What to do when you’ve spent millions on a factory, hired a sales team, built a website . . . and then COVID hits?
Such was the problem for American Heavy Plates, a start-up steel mill in Clarington, OH. Their mission: to reduce inventory risk and financing costs, increase inventory turns and meet demand – by delivering shorter lead times for steel plate.
“The company was a year and half old in January 2020, and we had just come out of our quiet stage,” said Damian Brennan, VP Administration. “Two months later, our potential customers and salespeople are at home – all worried about losing their jobs.”
In the steel industry, people want to know who you are before they place that first order. They want to know you’re actually making steel. Damian had to find a way to get the word out.
To help his sales team, Damian began looking at LinkedIn. The AHP page had few, if any followers. “It was me, my mom, and two employees,” he joked.
Because it was important for people to see American Heavy Plates was making steel, Damian began posting photos of every part of the operation.
Passed a competitor’s page within four months
As part of its Analytics package, LinkedIn shows how your page compares to your competitors in terms of followers, number of posts, etc.
Once he saw the data, Damian committed to posting more – while also creating better posts.
“The photographs taken directly from the shop floor really resonated with folks,” he said. “I have an iPhone 11 and the technology is so good, it picked up the heat coming off the steel plates. Instead of photos of boring grey steel, we were posting red hot steel! People loved it!”
The phone’s camera technology is so good that the shop floor guys can look at the photos and know in an instant how hot the steel is by its color.
According to Damian, the steel industry has changed, a lot. Buyers are more likely to be in their 30s, not their 60s. These younger buyers turn to social media for information that’s packaged to educate and entertain.
“We decided not to be afraid to use humor and to show who we are,” he said.
The number of followers grew. Within four months, the American Heavy Plates page passed a competitor’s page.
Says Damian, “By this time, I was posting 40 posts a month; the page was gaining over 300 followers a month. One of our competitors hired a videographer, but they weren’t committed to it and gave up.”
American Heavy Plates, on the other hand, kept going.
The efforts paid off. By the end of 2020, the sales team was able to attribute 33% of sales revenue to companies whose buyers and management were avid followers of its LinkedIn content.
Tips and tricks
To build followers, Damian used the “invite” tool that’s part of the page tool kit. (With this tool, a page Admin can invite 100 connections a month to follow the page.) As of this writing, the American Heavy Plates page has over 3,100 followers.
To get traction with the photos, Damian invested in Photoshop and a tripod. He and the guys on the floor take the photos. Over time, they figured out what worked and what didn’t.
He uses Photoshop to add a border and the company logo.
“We’re religious about our brand,” he said. “Every post we do is focused on steel and it has to reinforce our branding and message. The posts have to resonate with everyone – from CEOs to crane operators.”
The posts themselves tell the story quickly – and help AHP educate people. A two-second video showing plate pre-heating (it is very cool!) garnered 8,756 Views, 88 Likes, and 20 comments (Figure 1).
The first comment questioned AHP’s process: “Isn’t there a better way to accomplish this [step]? It seems a bit archaic.” Damian answered the question – with the guy writing back, “Thank you AHP, you addressed my question directly.”
Who’d have thought you’d see hardened steel guys talking shop on LinkedIn?!
When asked if he uses other social platforms, Damian said he started with LinkedIn and then moved over to Facebook, which he said is more for “friends and family.” He posts videos to the company’s YouTube channel but doesn’t “hear anyone talking about Instagram” so he doesn’t use it.
“We get 10x more traction with LinkedIn than any other platform,” he said.
About American Heavy Plates
Based in Clarington, OH, American Heavy Plates was started by a group of industry veterans from steel service centers and mill industries. Their mission is to revolutionize the way steel is produced by focusing on the rapid production, processing, and distribution of heavy plates and plate parts. To learn more, visit: www.ahplates.com