The Kula Ring

Episode 155 Build a Manufacturing Brand Through Social Media

The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.

Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.

The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.

On the Kula Ring podcast this week, we had the opportunity to speak with Jim Cahill, the Chief Blogger and the Head of Social Marketing at Emerson Automation Solutions. Since 2006, Jim has been cultivating Emerson’s social media presence and digital brand. Over his 33-year career at the company, Jim has witnessed a lot of change in marketing, starting with the introduction of internet marketing in the mid-90s, ‘Web 2.0’, and most recently how the pandemic shook up the marketing industry as a whole. Listen to Jim as he shares his industry knowledge on the best social media tactics that manufacturing marketers can implement to build connections with their audience and create social media content that drives sales.

Build a Manufacturing Brand Through Social Media Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: All is well, all is well. Look, I’m not gonna lie. I was about to take a drink of water there when you hit record and-

Jeff White: I’m a former waiter. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly.

Jeff White: I’m really good at asking people how their food is while their mouths are full. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, you know, to be fair, I should have known that it was coming. It’s not like it’s my first time doing this. 

Jeff White: Yes. Yeah. 158 episodes recorded? 

Carman Pirie: Something like that. 

Jeff White: Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: But look, it’s good to be chatting again, and I’m excited about today’s show. I think it’s funny because we kind of rarely find somebody in the manufacturing marketing space that is a long time if you will, a disciple of even Web 2.0. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Let alone blogging and social. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, I’m excited to chat about it today. 

Jeff White: For sure. Because it definitely… You know, people who’ve been at it for this amount of time have ended up building something of an unassailable asset. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we don’t want to try to date today’s guest. We’re not saying that he’s old or anything.

Jeff White: No. We are. 

Carman Pirie: We’re just saying the brand itself has been at it for a while. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. So, really looking forward to this, so joining us today is Jim Cahill. Jim is the Chief Blogger and Head of Social Media Marketing at Emerson Automation Solutions. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Jim. 

Jim Cahill: It’s so great to be here with y’all. I thought you were calling me old for a minute, but that was a good recovery there. I feel much better now. 

Carman Pirie: Man, if you look like Jeff and I, you do not spend a lot of time calling others old. Let’s put it that way. 

Jeff White: Yeah. There’s enough gray. I just try to hide it. Yep. By getting rid of it. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Jim, look, I will maybe date you a little bit and just say that you’ve been at Emerson for 33 years, so that is a remarkable stint. Why don’t you tell us a little bit, there’s probably nobody better to tell us about Emerson Automation Solutions than you, so why don’t you introduce us to the company a little bit? Tell us what you’re up to. And then we’ll go from there. 

Jim Cahill: All right. Well, Emerson as a company has two primary businesses. People may know Emerson from the other side, commercial and residential solutions, maybe their InSinkErator garbage disposal in their sink, or a ceiling fan, or different products more for that commercial side. But I’m on the Emerson Automation Solutions side. Basically, we provide automation across different types of manufacturing and production, from pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and refining, to some of the discrete type manufacturing, automotive, and some of the other industries. So, basically, we provide the instrumentation and automation so they can run their facilities safely, efficiently, sustainably, all those good things. 

And yeah, I’ve been with Emerson for 33 years and in various sales and marketing roles, and my background is a bit of being an electrical engineer. Started as one of those guys that try to keep offshore production platforms safe and reliable and all that, and then I guess 33 years ago I switched sides to try to influence those types of people to buy our particular automation technologies and solutions.

Carman Pirie: Now, I’m well aware that the blog did not start 33 years ago, but when did it? EmersonAutomationExperts.com

Jim Cahill: Yeah. I wasn’t aware of the internet 33 years ago, so it was an evolving thing. It was basically around the mid-’90s and I, at the time, was with a group that launched a brand-new control system called DeltaV, and we worked on building up that brand, but a few years later actually, I guess it was around 2006, we combined our systems business with the solutions business that basically did projects working with customers to install these systems, and I was in charge of the brand building, so no longer just for our control system, but also for our people. And we really didn’t have much of a presence at all, and that was the idea to get the blog started, that we would tell stories of our experts. Whether they were project experts, or ongoing optimization experts, and just get their stories out there where people Googling around or whatever their favourite search engine could find them and know we had the capabilities. 

So, that was really the start, and then all these other social platforms kept emerging over the years since then, so the blog I guess started around 2006 and we’ve been at it in one form or fashion ever since then. 

