If you work in a highly specialized industry that revolves around technical data and complex production processes, the idea of acting human online as a business can seem a little intimidating. Manufacturing firms are a prime example. Many are reluctant to come out of their shell and forge valuable connections online, but Burger & Brown Engineering is an exception.
About five years ago, Burger & Brown jumped right in to explore the possibilities and long-time employee Janice McKee found herself in the driver’s seat. What she’s learned offers wisdom to other manufacturers and businesses looking to blaze a trail of their own through social media and website platforms.
“Our work at Burger & Brown focuses on precision machining and related expertise that involves engineering, design, and custom production solutions,” says McKee. “We excel at highly skilled production and develop proprietary products too.”
Burger & Brown makes manufacturing easy for its customers, whether that means automating repetitive processes, customizing processes to meet unique needs or creating products that support other manufacturers in specialized fields. McKee says the firm is known for its capability and flexibility.
“We’re a manufacturer serving other manufacturers and we can really shape our skills around their goals and make it easy for them. We have so many different processes available within this building. There’s a lot we can do right here and we also have strong resources outside if we need additional help.”
Burger & Brown customers come from an array of industries ranging from aerospace and electronics to healthcare and government. The business has been around since the 1970s and its staff of engineers, machinists, inspectors and customer service pros has steadily grown to over 60.
Many employees have been with Burger & Brown for decades, including McKee, who now leads up the marketing effort. She’s learned a lot about acting human online over five years of observing and experimenting on social platforms. We caught up with her to talk about it and came away with some valuable insights all businesses can learn from.
Put an Insider at the Controls.
You may be inclined to find a traditional advertising or journalism professional to manage your online presence, but be careful. Someone who knows your business from the inside and understands how its operations translate to profit is usually a smarter choice.
“I come from a drafting background,” says McKee. “I’m familiar with engineering cultures and I understand manufacturing. Writing and other communications come naturally for me so I was drawn to marketing. I started out in customer service at Burger & Brown, which sharpened my understanding of our firm’s work even more and set me up to do my current work better.”
McKee says her professional background earns the trust of her colleagues when it comes to crafting social content around their work, and gives the content credibility with an industry audience.
“I know a lot about what we do here, but I certainly don’t know everything,” says McKee. “I have to keep talking with our team to make sure I understand the ins and outs of everything we do. I’m constantly learning and my social media work encourages me to stay in the loop.”
Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back.
It’s a big online world out there and just figuring out where to begin can be intimidating enough to keep a manufacturer on the sidelines. But McKee says starting small will calm your fears and boost your confidence.
“Start with one platform that seems like a good place to get acclimated,” says McKee. “Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re trying to engage. What are they interested in? What are they thinking about?”
As long as you remain professional in everything you do, from spelling and grammar to the content you choose to share, McKee says you should be fine getting going.
“Spend time exploring to see what others are doing online and you’ll start to get the hang of it. And don’t worry about the negativity you hear so much about in social media. Positivity really catches on too. It can spread just as quickly.”
You Don’t Have to Spend a Bunch of Money, But You Do Need to Spend Time.
Burger & Brown is active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. McKee spends a substantial amount of time just keeping an eye on those platforms to see what other manufacturers are talking about and watching for any news that may impact her firm. She’s also putting together content of her own to share, and organizing schedules for posting it.
“It’s tough to limit my time on social. It’s one big ongoing conversation and really requires you to pay attention.”
The trick is to figure out the best way to use your time wisely. McKee is constantly evaluating each social platform to determine where Burger & Brown and it’s main proprietary product SmartFlow is getting the most traction.
“You’ll likely find some social channels fit your purposes better than others and you’ll want to adjust your time investment based on that,” says McKee. “LinkedIn is probably my favorite at this point. It’s geared more for professionals and a good space for highly specialized manufacturing firms like us to interact with others in our industry.”
The more time you spend on social channels, the more you learn about what works. It’s hard to shortcut that process. Ongoing exposure and experience in the social space is the only way to refine the kind of judgment needed to optimize the opportunity. McKee says she spends about 25% of her time on social. The rest is devoted to managing website content and things like creating advertisements, product catalogs, and instruction sheets.
“You’ll get better at it and develop a clearer picture of where and how you should be spending your social media time so you don’t waste it. And many people in positions like mine have other responsibilities too, so it’s important that you figure out how social fits into the rest of your schedule.”
Content: You’ve Got to Mix It Up.
Maybe you’ve heard that a novice mistake on social media is talking only about yourself. It’s easy to fall into that trap. McKee says you have to be disciplined about mixing it up and think seriously about what’s relevant and helpful for everyone involved.
“I look for anything I can share that’s useful and meaningful in the industry. Roughly half of the content I circulate is educational and the other half is about marketing our firm and what we do.”
McKee says there’s a lot of discussion in manufacturing these days about the shortage of skilled labor. She believes firms like Burger & Brown can help make a difference.
“I try to boost communication of scholarships and other opportunities that can help draw more workers to manufacturing. I think promoting those kinds of things is a responsibility we all share and every bit helps.”
McKee also shares manufacturing tips and tricks she comes across in addition to technical articles that boost better work.
“Sometimes it’s hard to come up with new content and keep it interesting so I recommend developing a topic list and related resources, like trade magazines for example, that offer a flow of good information.”
Company events, offline interactions with local businesses, and trade shows are also valuable sources of content.
“I’ve found that content I post from Chamber of Commerce gatherings and other events do really well on social channels,” says McKee.
You’ll Love the Analytics.
Over time you develop a gut instinct about the impact of your social media efforts, but McKee says performance analytics really tell the story in black and white.
“I love the analytics available on these platforms and our websites. The numbers tell you what’s working and what’s not. Analytics also tell you how content performs differently on different platforms and helps you focus your effort.”
Even small changes in the size and makeup of your community can be insightful. McKee says the feedback is not only useful, it’s motivating.
“I love watching our community grow and seeing how we rank among other firms of our size and similar specialization. When you see your numbers evolve, it’s a really satisfying feeling.”
A growing community means growing exposure for your business and that can only lead to good things including new customers.
“Occasionally our sales team will let me know about a new business meeting that resulted from our social media engagements. It’s just great when you can facilitate a new opportunity like that. Exposure on these platforms really does pay off.”
McKee’s main advice? Don’t give up. Stay engaged and remain part of the conversation that your industry and your customers are having online. That conversation will happen whether you’re there or not, so raise your voice and don’t be left out. McKee believes you’ll be glad you did.
“There are more manufacturers joining social media all the time and finding a rewarding experience. We’re all learning so much from each other and seeing results. It’s making us stronger as individual businesses and as an industry.”