Late for the party

by Adam Ledlow

The stunning collapse in the value of many Internet companies near the turn of the century – known as the burst of the “dot-com bubble” – had far-reaching consequences, with many still being felt to this day. The most obvious was the stock market crash and the recession that followed in the early 2000s, but another was a tendency to be wary, if not outright dismissive, of new Web-based programs and platforms. Many companies were burned during the boom period, and were damned if they were going to let it happen again.  

Emerging in the years immediately following the dot-com burst was a new form of online interaction, which eventually came to be known as social media. Today, social media, via channels such as Facebook and Twitter, is still victim to that post-boom wariness, struggling to find universal acceptance as a business tool in a number of industries, including trucking.

Though it’s been hailed by some as one of the most important trends in business over the last decade, social media is still at loggerheads with a number of detractors, who label it as fad at best and a complete waste of time at worst. And for many trucking companies, the lack of perceived benefits of social media has been enough for them to avoid the online party altogether.

“Most trucking company CEOs cannot see the value in social media except for some very specific purposes (ie. driver recruitment),” says Dan Goodwill, president of Dan Goodwill & Associates.

Here in North America, research from Palmer Marketing indicates that Canadian trucking companies are even less enthused about social media than their American counterparts. Jerry Popowicz, director of Internet strategy at Palmer, says there are likely two major factors as to why US trucking companies have a greater social media presence than those in Canada – and both boil down to size.

With US trucking companies making up roughly 90% of the largest for-hire carriers in North America, many trucking companies don’t have the manpower necessary to put a forward-thinking marketing department in place, says Popowicz.

“Bigger companies also have bigger marketing budgets and there are only two Canadian companies that crack the top 30 for-hire carrier list in North America,” he told Truck News. “TransForce, which is the largest Canadian company on the list, doesn’t have a social media strategy in place, and because it has many divisions under its umbrella, suffers from marketing fragmentation. Many Canadian carriers just don’t spend enough on marketing because of budget, so even if they have a forward-thinking marketing department, they just don’t have the money.”

But Popowicz says that the sluggish adoption of social media is far from limited to the trucking industry. “Companies that are focused on the consumer have adopted social media in much greater numbers than B2B-focused organizations, so I don’t think that slow adoption is exclusive to the trucking industry,” he said.

Turning the tide
But the tide appears to be turning. The annual Best Fleets to Drive For competition, put on by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and CarriersEdge, identifies for-hire trucking companies that provide the best workplace experiences for their drivers. CarriersEdge president Mark Murrell says there has been a marked shift in trucking company attitudes about social media since the program began.

“In the 2009 edition of the program (the first year), the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ do not appear in any fleet report or driver survey at all – no one using, discussing, or even asking about them,” Murrell told Truck News. “In 2013, close to two-thirds of the participating fleets were actively using some form of social media.”

One such fleet is Saskatoon, Sask.-based Yanke Group of Companies, an avid social media user and – perhaps not coincidentally – the only fleet in North America to make the Best Fleets to Drive For list in all five years since the program began.

Yanke first dipped its toe in the social media pool about two years ago, in an effort to – as social media manager Carlene Deutscher puts it – present itself as a “leader in the industry and (stay) on top of technology.”

Deutscher admits that Yanke’s main goal at the outset was to harness social media’s recruitment possibilities, “but it didn’t take long for us to realize that it was an excellent way to communicate and engage with our professional transport operators. We noticed that their family members enjoyed being able to keep up to date with that was going on, either on the road or in the office. We had operators commenting that they liked being able to look at pictures and finally know what the voice at the end of the phone looked like. It’s almost like our social media platforms were being used to further bond and unite our employees.”

Despite having but two years of experience under its belt, Yanke’s social media reach is extensive, using some of best-known platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, in addition to Prezi (for dynamic presentations), SurveyMonkey (for internal surveys), MailChimp (for newsletters), as well as a forthcoming corporate blog in 2013, which will include content from members across the Yanke universe including dispatchers, drivers, and multimodal and executive staff.

“We’re engaged into the world of social media and are always watching and anticipating the next trend,” Deutscher says.

Another trend-setting trucking company is Oakville, Ont.-based Caravan Logistics, which confirmed its need to integrate social media into the company’s business plan after reading a Truck News article two years ago (The new social network, cover story, January 2011, Truck News).

“Social media was becoming a large part of daily life, and conversations were happening about the industry and us. Caravan Logistics was not listening or being heard,” said Sonia Merena, marketing and public relations, Caravan Logistics.

Not wanting to be left out of the conversation any longer, Caravan launched its social media initiative two years ago, hoping to create a source of two-way communication between the company, its drivers and the general public.

“Facebook has helped to strengthen the bond between office staff and our professional drivers; creating a space for drivers, office staff, and the general public to interact and ask questions, provide answers or share personal experiences while on the road,” Merena says.

