B2B International
B2B International

June 25, 2010

Nick Hague this week delves into the world of social media to determine its relevance for B2B marketers.

When our IT Manager spoke to me back in 2005 about Web 2.0 and the way it was going to change not only how we did business at B2B International but also how we communicate to our customers, my eyes glazed over as I was lost in hi-tech babble.

However, I duly took a lot of what was said on board and we implemented our blog that has not only played a major role in our brand building and positioning but also has been a key element in our continued SEO push. Throughout the last 5 years we have concentrated our efforts on delivering new and fresh content with the end result now being a repository that holds a massive amount of information including podcasts, e-books, videos and white papers. However, that was then and this is now (back then there was no such things as tweeting).

With many businesses these days venturing into the ‘Wild West’ of social media, trying their hand at Twitter and creating a company profile on Facebook, I felt it worthwhile diving back into the world of social media to see if there are other learnings we B2B marketers can take from our consumer cousins.

Firstly I did some digging into the Twitter phenomenon to see if this truly was something for us to look into, since our main foray into the world of social media had principally been blogging. I found from a recent study with B2B marketers that Twitter didn’t transpire to be the groundbreaking trend that I had been led to believe. So much so that nearly a half of the 400 people surveyed stated they were dissatisfied with their return on tweets and four out of five couldn’t directly attribute any increase in revenue from their Twitter activity. ‘Hold on a minute’ I thought, ‘are these consumer marketers or B2B marketers?’ (After all, this was meant to be a study of B2B marketers.)

Do they not know that the sales cycle for B2B products is not instantaneous and is often a very long process involving numerous decision makers from financial and operative through to production and technical? When was the last time you spent $500,000 on a new software platform without some serious consideration from multiple parties? B2C marketing is all about ‘here today and gone tomorrow’ – just look at the number of celebrities that are using Twitter to bolster their waning status.

B2B marketing is very much more about a relationship lifecycle that numbers years, not months, but this is where I think B2B companies can take advantage of social media more so than consumer companies. Twitter is just part of the armoury at our disposal that contributes to building brand awareness and engaging in the many continuous touch-points we look to generate; we shouldn’t ignore the tried and tested methods of direct mail. By way of example, one of my colleagues recently received an e-mail from a previous client with whom we hadn’t done business for over 5 years but had continued to communicate with through a mixture of direct marketing:

Subject: direct mails from B2B

Hi Paul, hope all is well.

Just received this afternoon one of the almost legendary direct mails from B2B – unfortunately the Belgium team did not make it to South-Africa…

Nevertheless, I hope to get in touch with you soon regarding picking up brand awareness survey again (that’s five years ago!)

cheers

w.

 
Would this person have got back in touch if we hadn’t continued to engage with him over the years? – maybe, but his head could have been quite easily turned by another research agency if we hadn’t continued to put our brand in front of him.

It is true to say that, at the moment, social media is definitely still in its infancy when relating to B2C marketing, but I believe that social media usage within a B2B market can actually deliver greater rewards; especially because B2B marketers address a much smaller number of customers who spend larger amounts of money, and personal relationships are of much more importance than in B2C markets – we just need to be clever with it.

The first thing to understand is that social media for B2B markets is more about education, facilitating word of mouth referrals and driving traffic to your website as well as thought leadership, and therefore requires deeper layers of interaction. For example, concentrate on company blogs and communities rather than Facebook; place more effort on relationship marketing through Linkedin rather than Twittering away; and deliver useful, relevant podcasts rather than spouting lyrical about anything and everything on YouTube.

And that brings me to my final point on social media. On the same day last week, one of my colleagues sent through an amusing link to the BP spills coffee video on YouTube whilst a ‘loose friend’ on Facebook sent me a request to join the group ‘I hate BP’. The video is very funny and I recommend you search it out as it will definitely make you laugh. This then triggered me to view the ‘I hate BP’ page on Facebook and saw that 9,009 people had already joined this crusade. It made me realise the power of the internet and social media that can very quickly either work in your favour or dramatically against you, as in BP’s case.

How your business is perceived in the Web 2.0 world will affect your reputation and your ability to connect with customers, associates and potential customers (just look at the BP example). If you are a B2B company just about to take the plunge into the creation of your social media blog, first of all determine if you have or can produce enough relevant content for the media and customers to justify the development in the first place. Content is king!

Secondly, make sure it looks good. Branding, design and user experience matter when you are interacting with social media and the main objective is to deliver relevant information, quickly.

Finally, make sure it is up-to-date. Social media is the first step in content marketing. The value of the content lies in being able to aggregate information in one place that helps build search traffic while serving as a clearing house for information relevant to the media, customers and employees. For social media to have value you have to have more than news releases to post; you need other information such as images, video and social links that provide an added layer of information and perspective about the organisation. Remember, who wants to commission a company that can’t even manage an engaging, thought-provoking blog?