IMTS 2012 – Social Media, Technology, And The Manufacturing Vibe

I attended IMTS 2012 last month in Chicago, and of all that I’ve been to – each one since 1996 – this was, by far, the best. Ever.

Maybe it has as much to do with the fact that, considering where we’ve been recently, anything beyond a poke in the eye with a sharp stick would’ve been an improvement. But I don’t think that has much to do with what I saw and heard.

There were many unique qualities to IMTS 2012, but few deserve a mention more than the ‘coming out’ party for Social Media. And that’s as much for what it didn’t do, as much as for what it did.

Here’s a look at my observations about the 2012 show, and where Social Media are at in the manufacturing sector.

I’m not even sure where to begin with the accolades. AMT, the show’s host, is pushing the limits (again) for trade show interaction and information accessibility. Not to mention their impressive overall stewardship as ambassadors for US manufacturing.

  • Attendance at IMTS2012 broke 100,000 (and not by a little) for the first time since IMTS 2000, when attendance was 114,000+. (At IMTS 2002, attendance plummeted to 85,000 and some change.) This is a very big deal, and it speaks as much to an optimistic US manufacturing base as it does to AMT’s extraordinary ability to rock the swarf out of a show, yo.
  • While purely anecdotal, I can tell you that I haven’t seen as much optimism from so many disparate businesses and groups in years. All facets of manufacturing – OEMs, builders, service providers, consumables, tooling, distributors, publishers, associations, suppliers, shops – were positively electric with enthusiasm.
  • The ‘T’ in IMTS stands for technology, and there were many hopeful signs of amazing, evolving tools that have the potential to redefine manufacturing as we know it. 3D Printing – with a small presence in the Emerging Technology Center just a few shows ago – has moved to its rightful place on the exhibition show floor with other legacy technologies. MTConnect is continuing to grow into an adoptable, invaluable networking platform. Automation, machining technologies, cutting tools, software – everyone had new products and technologies to show, which added even more weight to the optimistic vibe.
  • IMTSTV – the remarkably well-executed, multi-media broadcast channel that aired throughout the show – has become a valuable communications tool for everyone at IMTS, as well as a wellspring of information for use by all manufacturers after the show. Watch for legacy programming to be posted soon on IMTS.com.

But, in my view, one of the most startling of the many notable events was the engagement – and lack thereof – of Social Media at IMTS 2012.

Social Media ‘debuted’ at this IMTS in earnest, giving both attendees and exhibitors a new, emerging channel through which they could connect, inform, or collaborate. IMTS’ Social Media Center offered free computer use, welcomed chairs to rest in, and one of the ubiquitous #IMTS Twitter Feed monitors for those that just wanted to chill rather than participate.

But something was missing.

I know from my many years in communications that you need 3 things for any basic system to work effectively. You must have a transmitter or sender. You must have a medium to deliver the message. And you must have a receiver.

At IMTS2012, the first two were prominent and prevalent. What was missing was a critical mass of receivers – there just weren’t many people ‘listening’ via Social Media at IMTS2012.

I saw, first hand, many examples of this divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have no interests.’ For starters, attendance at many general sessions that were strongly pumped via Social Media was anemic. Also, many exhibitor-sponsored events or sessions promoted via SM channels got more walk-up traffic than responses via Twitter or other SM channels. I know, because I asked.

Social Media adoption at IMTS, I believe, was a microcosm of its overall adoption challenges within manufacturing in general.

  • Many larger companies (exhibitors) with the wherewithal have committed themselves to Social Media at varying degrees. And that commitment is, primarily, to promote the company and its products.
  • But smaller companies (attendees) seem to see Social Media as a waste of time and resources, and they’re taking a wait-and-see approach. Right now, there’s a lot more ‘waiting’ than there is ‘seeing.’

If Social Media adoption mimics adoption of the Web back in the mid-90s – and I believe it will – it’s going to take some time for the ‘receivers’ to reach critical mass & give the ‘senders’ the overall value they expect from such a commitment.

At the moment, the risk is that during this time of adoption and learning either side determines that there’s not value at all.

That would be a big mistake. Social Media and their evolving opportunities are already generating some value for manufacturing. Let’s just hope that by IMTS 2014, no one’s given up too soon.

AJ Sweatt
  1. I wish we’d known you were going to be at ITMS – we would’ve loved to try to connect with you.