“Our Facebook fans share a lot of great and personal moments with us and we love it. Fans share their memorable moments or special occasions, such as their wedding pictures with a Caravan Logistics truck or announce their engagements or baby news.”

Merena says even the owners are actively engaged in Caravan’s Facebook page, writing feedback or liking photos posted by others. “It’s all about sharing and contributing; one big social media family.”

An extension of its Facebook page, Caravan’s Twitter account has been an outlet to communicate with potential customers and find sales leads, but mostly targets the general public, allowing them to write comments or questions directed at the company.

“It is very important to know what is going on in the community and to let people know that you care about their opinions, especially with the environmental push and the size of your trucks,” Merena says.

Smaller fleets more ‘social’
While Palmer Marketing’s research revealed that Canadian trucking companies are less likely to engage in social media than US-based firms, it also found that bigger companies lag behind smaller ones.

“Bigger fleets are run by committees, and this sometimes becomes a barrier to quickly putting a proper marketing strategy in place,” says Palmer’s Popowicz.

“If you’re an owner of a smaller fleet and are in tune with online marketing trends, you will be more likely to implement them on your own, and much quicker within your organization, as the sole decision-maker.”

One company bucking this trend is Winnipeg’s Bison Transport, one of the largest for-hire carriers in Canada. After being involved in social media on “a limited basis” for the past few years, Bison expanded its activities “in a strategic way” in 2012, creating “well-defined goals for all platforms” in the process, says corporate marketing manager, Lionel Johnston.

Now active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, Johnston says the company’s main objectives are to “communicate our brand, provide customer service, share career opportunities and to provide a forum for discussion.”

With an increase in Facebook fans, more engagement on Twitter, and trackable conversion rates towards its Web site, Johnston says Bison has certainly seen successes since making its foray into social media, but cautions companies still on the fence to consider their approach carefully before venturing forward.

“For the companies that dismiss social media, they likely have either not tried it yet, or tried it without a proper strategy,” he says.

And the lack of a proper social media strategy seems to be something of an epidemic for Canadian trucking companies. According to an internal survey conducted by Palmer Marketing, of the top 30 largest Canadian carriers, 40% have a Facebook business page, but only 10% of those companies seem to have an actual Facebook strategy in place.

“The amount of total ‘likes’ for all of those companies is well under 5,000, which is a very low number, and speaks to the opportunities available for Canadian transportation companies,” says Popowicz.

“While most companies have a LinkedIn page, only a handful (33%) utilize it for recruiting, brand or company awareness, or communicating the company’s value proposition. Twitter seems to be the least active social media platform among this group, with the engagement level being at 30%.”

Goodwill says that in order for trucking companies to be successful, they must have a social media strategy with a clear focus and objectives.

“The social media tools one uses should be matched up against the objectives. Is the objective to obtain sales leads? Then one needs to offer some sort of white paper that requires the completion of an online form. This can be done by writing a blog on certain topics and showing expertise in an area,” Goodwill says. “If the objective is to use the media for recruiting, LinkedIn and Facebook can be very useful. Metrics can include quality sales leads, prospective candidates for jobs, Twitter followers, etc.”

“Companies need to look at social media as a marketing channel, just like they view the traditional channels of print, radio, TV, etc.,” adds Popowicz.

He points to a driver recruiting campaign using social media as an example. “It would probably be a lot less expensive, but more effective than doing recruiting through a traditional marketing channel. We have clients that have successfully recruited drivers from a Facebook recruitment campaign, by using targeted advertising.”

CarriersEdge’s Murrell says multiple fleets from the Best Fleets to Drive For program are reporting that they’ve hired appreciable numbers of drivers and owner/operators directly through Facebook – with some attracting upwards of 25% of their new hires via the platform.

Popowicz points to LinkedIn as another great networking platform that, in addition to helping companies build their business and promote their brand, is also good for management-level recruitment.

Social media wariness is waning
While some Canadian fleets have been slow to join the social media party, dismissive attitudes towards social media in general are waning in the industry, with most carriers focusing less on if they should be getting involved and more on how to get involved most effectively.

For Montreal, Que.-based carrier Trans-West, an ardent social media user across a variety of platforms, making social media part of company culture is “imperative” to the industry’s future success.

“The labour shortage in the transport sector is alarming. To address this issue, it is imperative that we listen to the current generation of truck drivers. Our long-haul drivers are using new technologies more and more in their professional and personal lives, both on the road and at home,” says Trans-West social media coordinator, Sophie Jacob.

“Making optimal use of these tools and our presence on the Web allows us to communicate better with drivers, regardless of the platform used. Being attentive and accessible, and providing meaningful exchanges are indispensable if we want to maintain fruitful relationships with the drivers of today and tomorrow.

“The high participation rates and the comments we receive from our long-haul drivers confirm to us that these new means of communication are here to stay.”

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