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.
How do you cut through the noise on LinkedIn? Robert Johnson, General Manager and Business Development at MAC Prefab has close to 45,000 contacts on LinkedIn and has discovered how to keep them engaged. Building relationships on the business-focused social media platform has led to several successful business opportunities for Robert and MAC Prefab—especially since he started spreading positivity on a daily basis.
Using LinkedIn to Build Relationships that Lead to Business 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. Joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, mate?
Carman Pirie: Well, Jeff, I’m not gonna lie. I feel like I almost… I need to sneeze, you know? So, if it happens as we start this show, we may have to edit it out.
Jeff White: We may have to edit it out. It could add comedic relief.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I don’t know where we’re gonna go with it, but other than that, look, I’m fine.
Jeff White: Okay, good.
Carman Pirie: I’m fine. Good to be chatting today.
Jeff White: Godspeed. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Well, you asked.
Jeff White: I did. But you know, and it’s one of those things that just kind of hangs there.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly.
Jeff White: Yeah, for sure. Well, I’m really interested in speaking with our guest today, because he has really done what a lot of people want to do with social media, but they don’t necessarily think of it from a business context, and they don’t necessarily make the time for it.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I guess. I mean, I don’t… Is that all it takes, is just thinking about it from a business context and making the time? Or is there some other kind of secret sauce here? I think today’s guest is gonna help shine a light on it, at least.
Jeff White: Yeah. We can hopefully unpack some of that. So, joining us today is Robert Johnson. Robert is the General Manager and Business Development at MAC Prefab. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Robert.
Robert Johnson: Oh, thank you, gentlemen. Good to be here.
Carman Pirie: Robert, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Talk to us about MAC Prefab, first off, and then we’ll get into your role there.
Robert Johnson: Okay. MAC Prefab is a manufacturer and fabricator of cold-formed steel components, so if you think of when you see a wood structure, wood studs which make up the walls and ceilings, et cetera, we manufacture those components, but they’re made out of light gauge steel, and we design buildings, typically hotels, multifamily apartment buildings, things like that. Midrise, what we call anywhere from a four to six-story structure, and we design them, manufacture the pieces and components, and put them together in our shop, and take them out and just stand them up and build them. So, we are a construction company first and foremost, and manufacturer and fabricators secondly.
Carman Pirie: So, it’s exactly where somebody would look for innovation with LinkedIn.
Robert Johnson: Oh, yeah. Just what an awesome segue. I mean, yeah, it’s just built for that. So yeah-
Jeff White: The brick wall segue.
Robert Johnson: Yeah, it absolutely has nothing to do with it, but everything to do with it, so that’s the interesting piece.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I do want to jump into that, and Robert, look, I don’t want to age our guests here on The Kula Ring, but I think it’s worth noting that you are slightly over 23, and therefore, oftentimes a lot of people talking about kind of social media prowess-
Jeff White: They tend to think it’s a game for the young.
Robert Johnson: I would agree.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. So, that’s why I like having you on the show, as well. How long have you been with MAC Prefab?
Robert Johnson: I’ve been with MAC Prefab for about a year, a year and a half. Been in construction for 40-plus years, from working out in the field with tools to putting together numbers, and management of such, and executive leadership. So, it’s been a fun ride.
Carman Pirie: And having just joined MAC Prefab like a year or so ago, how long have you been at the LinkedIn game to the extent that you are now?
Robert Johnson: If I threw a number, probably… Well, for sure 10-plus years. But really only seriously or with the new vision that I developed about a year and a half, maybe two years.
Jeff White: Can you talk to us about what that vision is that you’ve developed for how you approach LinkedIn?
Robert Johnson: Sure. So, originally, I think I approached it much like… Well, a combination of what I would say much like others do, and starting it was 100% business-driven, focused on connecting with people in my industry. And that was just slow going, although there’s lots of people in the construction industry. You know, through that first 10, 15 years, I was able to grow it up to about 6,000 people, and among my peers, that was a big number. People in the construction world, it was, “Wow. You know 6,000 people.” No, not really. Don’t know but maybe a dozen of them, but I kind of had this aha moment a couple of years ago and thought, “You know, who do I like to do business with? I like to do business with people that are like me. We have similar ideas, similar personalities.”
