Being Social

It can be hard to measure the return on time and money invested in social media.

But the feedback was swift after C-P Flexible Packaging in York, Pennsylvania, posted an article on LinkedIn about its efforts to help a local manufacturer package hand sanitizer for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From all of the sharing of the article, we received several leads from other companies that were producing hand sanitizer and needed packaging,” says Amanda Dahlby, C-P’s director of marketing. One person who saw the post contacted the company’s president and CEO Mike Hoffman, who immediately let Dahlby know.

“It is nice when you have upper management recognizing the value of social media, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting hours on things that are not going to produce leads or sales,” Dahlby says.

“It is nice when you have upper management recognizing the value of social media, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting hours on things that are not going to produce leads or sales.”

Amanda Dahlby, C-P Flexible Packaging’s director of marketing.

While sales leads are important, the impact of social media has traditionally been measured through intangibles like buzz, brand awareness, employee engagement, and thought leadership. That’s especially true in business-to-business sectors like flexible packaging, where sales may involve expensive equipment, customized solutions, and long-term contracts. 

But, as Dahlby and others are finding, the online effort can yield tangible results.

“At Bostik, we view social media as a targeted way to engage with audience members we may not otherwise be talking to via direct sales,” said Corey Schoenherr, national sales manager for Bostik, Inc., a global adhesive and sealant manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. “Our social media presence helps to nurture that audience until they’re in need of a bonding solution.”

Some flexible packaging companies have been honing their social media approach over years—active on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram or overseas on platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp. Other companies are just starting out.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the industry has had to shift focus away from in-person events, such as trade shows and technical seminars. During this time, Bostik has emphasized that its essential employees are still there to support customers digitally, using tools such as social media and webinars, even if they can’t always be there in person.

In particular, Bostik’s webinars give industry professionals from around the world the opportunity to learn about topics relevant to them, such as what flexible packaging trends mean for adhesives. “These webinars, which we promote through social media, are a powerful digital tool to connect with many individuals at once regardless of time zone or travel constraints, especially during this time,” Schoenherr says.

One crucial component of Bostik’s social media is ensuring the posts are not just the message the company wants to convey, but, rather, that posts are also the message its audience wants to hear, when they want to hear it. “Our cross-functional, team approach to understanding this audience is key to our social media success,” says Maura Ogurek, Bostik’s content marketing manager. “While our marketing communications team may promote the message, it’s truly a group effort to determine it.”

In speaking to the company’s policy on employee social media engagement, Ogurek says that team members continue to increase engagement levels on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and opt to share posts with their own personal networks. “We really appreciate that and are glad our team is proud to work at Bostik,” she adds.

The digital efforts also are an acknowledgement of longer-term demographic change. “You’ve got a new generation of young men and women coming into the business and, honestly, that is how they communicate,” says Catherine Heckman, business director for the laminating adhesives and coatings unit of Ashland, a specialty chemical company based in Dublin, Ohio. 

Heckman’s unit, which supplies flexible packaging laminating adhesives and coatings, has been elevating its social media presence over the last few years. It mostly relies on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, though the latter two have been more effective from a business perspective, Heckman says. “Facebook is more social.”

That is a common refrain among marketers. Facebook is seen as a tool for engaging with employees. LinkedIn, with its professional focus, is considered a more appropriate venue for business-to-business messages. “I see what my customers are doing and if they are adding capital equipment,” says Rich Stratz, a strategic accounts manager for Paper Converting Machine Co. (PCMC), which is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. PCMC uses LinkedIn to share press releases, blog posts, customer testimonials, and new product announcements, Stratz says. The company also shares stories about employees. 

One post—about decals the company had put around its manufacturing floor to thank employees for their work during the pandemic—did surprisingly well in terms of engagement, says Nicole Onesti, a senior communications specialist who helps manage PCMC’s social media presence. “We had a lot of people comment and say, ‘That’s awesome. Where did you get those made? We want to do the same.’”

When it comes to sales, customers typically want to see and touch the equipment made by PCMC, Stratz says. But travel and trade shows are on hold, so the company has put together virtual equipment demonstrations, which have gained some traction as businesses adjust to the conditions imposed by the pandemic.

“Many customers have learned to adapt and pivot and do business in a completely different way, and I think some of those things are going to carry over once the pandemic is done,” Onesti says.

In addition to figuring out what to put on social media and which platforms to use, flexible packaging firms also have to decide who to hire. Most companies hand off the responsibility for social media to marketing professionals. Whatever the approach, it is important to have someone who is dedicated to it, Dahlby says.

“If you have people handling your social media accounts that are trying to fit it in among a million other things, you’re not going to get the same results as someone who has a fervor for it and it’s one of their main responsibilities,” she says, adding that executive support also is crucial for success on social media. “Without that foundation, everything that follows is not going to be as fruitful.”

At smaller companies, the keys to social media may end up in the hands of people who are passionate about it. “The engineering side and the marketing side are speaking two very different languages, and so you need a translator,” says Josh Huffman, who started as an engineer at CleanPlanet Chemical, Inc. in Austin, Texas. An amateur photographer, he is now marketing director for the firm as it ramps up its social media presence.

CleanPlanet Chemical markets a service-based solution for recycling solvents used in cleaning printing presses between jobs. Social media has not been a big driver for brand recognition, says the company’s CEO, Alex Richert. But the company redesigned its website in early 2020. In the absence of events like trade shows, it envisions a larger role for social media going forward.

“It’s how a lot of people get their information, so we want to meet our customers where they are, and I think where they are increasingly is within these social media platforms.”

CleanPlanet chemical’s ceo alex richert

“It’s how a lot of people get their information, so we want to meet our customers where they are, and I think where they are increasingly is within these social media platforms,” Richert says. In addition to promoting the brand, the company will be highlighting its technology and what makes it unique.

“What we will need to decide is how much energy and effort we put into it, how active are we on the platforms. Are we posting new things every month, every week, every day?” Richert says. “That’s to be determined. We’ll have to see how people interact with us.”

At ePac Flexible Packaging, the goal of social media is to shine a spotlight on the company’s customers, typically smaller consumer brands. “It gives them a bigger platform than they oftentimes have on their own,” says Jeff Jacobs, director of digital marketing for Austin-based ePac. The company also shares information on topics of interest to its customers—and potential customers, says Meagan Bertoni, digital marketing manager for ePac. A reader might learn how to make a package stand out on the shelf but also that ePac is a potential partner in producing that package.

The key to success is coming across as genuine and authentic, Bertoni says. “What’s woven into our mission at ePac is to put our customers first. That is our goal as a company and that really shows in our social media approach, as well.”

Another critical ingredient on social media is timing. Most companies said they posted no more than once a day but typically at least three times per week. Brevity also is a plus.

“Especially now, with social media and all of these apps and platforms that are coming at us all the time, we’re consuming so much more information,” Heckman says. “For me as a consumer, if the advertising promotion is multiple paragraphs, I start tuning out quickly if I don’t catch the message.”

While the audience for messages about flexible packaging is largely professional, consumers also have a stake in the conversation, especially as the industry strives to highlight the sustainable solutions it is providing to consumer-facing companies.

“Now, more than ever, consumers want to feel good about the products they buy and the effects their actions have on the environment,” says Rebecca Casey, senior vice president for marketing and strategy at TC Transcontinental Packaging, which is based in Chicago. “There is more demand for transparency and visibility within the packaging industry. It will require collaboration with suppliers and partners to present that information to the consumer.”

Joel Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in York, Pennsylvania.