding of what’s preventing them from using social — is it a lack of internal resources, lack of experience with the platform or perceived lack of customer engagement? Then work with them to focus their efforts where they can have the biggest impact.
If your partners are successfully using social media, now is the time to ensure your plan and content are tailored to meet their needs and reach their customers.
Here are five questions to ask your channel partners when you meet with them:
Step 3: Optimize Your Plan
Once you have a good idea of the types of formats and content that will be the work horses of your social media communication, develop an editorial calendar or plan that details the most impactful approach for your efforts. Work closely with your partners to ensure they’re making the most of each content piece. For example, check to make sure content is being pushed out through the right platforms, or further optimize content by supporting it with an added-value event. And remember, communication shouldn’t stop after the content is posted. Encourage your partners to measure results and report back, so you can continue to optimize your program on their behalf.
Tom Jacobs is President of Jacobs Agency, which he founded in 1997. The Chicago-based agency helps companies untangle their business problems through marketing communications. Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.