Jeff White: I love this idea of leveraging your people and your team and showcasing their expertise and really elevating them, and you know, I think that can help to provide an awful lot of fodder for content. And I know you guys are doing it at a very high level in terms of how you approach that internally and how you find people to bring to the fore with the blog, eh? 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. I mean, our business is very technical. We sell to engineers. Most of the people that work for Emerson are engineers and it’s really just being able to get that expertise out and share it, so when… You know, engineers by nature are charged to solve problems. There’s always a problem in front of them to solve and it’s important that we make sure they understand that we have a lot of experts that can help them. It’s not just the technology you put into these really complex manufacturing facilities. It’s also the expertise. And more and more, it gets more complicated as time goes on, where they need more help from the suppliers of the technology. 

Carman Pirie: I wonder, I’m kind of curious. How have you found… There’s no question that engineers get… You know, it’s often said they demand obviously very technically accurate and complete information, a desire that, and the information, content that’s created for engineers ought to have that in mind. But then, of course, from the start you talked about telling the stories of our experts, which to me felt like it could go a couple of different ways. 

Jeff White: More touchy-feely than technical? 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, so I’m kind of… I guess I’m curious. Have you found, I guess is there a balance to be struck there, Jim? Do people also want to get to know the people behind the product and does that tend to resonate? Or do you find yourself sticking to more technical knitting, as it were? 

Jim Cahill: Well, usually, in most of the posts, starts with some kind of challenge. They’re challenged in doing something. It might be cybersecurity. It might be energy efficiency and trying to get better at that. Maybe advancement of sustainability, to become a more sustainable manufacturer. You know, so usually, that’s the starting point, a bit of the challenge, what we can do in terms of technology and or people to be able to help with it. So, it’s still pretty technical, because those challenges tend to be that way, so I would say if somebody came upon the Emerson Automation Experts blog and looked at it, it would have a technical bent. 

I’m an engineer by degree. I’m probably not the flashiest writer, but I just try to have enough in there to be able to identify what that challenge is because it’s probably what they’re gonna find in a search, and then describe it a little bit and then have links where you can dive as deep as you want, either links to content, where that might be, or to people. Connect with our expert directly on LinkedIn, ask him a question. Or we have an online community. Get in there and join your global peers and fire away your questions and engage. So, we try to have that as a call to action out of there from however you find it that you can go further. Because the blog itself is maybe 500 words or something like that, so it’s not gonna be the be-all-end-all to their solution. 

Carman Pirie: That’s interesting. I find it interesting, this notion of people connecting with the experts via LinkedIn, as well, after reading the post, and I guess it’s a point of conversion that a lot of… because companies themselves don’t own that point of conversion, I think sometimes it can be maybe even-

Jeff White: Scary. 

Carman Pirie: Well, they maybe don’t even try to encourage it, right? But in this instance, Jim, where you’re finding folks are converting on LinkedIn, building rapport, digging deeper into the challenge that brought them to the content in the first place, and then it’s the engineering team that moves it over to sales when appropriate? 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. That’s really exactly how it goes, so somebody may come upon a post featured some expert, there’s a little LinkedIn icon, or you can email them directly, and then what they’ll tend to do is answer the initial, identify where that person is located, and we have a global response center that helps, so it’s not up to the expert to try to figure out what sales organization to engage. We have a team that can do that and gets it in there into a sales realm. 

And that’s what we see a lot. The one thing, I might not get visibility to all these connections, but I have built up relationships with our experts, where they tend to… You know, if something good happens and we sell a thousand valves that started with a blog post or something like that, they usually come back and share the good news with me. And I’ll report that on because you know, social provides a lot of metrics, but not a lot of ROI. It’s those anecdotes that really fuel what we do and say this is very valuable to us. 

Jeff White: Yeah. You really have to tie it together and bring it back, especially… I’m wondering, you know, the C-suite and the other folks at Emerson, are you reporting this to them? Do you have specific metrics that you share? Talking about the number of connections made and things like that? Or is it still more organic than that?

Jim Cahill: Yeah. We put out a monthly scorecard and part of that scorecard is the health of our different social channels from LinkedIn Company Page, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all those kinds of things. And that provides some level, just the health. Are we gaining? Are we losing? Is our content getting engaged with? We also kind of feature, because we work hard at training our experts to be social savvy, where they can confidently put things out and to their connections in LinkedIn, and we find that gets a whole lot more engagement. People engage with people much more than they engage with brands on that, so we really encourage that and report and say who’s doing a really good job each month. 

And then really the last part are those anecdotes, and that’s really important from things that drive loyalty, like getting them into the community among their peers, or just sales opportunities. I had one, you know, I saw this picture of this big skid that measures the transfer of custody of oil from one company to another and all the measurements involved. The guy said he looked at the picture, he said, “I want exactly that. That picture there.” So, you could have a picture in a blog post that leads to a big sales opportunity. 

