To be social, or to B2B social?

 

There is no doubt that social media is changing the way businesses interact and engage with their customers.

Leading the way with great content and innovative campaigns are many of the big, consumer brands like Nike, Innocent and Tesco. No real surprises there. However, more surprisingly, in Headstream’s chart of the top 100 social brand performances in 2013, B2B brands barely feature at all.
So how do B2B businesses – who don’t sit in the same social sphere as large consumer brands – ‘get social’ and should they?
Should B2B brands engage with social media?
Like it, loath it or simply don’t understand it, ‘social’ must now be part of your communications mix.Traditionally, you would market where your customers are – be that in a trade magazine, through sponsorship or at conferences etc. However, with customers now operating in a digital space, the rules have changed and the opportunities to connect are invaluable.As mobile devices are becoming as indispensable as the keys in our pockets, the division between personal and professional life is blurring, allowing us to stay connected 24/7.Therefore, in the social world, business audiences are being influenced by much the same relationship forces that influence retail consumers. So what are these relationship forces and how can B2B businesses successfully harness them?
What is ‘social’?
To understand how B2B brands can harness the power of social, we must first understand what social is. The clue is in the name. The very nature of being sociable is all about relationships.Think about the attributes of your best relationships and the people that you want in your life. It’s the listeners, who – through conversation – make you feel valued, that you end up valuing in return. It’s the friends that share and give, that make you think, that make you laugh, that are quick to respond when you need them, that you value and engage regularly with.It is not the loud friend who constantly shouts at you, never listens and screams for your attention or reassurance that you keep and hold close.
What this means for B2B brands
The social sphere works in much the same way and for brands to use this medium effectively they need to keep this in mind. Businesses must demonstrate the attributes of ‘the good’ friend.It is clear from the Headstream report, that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And getting your company involved in the big social conversation is not a magic bullet that will provide instant success or results.
Social platforms are simply that – platforms. Instead of planning how your company will market itself on Facebook or Twitter, plan your business strategy, understand your audiences and then decide how you will communicate across all types of traditional and online marketing, working appropriate social solutions into that mix.It is also worth stressing that the return on investment in the social domain is not clear-cut. Retweets do not necessarily result in sales and the number of followers you may have won’t necessarily mean they are all paying clients. But what social media can do for a business is help to facilitate customer acquisition and retention through promoting credibility, trust and professionalism of the brand – which, in the long game, is priceless.
So who’s doing it well?
The B2B companies that already have a powerful presence and have used social platforms well have integrated their brand purposes and marketing aims into their digital mix, focusing on maintaining the social principles of how to build good relationships at their core.
Case study one
The most commonly used social networking site for many B2B companies is LinkedIn and is the obvious choice as it is often a direct link to a targeted audience. However, it can be used much more effectively than just as a place to push out thought leadership articles and white papers, as AMEX have proved.
AMEX wanted to target small businesses. Their initial research showed that social media has become a priority for small business owners. By using this insight they adapted their marketing strategy to focus on social channels, moving beyond online marketing.
The result was the creation of Open Forum, a site that targets small business owners. Open Forum is not an AMEX sales tool; it’s a social platform that provides business advice and insight, with the ultimate aim of helping small business to succeed.
Business owners can become members using their LinkedIn profiles and can network directly with other members. The forum hosts its own blog with frequently updated content (often provided by its members) and a comprehensive resource of videos that users can rate and share through LinkedIn and other social platforms. There is an ‘Ideas Hub’, where members can network with one another and with industry experts, as well as ask for advice and share their insights.
AMEX have socially succeeded where others have failed by understanding their audience, identifying a business need, creatively harnessing the principles of social sharing and utilising the networks already established by LinkedIn and other social platforms. Open Forum has now become a destination platform for small businesses to share support, advice and best practice with members from all over the world.
Case study two
In the B2B world, it is perceived that Facebook simply does not provide the same ROI and interaction and engagement as somewhere like LinkedIn. However, Facebook is a platform used by brands to reach millions of consumers and shouldn’t be discounted by B2B companies.

Another great example of a large B2B company using social well – and in particular Facebook – is Salesforce. Their social campaigns succeed where others fail through a clear and considered overall strategy.They have taken a holistic approach to being social by not just providing thought leadership but by facilitating conversations through hosting inspiring key industry events, keynote speeches and innovative product launches. They then look to share this content on platforms such as their Facebook page with the main Facebook banner often being used to promote these upcoming events.They have considered exactly what content is most effective in this social channel and use Facebook as the medium to display user-friendly info graphics, YouTube videos and blog posts. This rich content can also be found on their website but by going to the place where people socialise they are sharing their great content with potential customers directly within their digital and social environment.

So what next? Take a step back and breathe
If you’re a B2B business and you haven’t already started engaging with social media, don’t rush out immediately and open a Facebook page, create a Twitter account and start blogging furiously.

Equally, if you have started engaging with the social web, then now may be a good time to also take a step back, have a deep breath and assess whether you’re maximising the potential that social media can bring to your business.

Concentrate on assessing your brand strategy, your business’s core proposition and examine your audience’s needs. Then identify the appropriate channels – social or otherwise – to best communicate with your clients. And, once you’ve got this far, use social to create a platform to share your expertise and insights as well as encourage your clients to share their thoughts and opinions. Go back to the relationship checklist: don’t just shout about yourself, encourage conversation and debate, get people together to create conversations and don’t just make it about you – remember good relationships involve being a good listener too. Through trust and professionalism, making your content rich and engaging, will enhance your brand credibility and lead to customer acquisition and retention.

Philippa Morrice – Senior designer & engagement specialist

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