    As far as Social Media goes – here’s my personal take on it: I spend SO much time on SM (or BusinessMedia) during my daily work life; email/Bear Boring’s FB page, Constant Contact, blogging, etc….when I go to a trade show or any venue that allows me access to real, live humans, I prefer to spend that time with those humans. In our sector of business, face-time (or, at the very least, telephone time) is still a huge determinant of business development. People, even savvy Social Media users, still enjoy dealing directly with people whenever possible.

    I’m not bashing Social Media, of course. You know that I am active in most aspects of it. But I can’t help but wonder at what point it becomes Social Media for its own sake. Most buyers and suppliers have too much on their plates as it is – expecting a project manager or expeditor to design his/her day around Social Media input seems specious.

    • You’re right, AB. Trade shows are for ‘actual’ reality. I’ve written a lot about the challenges manufacturers face with Social Media, and I guess I’ll keep it up – ’cause there are still too many ‘what ifs’ and ‘what fors’ to be worked out.

  2. Great article and I share your sentiments about how both large and small companies are utilizing social media. Unfortunately neither work well to serve the purpose of 2 way communication. If the larger companies A, B or C are doing nothing but promoting their own services and products, then they aren’t typically spending enough time listening. It’s the listening portion of social media that presents the most opportunities. If the smaller companies A, B or C are not even involved, well then needless to say, they can neither promote their or services OR listen to their customers. Unfortunately it’s a bit of the chicken and egg situation; smaller companies don’t want to get on board until everyone else is.

    There is a vast amount of information contained within, what I like to call social interaction. I only call it that because “social media” seems to have a bit of a stigma attached to it and by understanding it’s a give and take medium, perhaps more industrial type businesses will see more of an opportunity. I have pushed our company to embrace the various social platforms not because of the endless opportunities, but in an effort to stay ahead of the curve and begin to develop a solid foundation. The fact is, it’s not going away and you can try to play catch-up in the years to come or you can set social standards in your industry. And who knows, in the meantime a lead, a sale or just go ol’ customer interaction might come your way.

    • Jason, you’re spot-on. The evolution of these things are always messy. And small & medium manufacturers are naturally skeptical. Add to this the less-regimented value, and it’s hard to blame them for not wanting to devote the resources to a ‘wait-and-see’ proposition. Especially when anyone’s looking for the payoff in a quarterly report or P&L statement.

      Thanks for the visit, man. Great note.

  3. AJ I can’t really disagree with your findings, but I don’t think IMTS should be used as a test case on how the industry has embraced or uses social media.


    Because IMTS is a FREAK OF NATURE! At no other time are so many buyers and sellers together and that creates an atmosphere and ecosystem and culture all its own. No one is living their life in a pattern that resembles how they live it the rest of the year.

    So if our REAL LIFE social patterns are so much different during IMTS, should’t our virtual ones be too? A conversation between two average joes at IMTS is loud, distracted, hurried, uncomfortable (feet are killing me) and detached. A conversation between a potential buyer and a sales rep is also much different at IMTS than it would be 3 months before on the phone.

    I agree with you, not too many conversations were going on between machine tool builders and customers on Facebook. The nature of their posts was IMTS-activity focused and product focused.

    But isn’t that a virtual representation of what was happening in real life at IMTS? How is someone taking a look at a product image and description silently on his iPhone any different than the IMTS attendee who looks over the actual machine in the booth, but slips away undetected?

    Also I think it’s a safe bet that if you’re not logged onto twitter, you have no clue what’s being talked about. If you don’t have a twitter account – than you are really clueless. Yet thanks to jumbotrons and monitors, what we were saying on twitter WAS seen by people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen that post. I loved the idea of IMTS displaying the twitter stream because it was like free advertising AND may have sold many in the manufacturing community who aren’t on twitter to join up.

    • Man, that’s exactly right. IMTS IS an anamoly in some important ways, and a microcosm of real life in others. But I’m not just comparing what I saw at the show but what I see the rest of the year, especially among the small to mid-sized discrete parts manufacturing crowd. Their priorities don’t include Social Media, particularly as networking or business tools. That’s consistent. And same with the OEMs and exhibitors at the show, behavior-wise – they’re primarily focused on sales-related or lead-gen tactics. And that’s a consistency I see throughout the year, as well.

      I think we can both agree that we’re in the very early adoption phase. So, it’s gonna play out over time. But I do lament the fact that there are few (if any) socialized platforms that serve the specific needs of manufacturing sectors. That’s something that’ll accelerate adoption among the cats we work with, but until then I think it’s gonna be a long ride.

      Thanks so much for the time and the note, Mike. I hope all’s well – my best to the crew at DGS.

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