It’s the big thing now, you find people that are part of your tribe, part of your community, and so I just… I went away from worrying about who I connected with and just cast the broad net. Just thought, “I’ll just connect with anything and everything.” So, I started doing that and then started changing my focus from business content to motivational, to positivity, success, stories, quotes, things of that nature. And found that it resonated. Did absolutely nothing for business, but I went from about 6,000 a year and a half ago to approaching 45,000 currently.
And it’s only been over the last probably six months that it actually turned into things that started to produce business, and those businesses were built off of relationships that were formed through this newfound just cast the net and reach out. So, I’ve been focusing more on relationship building than I have anything else, and then where the relationships led to business, so be it.
Carman Pirie: A couple of pieces I’d like to kind of dig into there. I mean, one is just around the 10-year overnight success.
Jeff White: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: All of a sudden, it happens in the last six months and kind of reach a certain tipping point where you start to see the business impact of it but probably more want to kind of peel back to the content side of it, and you said you shifted to sharing more motivational, positivity, success-related content. Is this a daily thing? What’s your pattern there?
Robert Johnson: Yeah. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention you tagged the age thing. I am 59 years old, so I’m slightly more than double the 23-year-old. So, yeah, and I don’t mind, I’m very proud of it. My hair is not as proud of it. It’s receded and fallen out, but other than that part, I’m okay.
Jeff White: We can get on about that later.
Robert Johnson: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I’m trying to walk softly here. I do it probably… So, it started out I was… I get into my office about 4:30 AM in the morning, so about 5:00 I would just do a post. Just anything. A quote, I’d find a quote, just six sentences or something. Nothing major. And that was it. I posted that once a day. And so, from there I was… I went to posting maybe twice a day, but the interesting thing is that I decided that I was going to just go into some of the people that I follow that I like their content, and I like every single comment, and there may be 200 or 300, there may be 400. I do that still to this day probably 600 to 700 times a day. Just clicking the like button.
My viewership, I mean people viewing my profile skyrocketed because of course they get a notification that I’ve liked a comment, and so it’s… That was kind of the piece that made me think, “Wait a second. There’s something here about just getting in front of people.” So, I have changed it to what I’ve done recently is I post at roughly 5:00 in the morning and right before I go to sleep, so I’m getting everybody on both sides of the world when they wake up and get into their office. That’s just the times that it works for me. Don’t really post much more during the day. I’ll go in… I probably get anywhere from 500 to 800 notifications daily from reactions to posts, comments, and I sincerely try to answer every one of them and do my job at the same time, which gets very interesting and makes for some very long nights.
Jeff White: Do you have… Are your coworkers understanding of this strategy now? Because you know, like you said, it’s taken a while for it to actually turn into a business development channel for you, but did they think you were a little nuts at first?
Robert Johnson: Yeah. You know, I had the typical—I say typical—when I would see somebody before, I mean, I actually had in the past, time for true confession, reprimanded employees for sitting and finding them on… not to date myself terribly, but you know, Myspace, Facebook, I walk by, it’s on LinkedIn. Hey, this is business. Get off of that. You know, that whole social media taboo. And I… Yeah, people originally here were, “Hey, that’s real interesting. That’s cool. Could you do something else?” The owner of our company is a very… He’s 30, mid-30s, probably the most progressive person that I’ve ever worked for, and got it, so we started doing LinkedIn, just making posts on LinkedIn, started the company page, which is another thing. It’s incredibly hard to grow, I have found, but we’ve gone from, and we’ve had the company page up for maybe… I want to say maybe five months, maybe. No, it’s more like four. And we’re up to 800 and something followers. But again, it’s from people that have connected with me all over the world. You know, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, because the type of manufacturing we do is very popular everywhere but the U.S.
So, we’re getting there, but it took a little bit of a shove to get us headed that direction. But now it’s like, “Why aren’t you sitting there posting something?”
Jeff White: Robert, this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Go like some more comments. The international thing is interesting because my guess is as a construction-first company, you don’t necessarily service outside of your region? Or do you? Yeah.
Robert Johnson: We do not at all. No, we service the Western United States. We like to say everything west of the Mississippi. And no, we don’t go anywhere else. But we utilize a proprietary software and some role-forming machines, which make the components, that is frame CAD, and it is utilized very widely all over the world. So, that was kind of the piece that introduced me. I found early on that I was getting thousands of Middle Eastern, Indian connections, and at first, I thought, “You know, no, no, no, no. I’m not gonna…” I probably do business with half a dozen of those on a daily basis, either in discussions about manufacturing, and our software, or design, engineering, things of that nature.
