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One way social media marketing

Social media marketing is all about engagement and two-way conversations. Or is it? With a great product or service and a vocal customer base, companies utilizing social media can run very successful campaigns with small capital expenditure. But, what do you do if you don’t have all of the pieces in place?

It starts with a good product or service

If you don’t have a great product or service, fix it before doing any of this. If you do have a great product but don’t have a vocal audience, you have a big challenge relative to social media, but you don’t have to leave the table. Case in point, Screaming Circuits; an EMS (electronics manufacturing service) provider in the Portland, Oregon suburb, Canby. By breaking several social media marketing conventions, Screaming Circuits has experienced strong growth while EMS giants like Benchmark Electronics, Solectron Corp and Suntron have closed their doors or reduced their presence in the Portland area.

The large manufacturers that Screaming Circuits competes with can saturate OEM (original equipment manufacturer) purchasing departments with enough direct sales reps and marketing materials to bludgeon through just about any wall. Once in, they stand beside competitors from all over the world, all just waiting to offer a lower price. Electronics manufacturing is a saturated and very competitive industry.

Rather than slug through thick competition to get into those purchasing departments, Screaming Circuits sells manufacturing services directly to electrical engineers, largely bypassing standard sales channels. This poses two rather significant challenges.

What if no one cares?

First, engineers traditionally don’t care about manufacturing. It has always been somebody else’s problem. Manufacturing is the province of production managers and purchasing departments, not engineers. Purchasing departments have the expertise and systems in place to ensure stability, low cost and high quality. Engineers don’t care about the nuances and considerations. They just want working boards in their hands.

Second, these engineers tend to rebel against overt marketing in general, and against social media in particular. For example, a study conducted in 2012, by EE Times magazine reported: “Seventy-one percent of respondents [engineers] never use social networking to request or share business information, and 81 percent never use the technology to collaboratively solve technical problems or find new products and suppliers.”

That means 81 percent of Screaming Circuits’ customers don’t participate in the key ingredient of a successful social media marketing program. That sounds like a recipe for social media marketing failure, and it would be in many companies. But Screaming Circuits has sustained industry-beating growth since introducing social media marketing to the engineering world in 2006.

Know which rules to follow and which to break

In social media marketing, the mantra is to engage in conversation. However, if you market to an audience that doesn’t talk back, such as the engineering community, you won’t get the necessary personal dialog. Screaming Circuits replaced that mantra with two key tenets: know what your customer needs, and give something they can’t get anywhere else (that’s “give,” as in give away free without any expectation of return). Doing so can lead to success in a one-way communications environment that runs contrary to the conventional engage-and-converse social media wisdom.

Being first is valuable, but being first and best is better

In 2006, Screaming Circuits was first to the table and unique in having an e-commerce platform for electronics manufacturing. This allowed electrical engineers to bypass purchasing departments and deal directly with the company. These engineers could get their designs built much faster, with considerably less red tape than possible when using standard channels.

However, Screaming Circuits found that without the support of those other departments, engineers struggled with issues related to the nuances of preparing a design for successful manufacturing. These were issues engineers had not been trained to deal with and, without the support of purchasing departments, did not always know where to turn for solutions.

Screaming Circuits had that knowledge and chose to use it as the social media marketing foundation. After examining a large number of communications tools, both traditional and new media, Screaming Circuits settled on a blog as the anchor for its social media efforts. Blogs weren’t new in 2006, but the approach was. The vast majority of corporate blogs at the time, were simply vehicles for clueless executives to spew out the company line.

Don’t be afraid to give

Screaming Circuits took a different approach and designed the blog as an information tool. The company was able to collect and anonymize data from thousands of manufacturing jobs. That knowledge became the basis for a series of educational posts encapsulating the most common causes for design-related manufacturing failures. They chose a bite-size single subject format, of about 400 words. The Screaming Circuits blog allowed design engineers to easily learn from the collective mistakes of engineers throughout the country.

Even further away from convention of the time, this information wasn’t reserved for paying customers. Anyone could, and still can, access the Screaming Circuits blog without registration or restriction: customers, and non-customers alike; even competitors.

Finally, Screaming Circuits broke the cardinal social media rule of the time – the call to action. Screaming Circuits did not ask for likes, retweets, or mentions. Giving a reader the opportunity to follow you or directions to find you is always a good idea. That’s a one-on-one information pass off. However, asking your audience for free promotion, would backfire with this audience. It would turn credible content into exploitation, and we don’t want to exploit.

The bottom-line results would make any corporate executive happy, yet would make many a social media expert cringe. None of the Screaming Circuits blog posts went viral. There were few long discussion threads in the blog comments. To this day, the blog has averaged fewer than one comment per post. It is demonstrably a one-way communications vehicle – the antithesis of “effective social media.”

And, give something of value

However, what did happen, is that the electrical engineering community started to look at the blog as journalism rather than advertising. Within a year of launching, the blog was receiving nearly as much web traffic as the main Screaming Circuits web site. Circuits Assembly, a top publication in the electronics manufacturing industry asked to re-publish the blog online and publish selected blog articles in print. The blog also became hundreds of different Google search destinations, each for a common industry problem.

Over time, articles based on Screaming Circuits blog posts started to show up in major electrical engineering magazines and websites. These are publications that, in 2006, had clearly stated that they did not cover manufacturing companies and had no interest in talking further.

Screaming Circuits not only became known as the experts in the market, but was able to bring the topic of manufacturing into the electronics engineering media. The result is that Screaming Circuits grew from a small, mostly regional business to a well-respected, nationally known resource in the electrical engineering community. Screaming Circuits achieved, and continues, strong growth during a turbulent time for manufacturing in Oregon.

The bottom line is that, as in conventional marketing, knowing your customer is as important as knowing technique. Don’t blindly follow “rules.” Adjust them for your specific situation. And, give people something they need.