Carman Pirie: I’ve got a couple of… Well, at least one or two comments, but one question. I’m curious about this. You said you have a point of conversion on the blog posts that are both connecting with the expert via email or via LinkedIn. Do you have a sense of the distribution, the percentage that does one versus the other? 

Jim Cahill: Well, if it is email, it’s one of those where there’s a specific subject line prepopulated in there and I’m CC’d on it, so if they don’t go and delete me, I see those. So, those I get a little bit more visibility for and I can also make sure that the SME, our subject matter expert, is engaging with it. And I also will send it to our global response center, so they can track and make sure who the right organization is. But I suspect a lot more really happens through LinkedIn, and that’s just… Again, it’s anecdotes from people reporting back to me that they made a connection or something like that. 

But that one’s a lot harder to track since it’s in there, but part of our thought is the faster we can get someone into the right person, the right expert in the organization, the greater our chance will be as a sales opportunity for that. So, although I think sales would always like they come in through that door and it works its way through the process, people have been trained by Amazon and all these other things and want fast response there. So, social is a big way that we can make that happen. 

Carman Pirie: I think that’s instructive for our listeners to think about as you think about calls to action and connectivity with experts. I wouldn’t say it’s a super common strategy, but it is a strategy that is employed reasonably frequently to say, “We need to kind of lift the veil,” if you will, and show our market our experts here, and really get them… But they don’t take the… I think most people don’t take that step of understanding to give them different ways of connecting. And then the other thing that they don’t do, which I think is also very instructive, Jim, from your experience, is this making it easy for experts to punt that thing to sales. 

Jeff White: They don’t necessarily always know how to do that and it just kind of dies in limbo. Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: The global response center is a really, really well thought out piece for that, and I think it’s a missing piece for a lot of organizations. 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. And we’re a very complex company and we acquire different companies, and there are different sales channels, and depending what world area could be different yet again, so it really takes someone that has it all mapped out. What did I say? It’s like that football analogy of the quarterback running and optioning to the running back. Get it into somebody’s hands that can do something with it to make it happen. But you know, it’s just… It basically provides us with this big digital footprint of people and other things to be able to try to get people to where they need to be, so they see Emerson as being very helpful in the things that they need to do and the problems they need to solve. 

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Jeff White: I mean, it’s so often the case as marketers and salespeople like we are, our ilk are all over LinkedIn. But you don’t often see engineers there quite as often. Do you find that you have to coach them into that somehow? Or are a lot of the engineers and subject matter experts that you have well versed in being present on social media when they come to you? What’s more common? 

Jim Cahill: Well, we developed a curriculum specifically for that for experts, and it’s kind of why do we do it at all as Emerson, what are some of the dos and dont’s, so you don’t get yourself into trouble and violating some law, like if you’re leaking financial data before your company has leaked that or said that at the end of the quarter. So, we go through and do that, and we also have a… I guess the category is the employee advocacy platform that they come into, so a lot of the things that they can share are curated content that myself and other marketing communicators put in there. And also, a really important part is that the subject matter expert can suggest content because we don’t want it to just push Emerson content to your connections all the time. We want to know you’ve read an interesting article and you’re in the pharmaceutical or life sciences industry and it’s some trend or some regulatory thing that’s different, we want to be able to put that out so as people share that with their connections, they get credit for that, that they look really smart and on top of things. 

So, that platform really helps us do that, and once in there, then we can identify, well, who were the top performers out there in terms of what they shared, and how much engagement got, and other things, and that tends to spur people to be a little more competitive and stick with it. 

The one thing is, it’s extra work. People have their day jobs and things they have to do. But we try to sell them on the idea that by participating there, that they’re building their personal brand among the connections they have and everything else, so just invest a little bit, even if you’re only doing a post a week or sharing something like that, whatever your baby step is. It all contributes to building your personal brand. 

Jeff White: I love this idea of making it a little bit of competition because you have a leaderboard, too, don’t you? 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. Yeah. And we put that into the scorecard that we put out each month and share around, so that’s… We tend to see a spike in activity and sharing after that scorecard goes out. People are fired up and after it. 

Jeff White: The human condition is pretty interesting. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. But part of your question there initially, Jeff, or baked in it was a bit of an assumption that engineers really aren’t… LinkedIn isn’t a natural habitat for engineers. Well, if that were true, then they wouldn’t be converting with these experts and communicating via LinkedIn, so I think maybe the message there to marketers is, “No, engineers are on LinkedIn. They may just not be interacting with your marketing the way you want them to.” 

