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GAWDA Convention: Members Take To Social Media

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

It’s hard to believe we’re nearly through another GAWDA Convention, but here we are at the end of Day 3 of GAWDA’s 68th Annual Convention in Colorado Springs, CO. The first three days have been full of great networking opportunities and yet another incredible display of generosity from GAWDA members.

Members have been sharing photos from the Convention on Twitter and Facebook, like this one tweeted that was tweeted out yesterday:

Thanks to Doug O’Dell at TrackAbout for this photo…it’s great to see a full crowd, a strong sign that business has returned (and is hopefully here to stay).

One of the biggest highlights thus far has been the presentation of the 2012 GAWDA Gives Back donations to local charities PEAK Parent Center and Partners In Housing. GAWDA members donated $174,444, giving over $87,000 to each of the two worthy causes. It was obvious that this donation meant a lot to both organizations, who let GAWDA members in on the work they do with a special video and thanks from clients of each group.

This year, for the first time, GAWDA members redoubled their generosity to help the newly established GAWDA Foundation get off the ground. With funding now well over $100,000, the Foundation aims to continue to develop the industry’s workforce. One of the ways it will work toward this is through scholarships for distributors, suppliers or end-users, the first of which will be presented at next year’s SMC.

I received a message on LinkedIn this afternoon from a first-time Convention attendee, who came away impressed with what he experienced. He expressed great pride for what members accomplished by coming together in donating to GAWDA Gives Back, and was very pleased with the program put together by GAWDA.

There’s more to come tomorrow, as we hear from the final two speakers. If their articles in the Fall issue of Welding & Gases Today are any indication, Wednesday’s business session should promise great takeaways for members.

What are your top takeaways from the Convention so far? Share by leaving a comment.

2012 SMC Day 3: Communicating Through Technology

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

Karl Meinhardt stands before the Technology Panel at GAWDA's Spring Management Conference

The final day of GAWDA’s 2012 Spring Management Conference had a distinctly technological flavor. The closing business session featured GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and Social Media speaker Karl Meinhardt. Gases and welding technology itself is a broad, but very important topic. As MI Committee Chair Chris Dominiak revealed in last week’s guest blog, more than 70% of GAWDA members feel they could be doing more with technology.

Meinhardt got things started with an overview of Social Media. While much has been said and written about the use of Social Media to communicate with customers, one of the particularly interesting ideas touched on in Meinhardt’s speech was how Social Media can be used internally to facilitate communications within an organization.

Meinhardt pointed to the example Lockheed Martin, which after surveying its workforce, realized it was poised to lose a great deal of experience and knowledge as the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire. How did the company respond? Lockheed Martin used the power of Social Media to capture this experience for future generations. The organization created an internal wiki, their own private version of Wikipedia, where employees could contribute ideas and experiences.

After the session, I spoke with Josh and Erich Haun from Haun Welding Supply (Syracuse, NY), who were likewise struck by the idea of using Social Media to streamline internal communications. Erich pointed to the training advantage, to be able to reach employees across multiple locations to help do away with the response “I didn’t know you could do that.” Both agreed that the potential for technology to improve internal communications is intriguing.

The technology panel also addressed communication, looking at the The Cloud, mobile technology and the basic problem of implementing new technologies. The MI Committee stressed that, when introducing new technologies internally, it’s important to communicate with employees in advance and involve them in the process where possible. Buy in of the technology by company executives is critical if employees are to buy in. This has never been more true than with Social Media. As Meinhardt said, “If your customers spoke Chinese, you’d learn to speak Chinese.” Sounds like it’s time to learn the language of Social Media.

Social Media Case Study: Ozarc Gas

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Last month, Ozarc Gas sponsored the Northeast Arkansas Weld-A-Thon, a welding competition involving area high school and vo-tech welding students. Over the past three years, the event has steadily grown to include 36 students from 12 area schools, giving these young welders a place to show off their skills and learn more about the welding industry. One of the most unique aspects of the 2012 event was Ozarc’s use of social media in conjunction with the event. I spoke with Ozarc sales rep and event coordinator Nick Garner about the experience. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

What is the goal of the Weld-A-Thon?
Our goal is to get students interested in welding and show them that this isn’t just a grease-monkey job. It’s a job that’s in demand, and if you’re good at it, you can make excellent wages. We want to get the students excited about welding, so that it’s not just something they do in their high school ag class. We want to help them further their skills and go on in the welding industry.

