Last August, I dropped a post titled “Why Compliance Is Transforming Social Media For Manufacturing & B2B” that pointed out the unique conditions of industrial markets with regard to Social Media use and their real – versus perceived – value to manufacturers.

It’s awfully hard to find examples of these qualities, for many reasons. For one thing, industrial marketing just isn’t sexy (well, to some of us it ain’t) and it doesn’t get the press. But more importantly, most industrial and manufacturing companies like to talk about what they’re DOING with media as opposed to how the media is BEING USED.

But two recent events – one from the financial industry, and one anecdotal – drive home the realities that manufacturers in tightly secured or self-regulated industries must consider before embarking on a Social Media journey to grow their businesses.

 A Social Media Lesson For Manufacturers From The Financial Industry

A post from SocialWare (SEC Clarifies Stance on Social Media, Takes Action to Punish Social Network-Based Fraud), a company that provides Social Media management tools to the financial industry, describes the case of fraud committed on LinkedIn and the SEC’s subsequent actions against the perpetrator. While the post is useful in pointing out behaviors that are likely to mimic themselves within industrial markets by a governing body or customer, it’s the SEC’s directives on the use of Social Media that deserve our attention.

The reasons are clear once you read it. While financial governance has been retooled and expanded over the last few years, it isn’t much of a stretch to see the similarities in it to Social Media directives in industries you work with – or want to.

The SEC directive points out the most disruptive feature of Social Media. It reads:

“It (Social Media) converts the traditional two-party, adviser-to-client communication into an interactive, multi-party dialogue among advisers, clients, and prospects, within an open architecture accessible to third-party observers. It also converts a static medium, such as a website, where viewers passively receive content, into a medium where users actively create content.”

In other words, information that deserves protection is potentially shared across networks rapidly. And if you work within the defense, government, automotive, aerospace or other industries where security or proprietary protections matter most, you’re likely facing or will soon face compliance at this level of detail and scope.

But that’s stating the obvious. What may not be obvious to all of us is that this level of control already exists in many of the companies that we deal with as partners, vendors, customers or prospects. And the people you want to talk to in those industries and companies are even more likely to be required to behave within guidelines that are nearly as thorough – and restrictive.

Here are just some of the areas that the SEC directives dictate with regard to Social Media behaviors, and that you’re likely to encounter within high-security organizations:

  • Usage Guidelines
  • Content Standards
  • Monitoring
  • Frequency of Monitoring
  • Approval of Content
  • Criteria for Approving Participation
  • Training
  • Certification
  • Functionality
  • Personal/Professional Sites
  • Information Security
  • Testimonials

Now I clearly see the differences between financial and industrial, and between consumer and B2B. But I’ve worked with companies all through supply chains and in numerous industries and I can just as clearly see the similarities. And I’ll bet you can, too.

If you’re in an industry or industries that more tightly control their intellectual property, designs, supply chains or products, it’s entirely likely that you aren’t ‘talking’ to the people you think you are on the Social Media platforms you’re currently engaging. Or, you won’t be before too long.

A Conversation With A Design Engineer In The Defense Industry

I was recently at a social function, mingling with the masses as I do, and struck up a conversation with a design engineer. As it turns out, the guy was retiring from a large, prominent defense aerospace company in the Southwest in less than 24 hours.

Some guys, you just hate right off the bat, ya know?

Anyway, Bob and I were talking about his last hours as a laborer. Talk turned to what I do, and I explained that I work with companies like his – to market & communicate better, including on Social Media. At the mention of  Social Media, Bob lit up like Frank Zappa.

“We don’t use it,” he said. “They won’t let us.” I was actually pretty startled, despite what I know about large defense manufacturers. I asked Bob if it was permissible to use Social Media in support of his job (like locating acceptable suppliers, or collaborating with other engineers). “Especially not at work. They discourage personal use, but prohibit it while working.”

I also asked him about those that work around and with him in the product development and design processes. “Same for all of us. I don’t know about other areas of the company like marketing, but nobody around me is allowed to use them.”

Now, Bob had been with this company for over 30 years. Knew most everyone (he was based at corporate headquarters for the last part of his career). His colleagues were other engineers, sourcing professionals, applications & metallurgic professionals, and avionics specialists. And they weren’t permitted to use Social Media in the performance of their jobs.

This was 2 weeks ago. I don’t think much has changed there since Bob left.

What All This Means

The fact is, as a manufacturer expecting to nurture business from new or even existing customers via Social Media you must research the conditions and expectations of your industry and prospects to determine how to leverage these channels.

  • Are there industry standards that dictate Social Media use in the companies I want to work with?
  • Do these companies have internal guidelines dictating or limiting Social Media use?
  • For whom in those organizations do these guidelines apply?

Due diligence is key. If you can, talk to customers or colleagues to determine what limitations there are on Social Media use as you form your communications and marketing strategies. Better yet, ask to see a copy of Social Media use directives in those companies. You may think you’re talking to customers that aren’t even hearing your message. And if these examples are any indication – and I believe they are – fewer manufacturers in tightly controlled or regulated industries will be plugged in to open Social Media networks in the coming months.

Make no mistake – the value of Social Media to small and medium sized manufacturers is real. Networking, collaboration, vendor discovery and partnering opportunities are jacked-up to ‘over-hip’ through Social Media.

But know this – if your initial expectation for Social Media as a custom or discrete parts manufacturer is to secure new work, you may want to look before you leap.