Jeff White: Yeah.

Jim Cahill: Yeah. There are some LinkedIn groups that have 300,000 people joined and it’s very technical, like measurement instrumentation, or instrumentation professionals, or you’d be surprised how many are in there. I do think it just seems like more and more, LinkedIn you get sales pitches, a lot of other things, so I worry a little bit if every time they log in and people are trying to sell them something or whatever else, it’s gonna do some damage to people wanting to get there. 

But I’d say at least where we’re at right now, we find our customers are in there, and I know that personally because they’ll engage with some of the posts that I put out there. I’ll share whatever my latest blog post is in there and we’ll get a little dialogue going on quite a number of them, so I do see them out there. 

Carman Pirie: Jim, I’d be curious. How does this presence that you’ve developed over the years with a blog really being the foundation of it, how does it compare to the competition? Are they exposing experts in a similar way? Are they playing a bit of a me-too game? Where are we at with that? 

Jim Cahill: I think there are differences among them. Some are very…I would say marketing-driven, high-level messages, that kind of thing, so not as much raising the visibility of experts. And other ones, some don’t have blogs, but they have communities where that peer-to-peer knowledge sharing happens, and then some I don’t even see a social presence at all from them. It’s like that’s not an important part of marketing or whatever. So, it tends to run the gamut from one where it looks like the agency runs the blog and it’s beautiful pearly words, and pictures, and everything else, so I would say we’re probably somewhere in the middle, although I’d say we were first out of the gates, definitely. We were with the early blogs like the Dells and other people of the world way back when. 

Corporate blogs were a whole new thing. 

Carman Pirie: And your location is I think across the highway or so from Dell, is it not? 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. I like to say their initial chief blogger and I would go to lunch occasionally right from the big Dell complex, and just share war stories of it, but yeah, they started just a couple of months after, so I always had bragging rights that we started it first. 

Carman Pirie: How much, so you didn’t steal it from Dell, I guess that we know, but how much do you think that the location being based in Austin kind of drove that early adoption? 

Jim Cahill: I think it helped. And a lot, coming out of building the brand of this new control system, and we did a lot of… I would consider guerilla marketing things. We were just the spunky group of folks that built this control system at an off-site, you know, kind of a skunkworks, but within a large company, Emerson, so we had that spirit of trying new things and whatever. So, the blog was there, but it did take I would say a full year to get everyone comfortable with it, and it was… The biggest fear was two-way communication. It wasn’t just us putting our point of view. It was the fact that comments were there, and people could come back at us, and we had to… The way we addressed it, it was like, “What’s the 10 worst things that could possibly happen by opening up a blog that had comments where people could respond?”

And I think some of them were like our competitors would attack us relentlessly, our experts would be found out to be not that great of experts. It was just all these kinds of things. And I think after working through that and going through the different levels, they go, “Well, let’s start it as a pilot and see what happens. If it’s really bad, we’ll shut it down.” Well, you know, we’ve been going since 2006, so nothing really bad has happened to this point. 

Jeff White: I think it’s interesting because that certainly was… I remember Carman and I were giving talks around that time about social media to businesses and kind of getting them on the side with the idea of doing it, and that was always the number one complaint, or the number one concern. 

Carman Pirie: It should be noted this is well before Kula Partners. 

Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. And you know, it never really materialized that way, that the blog… I mean, obviously, there are issues that pop up on social media these days. Some platforms are worse than others. But you know that kind of, “Well, our competitors will lambaste us on our own platform,” it never really kind of came to pass for anybody that I can recall. 

Jim Cahill: It was like almost similar conversations in the mid-’90s as the internet was just going and companies had that. We put data sheets out there and it was like, “Well, the competitors are gonna get your data sheets and know what you’re doing and build better products.” Our response was always, “Yeah, if they’re looking at what we’ve already done and out there, we’re already working on the next thing, so they’re locking themselves in behind,” so we used those kinds of arguments. 

And the other thing, it was like if you look at the customers we serve, these guys are engineers with a very, very difficult job keeping the plant running safely, reliably, efficiently, all that kind of thing, and nobody’s out there to burn bridges, like other industries, and be a troll, and that kind of thing. Everyone’s very good-natured and appreciates whatever help they can get from where they can get it, so that’s what we’ve seen throughout this whole journey, are we just don’t see that. 

