When it comes to social media for manufacturing companies, John Saunders is killing it. His video channel, NYC CNC, is the biggest for CNC machining and manufacturing on all of YouTube.
In terms of numbers, that translates to nearly 200,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 30 million views. Add to that nearly 36,000 Facebook followers and 20,000 Instagram followers, and it’s clear that Saunders has this social-media thing down.
Saunders’ dedication to social media has helped him build NYC CNC and his machine shop, Saunders Machine Works, into successful businesses. Just 10 years ago, Saunders hadn’t yet machined a single part, but he did have a product idea and needed parts. So instead of spending money outsourcing those parts, Saunders did some Internet research, “stumbled through” a few different CAD/CAM software packages, and bought his own CNC machine—then taught himself to be a machinist.
“I love making things: knowing that I can wake up, think of an idea, model it up in software, and machine it.” Courtesy John Saunders.
“It was that challenge and the desire to do it that allowed me to persevere,” Saunders says.
A passion for both learning and sharing knowledge is what Saunders is all about, and that’s been his social-media focus because it echoes his business: In addition to running a traditional machine shop, Saunders offers online and in-person software training.
Regardless of what your manufacturing company does, having a social-media presence is pretty much expected in today’s business environment. “Showing what your company is—what it stands for, what it represents, the culture behind it, the pride of working there—is a huge part of social media,” Saunders says.
Here, Saunders offers six best practices for making the most of social media for manufacturing companies.
1. Understand the opportunities social media offers: new customers and new talent.
Just like any form of advertising or promotion, social media is another vehicle to raise awareness about your business. “It’s baffling to me, as an entrepreneur, when I can’t find a company on social,” Saunders says. “When I go to look at buying a new machine or service, it’s a major influence on my decision process.”
People want to feel confident about their purchasing decisions, and nothing reinforces those choices like peers sharing their own experiences. Relying on peers is even more important for young people. “The younger generation isn’t going to go to trade shows or listen to cold calls from service and sales technicians,” Saunders says.
Recognizing the importance of social media to the younger generation—your future employees—can’t be overstated. Just as you’re likely reviewing social profiles to find new workers, the recruits are using your social presence to determine whether they want to work for you. According to Saunders, it’s an incredible opportunity to entice younger workers to take a fresh look at manufacturing as a career option.
“People need to see that manufacturing isn’t dark and dingy like it used to be,” Saunders says. “If you look in the machining sector, there’s so many different aspects of a role, from operating machines to programming machines to being service technicians.”
2. Choose the platform that makes the most sense for your business and bandwidth.
Whether you take on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or all three, you should be able to share what you do in a way that’s manageable.
3. Think about your audience when creating content: Make it about the viewer.
Saunders can’t stress enough that social media is not the platform to recycle corporate PDFs and sales materials. “That’s not what people want to see,” he says.
What NYC CNC viewers want to see are videos about making parts or learning software, so Saunders combines that idea with the need for a schedule. “Every Wednesday, we publish the Wednesday Widget, where we go through making a part,” he says. “Every Friday, we publish a video on Autodesk Fusion 360—how to do something or how to learn something. Then, we love publishing videos on entrepreneurship, on factory tours, on things in the industry.”
But even though Saunders has a good understanding of his audience, even he can’t always predict which videos will truly resonate. Some of his more technical videos may get only 20,000 views (only, right?) whereas a video on machining a Halloween pumpkin will get more than 600,000 views. And that’s okay. The point is that he creates great content with his audience in mind, and viewers keep coming back.
4. Create a consistent posting schedule, and stick to it.
Although strategy can be an off-putting term, you do need to put some intention behind what and when you post, Saunders says.
5. Engage with your audience—don’t post and run.
With social media, you are creating a community around your business and joining the greater manufacturing social community. That means encouraging your audience to post or comment and then responding when they do, as well as posting on other sites and sharing others’ content. “People are on Instagram following other machinists not just because we like machining, but because we all tend to believe that we’re in this together,” Saunders says. “We want to help each other even though we’re running our own businesses.”
And that can lead to some cool interactions, as Saunders found during a recent stay in Las Vegas for Autodesk University (where Saunders also shares knowledge and engages with his community through classes). The Palazzo hotel has a huge metal sculpture of the word LOVE with dove cutouts throughout, and Saunders wondered how it was made. So he posted a photo of it to see what his followers thought; within hours, someone posted an image of an actual dove cutout from the sculpture.
“The artist had been at Burning Man, handing out the die-stamp blanks that came out of that piece itself,” Saunders says. “This is a cool way of sharing knowledge, talking about a piece of artwork, talking about metal cutting and fabrication techniques. That doesn’t directly relate to me soliciting business, but it helps promote what we do, which is make things for people.”
6. Be patient about your channel’s growth.
Saunders jokes that NYC CNC is a “10-year overnight success.” It didn’t happen in a week or a month, and the same will likely be true for you. It may take a year or more to build momentum—it’s taken Saunders nearly five years to grow his Instagram following.
“The tough thing about social media is that a successful platform is going to take time,” he says. “Some people don’t like that, especially in this generation where we like to think that we can throw money to make things happen more quickly.” Although sponsored posts on Instagram or Facebook can be effective at reaching a target audience, it’s never advisable to buy followers.
At the end of the day, remember that your social presence is only as strong as your commitment. “If you don’t enjoy this, don’t do it, or find somebody else to do it,” Saunders says. “Sometimes I wonder, if YouTube and Google were making up all these numbers about our subscribers and our views, would I still be happy that I did it? Yeah. I enjoy doing it. It takes time, and you’ve got to do it for the right reasons, and then the viewers will come.”