"Social media is a collection of tools that allows marketers to engage with online communities to generate exposure, opportunities and sales." Sounds promising. But as one client put it, "I don't see how sending out the occasional tweet or updating my Facebook profile helps my business."
He has a point. Clearly, B2B companies cannot use the same social media tools in the same way as consumer markets. Products differ, procurement cycles differ and markets are international. So, how do you get started?
Avoid social media 'experts' that aren't B2B by nature… They don't understand the content, the tone and breadth of your information, where to distribute it or how to talk to your customers in their language.
Begin by changing your perceptions of how information flows to customers. Social media makes you the publisher. Say what you like, where you like and whenever you choose… to anyone around the world. Distribution is right now, so customers get immediacy and you're opening a two-way conversation.
Webcasts, podcasts, online video, VNRs, blogs, forums, eBooks, you name it, can be used intelligently to:
As part of an intelligent marketing plan, social media can open up channels to inform and engage customers, while your company is perceived as available, interested and authentic.
Social media is the ideal solution for at least one B2B problem - that of getting your message into emerging markets.
Traditional methods don't work in places without trade magazines, industry organisations and exhibitions. You have at best email lists, a few contacts and perhaps a local rep that may or may not be switched on.
In many emerging countries, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are the preferred method of communication.
Using Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and LinkedIn could be the best, most cost-effective way to reach influencers in places like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, to name just a few.
For example, at this writing, there are well over 125,000 LinkedIn members in dozens of groups related to Vietnam. Where else could you access that many professionals for virtually nothing?
This is a continuing theme - the purpose of social media and all B2B marketing activities is to increase sales, in part by shortening the sales/procurement cycle.
The idea is simple. At any given stage in this cycle, different groups of people need different types of information. For example, early in the process engineers need technical data about capabilities and compatibilities. Later, purchasing departments require in-depth costs and financing information.
Social media allows different information at different times and in different formats to be disseminated, all with a singular message, and allows customers anywhere in the world (as well as sales people, channel partners and distributors) to access what they need instantly.
In both B2C and B2B arenas the way companies attract new customers has changed. Traditionally you, the company, went out seeking customers, primarily through advertising. Today it's estimated that more than 80% of new business comes from customers seeking you!
Simply put, for most new customers, you aren't who you say you are, but who you appear to be online. If you want to increase sales, it's essential to help define these notions and direct the tone of the conversation so customers come to you with a positive, predetermined belief about your company and its products.
Social media helps you to direct the conversation. And don't be misled: people will be having a conversation about your company right now, with or without you. You can't influence the game if you don't play!
It's funny. Companies who do a weekly or monthly email newsletter as a matter of course, with little concern for marketing goals, costs or ROI will object to starting a blog because "we can't measure effectiveness and it has no purpose." Probably the fact that blogs are 'social media' turns off many B2B companies.
Time to take a step back. Consider why you started the email newsletter in the first place: probably to communicate developments, achievements and solutions to customers. It was a good idea then and is a good idea now. Email newsletters work when done with a purpose. They were and are, in essence, an early form of social media.
However, there can be problems with newsletters - over time, they lose their focus and start to feel forced… news has to fit a certain length so it seems patterned… what if there is no news? Quality begins to wane.
You can argue whether or not Facebook and Twitter are right for your company, but when it comes to successful social media for B2B, LinkedIn is a no-brainer.
Your best customers, your employees and your competition all hang out here, and so should you. Have a look at this insightful article about five goals you can achieve using LinkedIn. You just might change your mind.
As with anything, there are ways not to do things. When you stop to think about it, these Facebook marketing sins can be applied to just about all marketing efforts, but are spot on when it comes to social media.