Social club: Distributors plug into social media

A survey carried out last year into the marketing habits of UK businesses revealed that marketers now spend an average of one hour a day managing company social media accounts.

With one in five anticipating that their dedication to social media was only going to get stronger, it’s a fair bet that the average time now exceeds 60 minutes. Studies also show that almost a third (29%) of UK firms have set up a new social media channel within the past year, while 52% have increased the amount of time they devote to the social media cause.

Like it or not, there is no escaping the fact that social media is becoming an intrinsic part of the marketing and communications fabric. We shouldn’t, therefore, be surprised to learn that catering equipment suppliers and installers are also embracing many of the most popular social media tools available to them as a way to build awareness of what they do.

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Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn remain the most common vehicles adopted by the catering equipment industry, with Facebook used to a much lesser extent. Fast-growing photo-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are also gaining popularity, while many suppliers are now comfortable uploading video to YouTube.

The consensus from those that actively use social media is that it is all about setting your expectations accordingly. London-based distributor Chiller Box has a firm social media presence, but managing director Marios Poumpouris stresses that it should only be viewed as one element of the overall marketing engine.

“We are very conscious of the fact that social media is very important for having a presence online and a voice online, so that is why we get involved in it,” he explains. “But at the same time it can take up a disproportionate amount of time and effort because the return is difficult to guage and it has probably got its limitations. It certainly keeps up the brand presence within the industry among our peers, client base and prospects, but you are not going to get millions of leads coming through Twitter every day.”

C&C Catering Equipment is another distributor that now considers social media an “integral” part of day-to-day business. Matthew Kitchin, who looks after design and social media at C&C, says the company likes to stay active on Twitter, whether it is showcasing completed projects or simply celebrating an award win or an employee’s birthday.

“It’s imperative to keep up to date with social media in business this day and age and we certainly feel our finger is on the pulse,” he says.

Twitter has proved to be the most useful tool for C&C, allowing it to share photos of finished catering schemes and direct people to its website and blog. The company also uses LinkedIn quite heavily but, like a lot of distributors, finds Facebook too geared to personal use for it to be considered an effective B2B tool.

“Thankfully, we’ve found that more aspects of social media work than not,” says Kitchin. “We often get great feedback on our website and blog and we couldn’t be happier with that. We live in an electronic world now and people will check out your website before picking up the phone. First impressions can mean the difference between people contacting you or going to a competitor. We’re glad to hear from others that we make a great first impression.”

Over on the manufacturer side of the fence, Winterhalter has been steadily growing its social media presence for the best part of three years now. It believes social media isn’t a substitute for traditional marketing tools such as advertising and PR, but remains enthused by the reach and exposure that it can offer.

“We are using Twitter and LinkedIn as a way of communicating what we think are interesting pieces to our followers,” explains the company’s marketing manager Paul Crowley. “It is titbits for journalists, because journalists follow us, little bits of product information for our distributors, and then quirky things about our products that are useful to end-users. Those are really the three elements of our communication through social media.”

What about the ‘other’ side of Twitter, though? Is there a danger that catering equipment companies could leave themselves open to disgruntled customers bringing their grievances into the public domain, for instance?

“I will give you two ends of the spectrum,” answers Crowley. “A couple of weekends ago we had a pub that tweeted a message saying, ‘thank goodness for our Winterhalter, its quick speed enabled us to service a really busy bank holiday and keep on top of things’. At the other end, we had a nightclub in Scotland who made a complaint on Twitter, so you have got to be able to take the rough with the smooth. Sounding off on Twitter is not actually going to help them solve their problem, so it was very quickly dealt with. But that is the only negative experience we have had.”

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While most catering equipment suppliers seem to accept that social media is never going to be a huge lead generation tool, there is a widely-held view that you only get back from it what you put in. Those that do give it sufficient time and attention say that it often creates opportunities which would otherwise have been unlikely to materialise.

Chiller Box ran a competition last year to give away a Global professional knife to its 1000th Twitter ‘follower’, which turned out to be a chef working for a hotel based in Cyprus.

