Is the digital era killing print? That's the central question at the heart of a lot of physical printing anxiety and strategizing. Fortunately, thus far the answer seems to be "no." Rather than dying, print is becoming a value-added component of thoroughly modern strategies involving plenty of data use and online outreach. Digital is not just an ally in the way print is consumed – this technology can also be a positive influence on the way print service providers market and sell their own products and services.

Becoming a modern business today often involves a process of coming to grips with social media, understanding which networks work best for a particular organization and embracing outreach on those platforms. The printing industry shouldn't exclude itself from this narrative. Potential clients are very active in the digital space, and this means print salespeople should follow along.

Overcoming the taboo
As WhatTheyThink contributor Heidi Tolliver-Walker pointed out, printing businesses that practice what they preach should be unafraid of marketing and selling through social means. They probably sell their own print services as components in multi-channel strategies incorporating updated online components, so using those same approaches to get clients interested in their print products is no great leap. Sales teams must simply ensure they've brushed up on the best practices of online communication today – a lot can change in only a few years, and a current perspective is essential.

Tolliver-Walker presented some of the most relevant conclusions from the 2017 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, emphasizing that posts should have visual elements. Pictures and video are persuasive to social users in ways that raw text isn't, and platforms such as Instagram are entirely based on how individuals use their visual sense to create a narrative.

As for network choice, this year's data gives that crown to Facebook – by a long shot. Tolliver-Walker explained that 62 percent of marketers believe Facebook is their most relevant platform. Using paid ads on this platform is the major way of engaging with Facebook denizens. This may be a shock to individuals who use Facebook in their personal but not business lives – the platform, which has historically been based around free posts that followers consume, has leaned into a paid ad model for brands that want maximum exposure. Tolliver-Walker added that Facebook and Instagram share a parent company, and it's easy to share content between them.

Posting to educate
As Printing Impressions contributor Matthew Parker recently pointed out, social networks are good places to disseminate valuable information about print services and what they can accomplish for companies. This stands in contrast to the predominant image of social media, that of the 140-characters-or-less marketing campaign. That said, there is plenty of room to spread around high-quality resources that lay out a brand's value proposition in clear terms.

Parker stated that this kind of information sharing is a much more valid use for social media than trying to close a sale then and there. Sales reps who attempt to reach their clients one-on-one and get them to commit to a particular product will likely walk away empty-handed. When they use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or another platform to share a good case study or market report, however, they may inspire buyers to think more closely about using print in the near future.

There's only so much brands can do by sharing content made by others. Parker explained that in many cases, print salespeople should call in content marketing teams to design the resources they need. The ideal materials produced in this situation will have potential customers' needs in mind, being designed to drum up interest. Sometimes, the right content for the job will be a quick, visual deliverable. At other times, plenty of data is the way to go.

Don't fear social
When print service providers admit that social networks have value for their marketing and sales efforts, they gain an exciting new channel through which to spread their messages and promote their products. Rather than representing an abandonment of their own specialty – print – becoming a social expert is a way to acknowledge that marketing has evolved and taken on many new wrinkles, many of them digital. A printer that can cook up brilliant marketing strategies for its own services is showing clearly that it can be a valuable partner for potential clients.