B2B companies, once considered the poor relation in adopting B2B social media for business, are now closing the gap with their consumer counterparts.
And there is also a growing realisation that a solid B2B content strategy and marketing plan are the essential precursors to any involvement with social media!
A new report by New York brand consultancy, Vivaldi Partners offers examples of where big brands with a B2B focus are performing well in what the agency calls “Social Currency” – demonstrating the “six social behaviours” of “information, conversation, advocacy, affiliation, identity and utility”.
And Vivaldi claims (though how it has verified this is not stated) the context is right for B2b businesses to “get social” on the basis that “90% of all purchases are subject to social influences” while “59% of B2B professionals use their smartphone to gather purchase information on core decisions” and “46% of B2B professionals regularly follow industry discussion forums online”.
The argument, on the face of it, is compelling – B2B businesses simply have to “get social media”. But what does that mean in practice?
Before any business, B2B or not, enters the social media fray it should have a word with itself, using some useful friends, otherwise known as WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, HOW…?
GETTING THE SOCIAL MEDIA BASICS RIGHT
Jumping into social media needs to be prefaced by asking “why are we doing this?” How does using social media fit with the business’ overall mission, vision, objectives and culture? Just because it’s working for other businesses doesn’t automatically mean it will work for you. Make the business case first, before worrying about how your logo’s going to look on Twitter!
There are countless social media channels your B2B business could get involved with, but few of them are likely to be of any value; where are your customers, prospects, stakeholders likely to be? If they’re not on Pinterest creating photo boards of cute kittens or great restaurants they’ve eaten at, then that’s probably not the place for your B2B social media efforts either. For B2B, there are some obvious destinations – LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ could be called the “usual suspects”. However, it’s worth doing the research to see whether your key audiences are there and – more importantly – what they’re doing there. If their last Tweet was a retweet of the Gangnam Style video sometime last year, they’re not what you’d call “engaged” in social media.
Populating 140 Twitter characters or posting an update on LinkedIn seems easy-peasy, right? But – as with any meaningful social interaction that builds familiarity and, eventually, trust and friendship – you need to be consistent. Contrary to another of Vivaldi Partners claims, I don’t believe that “every business is social”. Culturally, some are better than others at exposing a human face; some are frankly diabolical. So, B2B social media activity needs to have the audience firmly in mind: what do they want from you? Is it really online conversation or is it rather great content, such as white papers, podcasts, video, blog posts? If so, how often do they want it? You need to know this, or your B2B social media momentum will stall.
In the world before social media (and still now) corporate external communications were tightly controlled. Any corporate utterance might as well have had “TOP SECRET” stamped on it before it was allowed to go live, after being scrutinised to every last full-stop and comma by managers and communications agencies. That level of control doesn’t lend itself well to the immediacy of social media interaction, which is why you need to choose carefully who in your company will be let loose with the Twitter password. That’s not to say your B2B social media activity is unplanned. Quite the contrary. But exposing your business in open forums that are, by nature, outside your control needs a deft hand at the control and someone with a tone of voice that can manage the social media risks as well as rewards.
How exactly are you going to create and maintain your B2B social media presence? It takes considerable effort and commitment, but is not impossible. Unless you have the luxury of a social media community manager in-house, you need a core team of contributors who will – either themselves or with the help of external agency support – create the content and manage its distribution via your social media channels of choice. At the very least, a weekly editorial meeting provides focus and allocates responsibilities for keeping the activity alive and kicking. Once your presence is established, you can begin to pull in other contributors – for example, a guest writer on your blog – to create variation, share the content creation load and add some independent interest and credibility. Get familiar with Google Analytics so you can monitor what is working and what isn’t.
In the same way that a “dog is not just for Christmas”, getting involved in social media isn’t just for this week; if you want to see any return on it, that is.
As purchasers increasingly turn to the internet for immediate knowledge and insight before they make decisions, the behaviours that affect consumer acquisition will overlap with B2B buying patterns. The B2B decision making process may be longer, more considered and require other due diligence than just seeing what your pals are bigging up on Facebook. However, the power of the right kind of information packaged in the right way and shared via the most appropriate social media channels cannot be ignored.