“We sent him the knife and that got a dialogue going with him — subsequently he recommended us to a couple of his friends in the UK who had kitchen refurb projects,” explains Poumpouris. “We have followed those up and they have become enquiries in their own right.”

Avid ‘tweeters’ argue that Twitter is not a tool that you can dip in and out of every few months. To make it work, posts should be consistent and informative, ideally show some personality, and avoid the hard sell. It’s important, as well, to remember that it’s a public forum, so any messages can be seen by customers, competitors and prospective clients.

“Unless we had an order in writing I wouldn’t ever tweet about a job that we had won, even if internally we knew that we had got it,” says Siobhan Teader, marketing and events co-ordinator at Lancashire-based Vision Commercial Kitchens. “And I’d obviously never tweet about where the guys are going for appointments or what leads we’d got in.”

Vision operates a general company Twitter feed as well as specific Twitter and Facebook accounts for garden centre clients. It also has a corporate page on LinkedIn with fully optimised staff profiles designed to ensure the company ranks highly on searches, and it is keen to explore how it can utilise new photo sharing platforms.

“All of the sales team now have iPads and that has prompted us to embark on Instagram as well,” reveals Teader. “We are encouraging them to take a lot more pictures and snap anything that is interesting. Internally the guys can all see what they are posting and I can use it as a marketing tool as well.”

Another North-West distributor, Kendal-based Harmony Business & Technology, reports success from incorporating a blog on its web shop earlier this year. The number of website visitors, and the time they spend on the site, have both increased.

“The blog has also given us something extra to offer our customers,” remarks Harmony’s head of marketing Catherine Storey. “Rather than going for the hard sell on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, we are able to share a number of interesting articles, videos and information about the brands whose products we are selling. As a result, our customers are more informed on the brand they are buying their products from and receive more information about the market they are operating in.”

The blog has also garnered support from supplier partners, with colleagues at brands such as Electrolux and Gram frequently sending across company and product information to use. And for anybody familiar with the workings of search engines, Storey notes that the blog has also helped it with the Google Penguin changes, which favour websites that are rich in content.

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The next big focus for the company looks set to be YouTube, where it already has a channel featuring product videos and demonstrations.

Storey believes there is an opportunity to be even more creative on the video front. “Instead of just taking pictures of installations we are looking at using videos at the same time,” she reveals. “I have read that customers trust videos more than pictures because pictures can only give you a glimpse of something and can be more easily adapted or dressed up.”

Winterhalter can certainly testify how video can work for a brand. Its YouTube channel has had 5,800 views since it was launched 18 months ago.

The ability to measure that audience is an incredibly powerful tool, insists marketing manager Crowley. “I can’t tell you the exact number of people that have looked at the videos but what I do know is that our brand has been exposed more than five and a half thousand times. Go back five or six years, what marketer in the country would have been able to give you that sort of number?”

Social media might still be something of a marketing niche, but it is most certainly here to stay. And the catering equipment industry should be a richer, more informed place for it.

Social media: The sites you need to know

Here’s our handy guide to the most popular social media platforms.

Digg
A social news website that allows users to submit links and stories from across the web for other users to vote and comment on.

Facebook
The world’s largest social media network connects friends and contacts, allowing members to share information, status updates and personal photos.

Instagram
A fast and effective way to share photos with contacts the moment they are taken. Images can also be shared directly to other social network platforms.

LinkedIn
The most recognised professional network on the web, LinkedIn gives users the chance to connect with other professionals, share their skills and track career opportunities.

Pinterest
A pinboard-style photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage collections of images based around common themes.

Tumblr
A micro-blogging platform that permits users to effortlessly share text, photos, quotes, links, and videos from any device or application.

Twitter
A messaging and micro-blogging site that allows users to ‘tweet’ their thoughts or website links in no more than 140 characters, as well as ‘follow’ other users that they are interested in.

YouTube
A video-sharing website where users can upload, view and share video clips. Businesses are increasingly using the site to host interactive product demonstrations and user guides.

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