We don’t outsource anything currently, but there’s a lot of collaboration.
Jeff White: That’s awesome. I love to hear that. I mean, one of the things that you mentioned is the growth has just been huge, and it’s kind of become a bit of a machine now that it’s built, and it’s at a certain scale, you’re adding thousands of new followers every month. And it’s allowed you to connect with people who aren’t even necessarily in your industry, but that’s creating opportunity as well, isn’t it?
Robert Johnson: Yes. I had some things that I would have never even thought of, and I had… I’ve had conversations and calls even more recently, since the last time we spoke. It’s nothing for me to get calls late at night or on the weekend, a Saturday, or a Sunday, and I was approached by a gentleman in one of the nighttime calls that are building bridges, wants to utilize us to build bridges, and by bridges, I mean concrete traffic bridges, railroad bridges, and they’re using the same steel components with the addition of an acrylic panel to make a type of concrete form that does not have to be taken down for inspection.
So, again, it’s a piece of business, and they’ve been having somebody sitting in the back of a shop with a hacksaw doing this stuff, and it… very antiquated and crazy, and when they realized what we did and how we did it, the businesses were built for each other. And it was somebody that had commented on a post about rejection is just redirection, and voila, it’s turned into about $60,000 to $70,000 a year in business.
Announcer: Are your digital marketing efforts bringing in too many junk leads? Stop wasting time and distracting your sales team. Account-based marketing can help give your marketing strategy the laser focus on the qualified buyers that you need to increase your pipeline velocity, close more deals, and grow your business faster. We’ve created a sample manufacturing ABM plan to help you get started. Download the sample manufacturing ABM plan at bit.ly/sampleABM. That’s B-I-T.ly/sampleABM.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think it was Hugh MacLeod that always said that social media is a great way to make things happen indirectly.
Robert Johnson: So, I tell people, so what’s interesting, and I’m sorry, I apologize for interrupting, but I just recently, since we last spoke, I thought people had said, have said to me many times, “You know, you need to go out there and you need to sell to people.” I mean, there are people that pay to learn how to grow their LinkedIn following, and I’m like, “Nah, they don’t.” And they’re like, “Yeah, they really do.” And one of the people I was introduced to said that they charge $1,400 a month for a three-month minimum, and you know, if there’s no growth, then you get your money back. But you know, he’s gonna make about $250,000 this year off of doing that. And I just thought, “Nah.”
So, I reached out and made a post one day that said, “Look, if anybody would like to have help growing your LinkedIn following, message me. Comment below.” Wow.
Jeff White: Still responding to those messages.
Carman Pirie: Handed in your resignation the next day?
Robert Johnson: Oh, it was… Yeah, it was crazy. And of course, it was for free, and I let them know it was going to be for free, and all I did was reviewed their profile, saw what they were posting, 100% of the people were posting the exact same way, and it was all about business, and they freaked when I told them first of all, stop what you’re doing. Quit just sharing other people’s posts and not adding any comment. And two, quit talking about business. And they were like, “This is what I’m on for. This is what I want to do. I gotta build. I gotta get leads. I gotta get…”
I said, “Quit it. Stop. Find something. Appeal to a much wider audience.” And I had a woman that 30 minutes after I gave her this information messaged me back and said, “I’ve gotten 25 connection requests and a lead for…” I don’t remember what it was. Fitness coaching or something remotely. I don’t remember, but it was just… and I’ve gotten story after story about that. So no, I’m not going to start doing that for a living, but it might make a nice side hustle someday.
Jeff White: Sweet little retirement gig, maybe. Yeah. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: I do think that indirect kind of style of social, that some of this… A lot of people would think, “LinkedIn, it’s the social network for business.” And so, that’s where I want-
Robert Johnson: Exactly.
Carman Pirie: … to do business.
Jeff White: Let’s keep the business in it.
Carman Pirie: Probably what makes not being business-related on LinkedIn almost resonate more in that platform than it may in others, simply because it is so business-centric.
Jeff White: You know, and I think that there’s something interesting about that, because a lot of people, what I often hear about social media, and I mean Kula wouldn’t even exist were it not for Twitter. You and I met as a result of Twitter 10-plus years ago.
Robert Johnson: Interesting.
Jeff White: But you know, like how do you have the time for it? There’s just so much going on, there are so many posts, there’s so much happening in it, and I’ve often described Twitter and my use of it, anyway, which is similar to yours. It’s not a particularly focused or specific reason for doing it, it’s just like it’s a fast-moving river and you stand in the middle of it and choose to engage when something interesting floats by.