Ozarc Gas uses Twitter to promote 2012 Weld-A-ThonI enjoyed following along on Twitter. What was the impetus behind live tweeting the event?
I think this industry is behind when it comes to social media. A lot of the current activity on Facebook and Twitter is limited to vendors, and you don’t see many competitions like this taking advantage of social media.

What role does social media play in furthering the goals of the Weld-A-Thon?
Social media is a great way to get the word out about the competition and give these kids the recognition they deserve. Even though these kids are in high school, they possess welding skills that are beyond my abilities. I know I couldn’t do some of the things they are doing. It’s awesome to see. We’re hoping to get more and more exposure for the event through social media. We hope to reach more schools this way.

What was the experience like using social media with the event for the first time?
It was the most fun I’ve had at the competition yet. In addition to the Twitter feed, we posted photos of the event on Facebook. At the end of the competition, we reminded everyone about the Twitter feed and the Facebook page where they can go and look at the pictures. We handed out fliers encouraging participants to like Ozarc Gas on Facebook and tied it in with a welding hood giveaway.

Have you seen results from your efforts?
We’ve seen more followers on Facebook. Giving away the welding hood provided a little more motivation for people to like our page. During the competition, I saw more followers on Twitter from within the welding industry.

Can we look for you to be live tweeting again next year?
Definitely. Next year, I want to try to get the schools involved and get them following on social media, especially the students. We plan to advertise the social media aspect more before the competition next year and really promote that to the students.

For Ozarc Gas, social media is proving to be a great way to promote the the Weld-A-Thon and welding industry in general. And while this particular use may not result in immediate sales revenues, it helps create and strengthen relationships between Ozarc and local schools and students. As Garner admits, there are a few tweaks to be made for next year’s event. With additional promotion, Ozarc hopes to draw in even more students and boost event participation. This in turn provides additional exposure to Ozarc’s propylene cutting demos at the event and introduces more schools to the process.

To see how Garner took advantage of social media for 2012 Northeast Arkansas Weld-A-Thon, take a look at the photos on Ozarc Gas’ Facebook page and see the tweets from February 17 on www.twitter.com/cryogasman.

LinkedIn Vs. The Business Card

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Business Cards Vs. LinkedInWith GAWDA’s Spring Management Conference fast approaching, many of you are probably readying your business cards. However, there has been some talk recently that LinkedIn could threaten the existence of business cards. In our “On The Edge” feature at Welding & Gases Today Online, we was asked that very question: Are business cards on the way out? For many, Social Media presents a more convenient and instantaneous result. But until LinkedIn has close to 100% of the market, I have to think that most people will continue to carry business cards.

A recent article on Bloomberg Businessweek called “How Business Cards Survive In The Age of Linkedin” got me thinking about the issue once again. The article explains that business cards were originally created as a means to prove a business’s legitimacy. But as Design Strategist Nathan Shedroff, points out, just about anyone can procure a professional-looking business cards these days. This, according to the article, is where LinkedIn reigns. The professional networking site allows more than contact information, it allows an entire resume and professional references. What better way is there to prove one’s legitimacy than a resume with references?

Business cards, on the other hand, are simple. An online business card printer tells Bloomberg Businessweek, “They don’t require batteries, experience no intercompatibility problems, require no sign-up, and everyone in the world understands them.” Some tout the ability of the business card to allow self-expression and branding. Despite the lack of actual “artwork,” I would argue that your LinkedIn page can say a lot about your brand as well.

Another argument for business cards suggests it’s the act, “the theater,” of exchanging a business card that keeps the business card alive. I have to admit, in my experience, while attending a trade show, business cards do feel a bit like currency.

Amidst all of this debate, is there really a need to choose sides—why not have both? For those who prefer paper, offer them a business card. If you’ve spent some time brushing up your LinkedIn page, asking someone if they are on LinkedIn could be a great conversation starter.

