The Hype over Social Media
Social media is currently the darling of the online world and is well known for its ability to provide a platform for end-users to “micro-publish” content. The hype over sensational stories such as Ashton Kutcher’s race against CNN to be the first Twitter account to 1,000,000 followers focuses squarely on the consumer-facing (and, in that particular case, more vacuous) aspects of the medium, but can B2B marketers leverage this rapidly growing channel to deliver true value to clients and drive additional revenue? I believe the answer to that question is an absolute, “Yes.” Social media’s true promise lies in its ability to allow organizations to better listen and respond to its constituents and, if done right, can lead to tremendous gains in loyalty, decreased support costs and increased revenue.
The Hype Affects Your Brand
Most organizations (consumer-facing and B2B) are coming to the realization that they no longer own their brand. The digital channel has allowed anyone with a blog, Twitter account or Facebook page to be a globally-known critic capable of creating a viral meme that can significantly affect your organization’s reputation. While there’s no way to completely control every individual, many organizations are learning that providing an environment for open dialogue and the delivery of rapid, honest (read: no sales pitches) answers can win over reluctant, or sometimes hostile, customers.
B2B marketers need to understand that, although their target audience is most likely smaller than the typical B2C target market, the members of that group are consumers who utilize social media technologies every day. In other words, your B2B clients are also shopping at Amazon, posting their status on Facebook, or commenting on their latest experience via Twitter – and they have expectations for their relationship with you.
So, How Should B2B Organizations Get Started with Social Media?
Identify what clients and partners are saying about your organization by monitoring the digital channel. Take advantage of tools as simple as Google Alerts or as robust as Spiral16, Radian6 or Nielsen’s BuzzMetrics to find out first-hand what clients and partners are interested in.
Building from the results of the “Listen” phase, develop a clear understanding of your audience, how your organization needs to engage with them and how to measure success, and then identify an iterative roadmap to get there.
Utilize one of the several proven community platforms (e.g., Jive, KickApps, Ning, Pluck) to create a sandbox for clients to communicate or exchange information – allowing for open conversation and commentary and providing timely and direct feedback. On top of everything else in their arsenal, B2B marketers have a tremendous amount of content that can be shared with clients and partners. Let customers view, listen to, or read it, and allow them to share it in turn.
Your influencers in the space should be engaged, not courted as one would when trying to sell to a prospect. Take advantage of the built-in two-way communication lines of social media to actively engage with participants in your social media ecosystem. Value-added and honest communication will go a long way to building trust with your constituents and converting them into long-term partners.
Rinse and Repeat
Use your listening tools or service to monitor your engagement, measure it against your pre-defined success metrics and adjust your plan as necessary.
Wrapping It up
Engaging with customers via the channels they expect is critical not only for end consumer-facing organizations, but also for B2B enterprises. B2B customers are migrating their personal online behaviors to the work environment, and organizations must be prepared to engage.
A good social media strategy should take into account a business’s core strategy and drivers, customers’ primary needs and communication channels, overall brand/reputation management and, of course, budgets. Organizations that first listen to what customers are saying and then engage appropriately can build mutually beneficial long term relationships.
So, where is your organization in their social media evolution? Have you seen any successes or failures with social media in the B2B space?