Robert Johnson: That is exactly the key. That’s it. And people think… People think that I spend hours a day doing this. If I put all the time together, I would say that I might spend three hours a day, but it’s random times. I’m sitting in a restaurant waiting to get seated at a table when I can find a place that’s open. You know, or sitting in my car eating something from a restaurant. You just… It’s brief. Answering, clicking, 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Other than in the morning and in the evening, it’s just random times. And you’re right, it’s just kind of a… It happens, and what’s funny is when I quit worrying about trying to make it happen is when it happened.
Carman Pirie: Now, Robert, are you a generally fairly positive guy? Or did you have to, as you started to take this approach to more affirmative social media posts, being more I guess helping people along and encouraging folks and being supportive of their success, and very positive, was that kind of a natural kind of inclination of yours? Or did you say, “I know that this is what sells on social, so that’s where I’m gonna go.”
Robert Johnson: So, I have never been asked this question, so I have never been able to answer it, and yeah, this is gonna be the mic drop moment. I’ve been married for 40 years. 41 years.
Jeff White: You better get that right.
Robert Johnson: Yeah. Oh yeah. Especially after I tell you this story. So, I want to say five years ago I started drinking, and I’ve never been a drinker in my entire life. Never been a drinker. Five years ago, I started drinking and I, much like my LinkedIn growth, it accelerated quite rapidly, and I went to drinking, I don’t know, a fifth of Jack Daniels a day. Drank all day long. It led to separation, separated from my wife for three years, up until the last two years. We reconciled two years ago.
I’ll just put it, instead of making it a totally horrible story, which it is, I was a train wreck and literally was to the point that I was about to sleep in my truck before everything came back together. And part of what made me get it together was every morning getting up and having daily affirmations, just writing down 10 things that I was thankful for. And then got to the place that every morning, my wife and I would… We made a list of eight or nine things, and we would call each other in the mornings, and we would read them together, the exact same things. And so, it just came, and it became… I created this habit every morning, drilling into the positive. And that is really how this started, was just doing this every day for myself.
The realization that I came to was there’s a lot of people out there in the same place I was in or worse, and yes, it’s a business platform. Stress is in business and all kinds of things, and it resonated with the people, and especially over the last year with COVID, and lockdown, and in your place. And so, it was like at 5:00 in the morning for me, it was just get up, hey, here’s a few positive things, let’s kick this day off, bam. Let’s go kick it in the butt. And we’re off and running. To other people, the same people I’ve had for two years that comment on my stuff at the exact time every day, so they’re looking for it.
And so, that’s really kind of what it got to, and it’s just grown into this thing. Thank you for asking the question. I don’t even remember that I’ve ever even explained that before to anybody, but yeah, quite interesting.
Carman Pirie: That is fascinating. I mean, I just… You know, I started asking that question because frankly, I’m incredibly cynical, and sometimes I see the uber positive stuff that people post on social and I’m the first one to roll my eyes. Oh, geez.
Robert Johnson: I am too, believe it or not. I still do it.
Carman Pirie: And you know, so I kind of wondered if you were just trying to play to the crowd. I didn’t-
Jeff White: And build a persona, not a… But clearly, it’s not.
Carman Pirie: And I would have to think that authenticity shows through.
Robert Johnson: Yeah, I would think so. You know, that’s why I don’t, and I’ll tag into what you said, kind of my pet peeve, and it’s funny coming from a guy who does nothing but post positive in LinkedIn, is I hate the, and if you guys do this I don’t hate it as much, but yeah, the puppies with the bows around their neck and sliding down the snowy hills, and ducks, monkeys feeding fish, and all of these cute things that people post, and I’m like… and I say to myself, “Really? This is a business website.”
It’s a weird place. And for me, maybe it is because it really is… It has become a habit of just being positive. I’m gonna answer. I didn’t answer your question before. I actually am kind of a positive guy, but you know, I still have to kick myself in the pants to get going, and you get rejected, and I’m in business development, and I’ve been told no a billion times, so some of that does certainly play into the business aspect, but that really is kind of what I do.
Jeff White: That’s fascinating. One of the things that I really like about your non-strategy strategy, I guess, and you know-
Robert Johnson: It’s true. Very true.