What do you think? Do you prefer LinkedIn or business cards? Which do you think is more effective?

What Customers Want On Your Website

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

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Does your company's website look like this?

To this day, I am still surprised when companies don’t have a website. In the latest issue of Welding & Gases Today, nexAir’s Patrick Galphin makes the case for e-commerce, but that assumes that your business already has a website. Certainly, I understand that the gases and welding industry has traditionally been and continues to be a “local” sort of business. But even when it comes to local buying, customers enjoy the ease of a website.

Almost as bad as having no website is having a poorly made website that is confusing or out of date. I came across a great article recently that questions what is it that local customers want from business websites. Whether you have a bad website or no website at all, this article offers some food for thought.

One of the best things the article offers is a series of statistics. What information is the most valuable to customers on a website? Customers in the survey ranked their wants as follows:

1.      List of prices
2.      List of services
3.      Easy to find contact details
4.      Physical address
5.      Driving directions
6.      Customer testimonials
7.      Clear photos of business
8.      Personal message from manager
9.      Links to social media profiles

Of course, how your customers rank these items may differ slightly based on your business. This is a great starting point; but to know if you’re really on key, why not ask your own customers: “What information would be most valuable to you on our website?” It’s better than guessing.

The article offers some other surprising insights, such as the fact that 40% of survey respondents say they are less likely to do business with a company if they don’t have a physical address on their website. Other offenders that repel customers are slow websites (22%) and ugly websites (21%). “No website” wasn’t one of the questions, but I know it’s a deterrent for me.

As article author Myles Anderson points out, some companies put a lot of effort into external actions when it comes to their website, i.e. search engine ranking and social media. These are important marketing activities, but they cannot stand alone; all that effort can be wasted if your own site is not optimized for your customers and the search engines.

So the question is, do you know what your customers want, and are you giving it to them?

My Resolution For 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

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Setting goals is an important part of any business. Last year, I stated that my New Year’s resolution was to become better connected to GAWDA members. As I wrote, “I’m not interested in boosting my followers and connections for the sheer sake of numbers—my hope is to build a network that represents the voice of the industry, to bounce questions off of and to generate discussions.”

A year later, I feel that I have made progress on this continuous goal. One of the most rewarding experiences for me was attending the Spring Management Conference in Tampa and having people who I’d never met in person recognize me from my blog, LinkedIn or Twitter, or recall a phone conversation we’d had months before. Over time, many of these connections, online or over the phone, have turned into personal relationships.

Connecting with GAWDA members has helped me know what issues GAWDA members care about (To those of you reading this, I’m listening, if you have any topics you’d like to see us explore). And I hope, as a result, it has helped us create value for GAWDA members.

As far as the latter part of my goal, to generate discussions, I can see the voice of GAWDA getting louder every day. Several articles, particularly those in our On The Edge feature, have drummed up lively discussions. For me, the highlight was the conversation that followed as a result of an article about sales territories vs. market segmentation. It’s great to hear from people on both sides of the issue.

This year, I am setting a new goal, to learn the gases and welding industry in greater depth, to become more familiar with the products and services that distributors sell.  Like last year’s goal, this is a continuous goal. I’ve spoken with 50-year veterans of the industry who say they learn something new every day. This year, I’m making a concerted effort to keep learning. Any advice?

With that in mind, what is your resolution for 2012?

Dry Ice Recipe: Make Fog, Make The News

Friday, November 4th, 2011

In the Third Quarter issue of Welding & Gases Today, we wrote about how distributors are using YouTube videos and other social media to connect with customers. Admittedly, many companies don’t have the time, money or technology to produce their own videos. However, there are ways to populate your YouTube channel with videos without ever touching a camera.

Patrick Galphin, marketing & public relations at nexAir, had the great idea of getting local news stations to do the work for you. What do you need? An event, community project or seasonal tip usually does the trick. In May, nexAir appeared on a news station to talk about propane safety in anticipation of grilling season. As a result of the appearance, nexAir received phone calls from both grillers and industrial propane forklift users.