Carman Pirie: I can’t help but notice that you still have to comment on the blog today, which so many organizations, because of course commenting isn’t engaged with that much either these days. They often have just removed it entirely. But I love that you still have the option there. It makes the old blogger in me happy. 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. And we only get the occasional comment because most of that action will happen in LinkedIn, or if it’s embedding a video in there, maybe the comment stream in YouTube or whatever, so that is kind of scattered all over, but yeah, it’s still there and we do get occasional… There used to be a problem with a lot of spam and other stuff in there, but with the plugins there to eliminate most of that, it’s generally pretty good stuff that’s there when we do get comments. 

Jeff White: I’m interested, you’ve been at this a long time, 15 years or so developing and creating this content, and building the capabilities within your team at Emerson. What do you really feel is the next phase for you and your team? Are you looking forward to any particular channels? Are you just gonna continue to grow and provide great content through the channels you have now? Or is there anything you’re really excited about coming up? 

Jim Cahill: Well, we did just over the past couple of years, it used to be more the Jim Cahill show blog, and we redesigned it and opened it up where a lot of our business units and people in the world areas could blog, so that’s grown just in there are a lot more voices, a lot more things going on there. We’ve also got much more into podcasting. It is a very good medium for people on those commutes or exercising, or whatever else, so that’s something we’re doing more, and like we did with blogs, I’ve been doing a lot of them but putting together the structure, and what makes for a good podcast, and that kind of thing, working on that right now so we can have more of our people in the business units and world areas doing it. 

It’s gotta fit in with the brand. We don’t want the comedy hour here. Other stuff. It’s gotta fit with the Emerson brand, so that kind of thing we’re working on. And then I’d say especially what COVID induced, the live element of things, trying to look at it more of can we do it where you actually promote the live recording, then edit it, and you have the video version that others… What do you see some of the popular podcasters doing? But basically, being able to wrap a campaign around that a little bit to get more out of it than maybe a podcast alone, or a YouTube video alone, so we’re looking at some of those kinds of things and always kind of monitoring the newer platforms, like how would we use TikTok, or some of the other things in there. 

And we tend to… I have a big social marketing council with representatives from the different business units and world areas, and we’ll pilot and try things like Latin America wanted to do something in Instagram, where we didn’t have big, so they’ve had some success with that. They also have a podcast every Friday in Spanish. And so, we encourage that kind of thing and have them share results, and then if it’s something that pans out, how can we put structure around it so other people can do it but do it in a way where we’ve learned our lessons on the new platform? 

So, that’s the kind of thing. We’re always looking for ways because one thing about social is it never stands still and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so we’ve always gotta see what’s out there. 

Carman Pirie: It’s fantastic to hear that level of innovation happening, really. You don’t hear a lot of marketers in your space talking about experimentation with Instagram or TikTok. 

Jeff White: No. 

Carman Pirie: And even… You know, Instagram certainly would be much more common, but even then, yes, it’s few and far between by comparison to the number of people that haven’t started a blog, they haven’t had a podcast, they haven’t… And I think in a lot of cases, they’re like, “Well, why would I start now?” It’s almost like it’s too late. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It feels too late. And I think that kind of goes back, if you have the platforms, and you’ve developed a way to operationalize new platforms and fold those in, and learn, and experiment, then it probably gets a lot easier, and if you haven’t started this kind of thing and you don’t have a bank of 15 years of content, you probably feel like, “I just shouldn’t start.” But the best time is now if you didn’t start 15 years ago. 

Jim Cahill: Yeah. And we kind of do, because we’ve built some critical mass around our Emerson Automation Solutions channels, and some of the larger businesses have enough people where they can generate the content, but a lot of them don’t. They wear all the hats from PR, marketing, sales tools for the sales… You know, the whole gamut, so the thought of starting something new in social media, is a big hill to climb because you gotta constantly feed it with content and that kind of thing. And for them, we have our Emerson Automation Solutions channel, and we just work at scheduling, making sure we get… don’t inundate the different channels in there. But that tends to work pretty well. 

So, we have some flexibility to be able to have the larger businesses have some autonomy in communicating out their way, but also the smaller ones that we can take care of them with our company brand channels. 

Jeff White: That’s fantastic. 

Carman Pirie: Jim, I really want to thank you for I guess just kind of opening up the world of ‘Emerson social’ to our listeners today. I think it’s been really instructive to hear how it’s evolved and just kind of your way of thinking about it, really. 

Jeff White: Yeah. It’s really great. 

Carman Pirie: And nurturing it. It’s been very instructive and thank you for sharing your expertise with us today. 

Jim Cahill: Well, I really appreciate the invite to share a little bit of our story and get it out there, so thank y’all so much for that. 

Jeff White: Appreciate it. Cheers. Thanks. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.

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