The B2B Social Spotlight: Roger Phelps

Roger Phelps

No one simply picks up a professional chainsaw for the first time and jaunties off to fell a tree, just as no major global brand starts using social media without knowing how to strategically implement the tools.

Roger Phelps knew that integrating social media for STIHL, the number one selling brand of gasoline powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America, required fundamental business reasoning behind which tools and platforms would deliver the right result for the company, its dealers and customers.

As a Naval Academy grad, active service veteran, experienced event planner and PR pro – and presently Promotional Communications Manager for STIHL Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of the worldwide STIHL Group) – Phelps knows strategic process and planning. He took the better part of a year to assemble the company’s approach before launching the company’s social media program.

As an established global brand, what did STIHL intentionally set out to do – or do differently – with social media?

I’ve always said that you earn the right to be heard. You can’t expect someone to listen to you unless you’ve established first that you’re worth listening to.

I started with the fundamental business reasons why our company was going to tackle social. Not because it was cool. Not because it was trendy. Not because everybody was telling me, “Oh you need a Facebook page”. You don’t “need” one unless you have first figured out why it benefits your business.

Our premise – and our promise – is this idea of family. We’re family owned. A STIHL dealership is often family-owned. When you buy a STIHL, you are in a way joining our “family” and we wanted to capitalize on that. Our business goals and objectives were to increase our brand awareness, influence brand preference, and create an open dialogue with our customers. Then I worked to find what platforms could deliver on those goals with our desired audience. In some cases, it was a B2B audience; in others, it was a professional consumer or a homeowner.

I think that’s what social media does; it enables people to become part of something bigger; this family, this group of STIHL followers. The content and information we share will hopefully be interesting and helpful to them, and will inspire them to share their own stories and interests.

STIHL caters to wide range of users and industries. What steps did it take to connect with those distinct and diverse segments?

It comes down to simple word of mouth. STIHL chain saws were initially built for professionals – loggers, landscapers, smoke jumpers, firefighters and rescue workers. A passion built up between these pros and their tools. Then we branched out into consumer tools. The influencers, what we call “Eddy Experts”, were the people everybody else in the community asked about the chain saw and trimmer they use.

Social media is word of mouth gone high-tech and makes it easy for people to share their stories and identify with our brand. They know they may not be a smoke jumper, but if that pro depends on a STIHL then if they need a tool for their backyard, they should buy a STIHL because if it’s good enough for a pro, it’s good enough for them. And now as part of the STIHL “family”, they can share their own story.

What is STIHL doing to build followers and connect with prospects and customers? I see that video plays a large role.

We’re active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as our primary platforms, as well as our blog, and video is our next big focus. The lifespan of content on a platform makes it that way. Twitter is probably hour and Facebook maybe one to two days. You look at YouTube and content there lasts a comparable lifetime. A key metric for us on YouTube is subscribers, which represent our truly engaged users.  They are the ones who have indicated they want content from us, leave comments and share with others the videos that have been uploaded.

How is STIHL using social to engage its dealer channel? To what extent are they using social?

When I first mapped out our social media approach, we knew our dealers would be an important part of the strategy but they weren’t part of the initial approach. A couple of them are very active both on Twitter and YouTube. One dealer even created his own cable TV show, and uses Twitter and Facebook to organize viewing parties and discuss the show afterwards. But it really was not widespread.

I wanted to make sure we understood how the brand was going to be represented and received before we started actively advocating or pushing out social media to our dealers. These are independent businesses. We can’t necessarily tell them what to do or how to do it, except when it comes to how they treat our brand, so I wanted to be sure we knew what we were talking about before assisting them in their efforts.

Now that we are in our third year of social media experience, we are shifting our efforts to assisting our dealers with their social media efforts.  We are creating content that they can easily reuse, customize, and personalize, such as tips, how-to’s, blog posts and videos. We have also just launched formal dealer social media training as part of our company’s online training program. And we’re researching the way social media activates locally so we can help our dealers understand that as well.

How have your social media activities influenced STIHL’s bottom line?

Our main business goal is to promote the brand, our products and our dealers, but as social media tracking becomes more sophisticated we’re getting closer to being able to track the impact of social media interactions on sales.

We don’t sell online, but our STIHL Express service enables people to reserve online. Through tools provided by Facebook and Google Analytics for instance, we’re tracking individuals leaving the Facebook page, landing on the STIHL USA page, and to pages, they navigate to when they get there. So now, we’re able to tie content on our blog or other platform to the STIHL USA page and then track them all the way through the STIHL USA process including a STIHL Express transaction.

We have enjoyed significant sales and market share increases over the past 5 years, and I would say that social media has played an important role in this as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

We review online mentions of STIHL on a daily basis. At the end of the week, we receive a “buzz report” from our social media agency that provides us a summary of mentions, tone, links, and trends. This assists us in getting a feel for what is being said about us and where.  We also measure the number of followers for our various social platforms, and most importantly the degree of their engagement with our content.

I get jazzed every time I read the monitoring reports. Because we’re two-step distribution we’re somewhat removed from our customers. With social media, we are able to develop a relationship with our customers more directly, and hear exactly what they think about our products, our dealers, and us.

What aspect of social hasn’t worked for STIHL? 

Content development has been a learning process. In the beginning, I would cut and paste standard press releases into the blog, and then maybe a part of it became a Facebook post. I quickly figured out that this was not what our fans wanted. I learned that we needed to pay attention to the tone and type of conversation that was taking place on each of these platforms and adjust the content to fit what was expected.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I was a nationally ranked collegiate saber fencer.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I tend to be eclectic regarding the blogs I read, but for the PR side of what I do, Mr. Media Training is phenomenal, and Mashable is regular destination.

How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: uphelpsr (Personal), STIHLusa (Professional)

Blog: STIHLusablog.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/STIHLusa

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/roger-phelps-clp/3/717/968

YouTube: www.youtube.com/stihlusa

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Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.