Social Media – Twitter, LinkedIn & other manufacturing-focused online communities – are in their discovery phases. It’s early in the game, as people (i.e., your customers & prospects) drive us all toward maturation and adoption to serve our businesses.

And make no mistake – your customers are driving the train now. Not your CEO, your President, or your board … it’s the customer, stupid.

One really good seed from which to grow the right Social Media strategies for your manufacturing shop, plant or factory is to think of these emerging channels as your “new receptionist.”

Imagine answering the phone, and the caller asks to speak to customer service. Or inquires about the status of their recent order. Or a supplier wants to inform management of a changed status of your materials order. Or a prospect is calling to get answers about your capabilities to see if you’re suitable to manufacture products. Who would you transfer them to?

These are the points in your organization that you should enable to interact through Social Media. Listening and being ready to engage is key – there are real business opportunities online for manufacturers willing to invest the time to interact with business-minded early-adopters of Social Media channels. This is true no matter if you’re a small manufacturer of custom discrete parts, or if your company manufactures high-end capital equipment.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

A old friend of mine has worked with Proctor & Gamble for years. She works in customer service there, and has fielded calls for numerous product lines in her career. Spent a LOT of time on the phone. She just got a new title – Social Media Community Moderator. She’s still neck-deep in customer service – but is now engaging via Social Media. Same goals, different channel.

Do you get it? P&G is adapting to and redefining the contact channels between their customers and the core sectors of the business. It’s making engaging its business more efficient for its customers.

And what if you don’t? Well, you’ll likely not notice any difference. But a prospect or customer that looks to connect with you IN THE WAYS THEY PREFER and can’t may as well be listening to a phone ring without anyone picking it up. Because you’re not “answering.”

There are other issues that are critical to a successful media strategy these days – content is, certainly, still king. And picking the right social media tools and platforms for your business & industry is awfully important. But there are a whole lot worse places to start than using the analogy of “the new receptionist” to drive you toward more business success online.