Jeff White: … is this idea of just being open to the serendipity of it all. And you know, as I was saying earlier, being able to go with the flow and kind of jump in when you see something that interests you. Are there certain things that you look for? Or is it just in terms of when you engage with others or leave a comment for something, are there certain things that you find that you’re particularly interested in? Or is it just like you want to help as many people as possible?
Robert Johnson: You know, I am a very service-centric person, and I strongly believe in the service to others. If you really will focus on service to others, even from a personal standpoint, and especially a business standpoint, you’ll have much success. But you know, boy, that is… That’s fascinating now that I’m thinking about it. I don’t know. There is nothing particular that I look for that triggers a comment. You know, if I read something and somebody says something fairly profound, I’ll point it out or tag onto it. But yeah, no, I don’t think so.
And that’s what’s really bizarre about this whole thing, is that I do this, and it comes as these one-offs out of the blue that turn into business, and you know, in some cases a $2 million or $3 million hotel job. And it’s just out of the blue from something that just absolutely has nothing to do maybe even with what I’m posting. So yeah, no, it’s fascinating that you should mention that. I don’t think there is anything that I look for particularly.
Jeff White: And I mean riffing off of that, do you share anything related to MAC Prefab? Like are you talking at all, or is it entirely like… You know, some of the social media experts of old were like, “You know, for every six posts you can have one business post or one salesy post.” Do you ever promote MAC Prefab, or talk about it, or showcase a job, or anything like that? Or is that for people to go and find if they’re interested in?
Robert Johnson: No, I do. I will drop a little nugget, a picture of a building, something that we’re doing about every six weeks, maybe. And then about every four, I will share our company page and I will just say, “Hey, while you’re sitting there doing nothing else, take a look at our company page and give us a follow.” Very, very rarely, but yeah, every four weeks probably just point somebody to the page.
What’s funny that you should ask that is, I’ll make one of these posts about positivity and get 1,500 views in 30 minutes and 20 comments. And yesterday, which I noticed that you liked this particular post and I appreciate it, Jeff, but I posted because I’d been on another podcast and the gentleman had published it yesterday, had gone live, and sent me something about it and I reshared it. It was on there for 24 hours and I get this kick in the gonad message from LinkedIn. “You have a post that only has 50 views. Mention other people.” And that’s exactly what it was. I posted it and it was crickets. And it didn’t bother me at all. It absolutely proved my point. People are drawn to particular content.
I mean, you cast a wide net, yeah. Not one like, not one comment. Nothing. So, yeah, it’s crazy.
Jeff White: Interesting what gets the draw, eh?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, for sure. For sure.
Robert Johnson: It really is. It really is.
Jeff White: So, we’re kind of coming to the end of our time here and I have to admit it’s been really interesting.
Carman Pirie: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jeff White: No, I’ve really quite enjoyed this, but I’m wondering what’s next for Robert Johnson’s LinkedIn strategy or consultancy?
Carman Pirie: Non-strategy strategy you called it.
Robert Johnson: Yeah. Well, yeah, that actually… I think I’m going… And if I do something with the non-strategy strategy, I will make sure to give credit where credit’s due. Here recently, I have decided to go the podcast way, and again, in an attempt to use what I’ve learned, interestingly enough my thought is… and you know, you’re never supposed to share these things because if it’s a good idea, somebody’s gonna take it and use it. I could care less. I can change the idea. It is something like let’s talk construction, and have it talk about what you think about when I say let’s talk construction, and also talk about personal development and building ourselves.
So, kind of meld the two together and play to the content that I’ve created a following for, and then utilize the platform to bring in other construction people, talk about things construction-related, of course, but yeah, kind of something that marries the two. So yeah, that’s the next thing.
Carman Pirie: That’ll be interesting to see. I’ll be curious. It actually reminds me a bit of a recent guest we had on out of the packaging space.
Jeff White: Yeah, that’s right.
Carman Pirie: Different ideas, but similar threads through this-
Jeff White: And they’re both about building. That episode… Have we published that yet? I think we have, with Adam Peek from Salt Lake City. The only pastor/packaging podcaster/packaging-
Robert Johnson: Oh, I listened to it. Yes.
Jeff White: … sales guy. But all about personal brand, which is effectively what this is, what we’re talking about.
Carman Pirie: Robert, it’s been great to have you on the show. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It’s been fantastic.
Robert Johnson: Yeah. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed it, guys. Thank you very much.
Jeff White: All right. Thank you.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
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.