Well, nexAir’s done it again. For this Halloween, Galphin brought dry ice to the local morning news program, Good Morning Memphis, to show viewers how they could create special effects with CO2. As he explained in “Connecting With Customers,” it’s less about selling dry ice, and more about getting nexAir’s name out there and making the association with dry ice. “We want to be known as the gas experts,” he says.

Once a video has aired, many news stations now put their segments online. Galphin also recommends getting a copy of the video and posting it on YouTube. This allows a distributor to add contact information and links to the video.

Check out nexAir’s “Dry Ice Fog Tips for Halloween” in the video below:

Using YouTube For Sales

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Using Social Media To Drive Sales

To give an update on my recent post, “YouTube As A Research Tool,” a GAWDA member shared another way of using YouTube as a research tool, and I want to share it with you. What I mentioned before was using videos to see applications in action. This week, I was speaking with Heath Wells, Regional VP of Sales at Cee Kay Supply (St. Louis, MO), who shared how he uses YouTube as a way to get to know customers better.

Wells explained that he uses YouTube to search for local businesses, and looks to see if they have any company videos or a company channel. “You can type in just about any type of business that’s within your territory,” he says. “If they’ve got a YouTube video, you can find it.” These videos can offer insight into what the customer does, what processes they use or even who you need to talk to in order to make a sale.

Whether it’s cold calling, identifying prospects or just getting to know more about an existing customer, YouTube videos can be a big help for a salesperson. Like any tool, it may not work every time, but if it works once, it’s worth it. And YouTube is only one tool. You can do the same thing with other social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook where customers may have pages on those sites. Social media is about connecting with people, so why not use it to connect with customers?

As we wrote in the Summer 2011 issue of Welding & Gases Today, “Your customers are using social media. What are you waiting for?” See how distributors are turning social media into sales success.

How are you using YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or even Google+ to make sales?

Should You Be On Google Plus?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

In the last few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot about Google+, the search engine giant’s latest answer to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Although its previous attempt, Google Buzz, was a flop, Google+ seems to be gaining momentum. In its first two weeks, Google+ already had about 10 million users. Gases and welding distributors are having success with social media. In “Connecting With Customers,” five GAWDA member shared social media success stories. So should your business be on Google+?

The short answer is that Google+ currently does not allow businesses to have profiles. Last week, Google booted several brands that had set up pages, including Ford and Sesame Street. The message sent to one such business stated, “Please remember that we are currently limiting profiles to real people and will be launching a profile for businesses and other entities later this year.” However, Google+ does allow individuals, and those individuals can represent your company. For example, my blog and Twitter accounts are set up with my name, but I use them professionally. Personally, I think this is a great way to form personal relationships with followers.

Even so, it may be a little too early to invest time and money in Google+ as part of your social media strategy if you’re a gases and welding distributor. 10 million is a lot of people, but it’s only a fraction of the 600 million on Facebook or 300 million on Twitter. And I’d venture to guess that most of those 10 million also have accounts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. At some point, Google will have to look for a way to distinguish itself from its competitors. For now, those differentiators are not entirely obvious. However, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Google+, especially once they unveil business profiles.

Opening The Door For Honest Feedback

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

As Colleen Mahoney wrote on the Young Professionals blog yesterday, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool. The Noble Gas Solutions marketing communications manager says she has used it to find contacts at cold calls and to build the distributor’s network. I couldn’t agree more with Colleen’s assessment.

In fact, for our latest Welding & Gases Today cover story, we used LinkedIn to reach out to welding and gases end-users. Traditionally, social media has been used to keep in touch with people you know. But here’s a little secret: social media is the perfect way to get introduced to people you want to know. In this case, we used LinkedIn to gain introductions to welding engineers, purchasing managers and other end-users. And wouldn’t you know—it opened doors and ultimately helped us get some great comments about what end-users really look for in a distributor.

Their comments were honest and to the point—no holds barred. “I don’t want an automated relationship,” says one end-user. When you give your customers a chance to provide honest feedback, the results can be powerful. To read all of their comments and find out what your customers want, you can check out the article online, aptly titled, “What Your Customers Really Want.”

How do you use social media platforms like LinkedIn to help your business? Have you ever used it to help make a sale?