Let’s face it: as a consumer you can’t even make a move online these days without running into some kind of social media campaign. That’s because most companies have come to recognize that sites and tools such as Facebook and Twitter are great at allowing them to connect with their customers. But what about if you’re a B2B company where your customers are other businesses. Could using social media help build better connections with your customers, too?
The short answer is yes—but with a few caveats, says Stephen Popov, co-founder of Cardinal Web Solutions in Atlanta. “Social media can be viable tool for B2B companies as long as it is used effectively and consistently,” says Popov. “Think of B2B social media as networking. It only pays off when you do your due diligence. Join the wrong networking group, or social media platform, and you will not obtain more business from it.”
In other words, social media might not work for every B2B company out there. In fact, a poorly executed campaign, which feels like thinly veiled advertising, could potentially alienate some of your customers. At the same time, if your company isn’t already using social media tools, your customers might be wondering what’s wrong with you, says Mike Sprouse, chief marketing officer for Epic Media Group and Epic Marketplace in Chicago. “It is somewhat industry-dependent,” says Sprouse. “In our industry, online marketing, it is crucial for us because social media makes up a lot of online marketing today. Perhaps in other industries, it isn't crucial, but I would still say it’s valuable because it is just another way to communicate with your customers and market yourself.”
Given that caveat, if your business is considering entering the fray, or already has and is looking for some tips on how to make the most of that endeavor, read on. What follows are tips from experts on how to use social media in your B2B business.
Build a good foundation
Before you select which social media outlets to pursue, make sure you understand your objectives, says Mike Crawford, president of the marketing firm M/C/C. “As a B2B business using social media, your goal is to position the company as an industry leader,” he says. “Do this by establishing credibility for key executives and suggesting new ideas and concepts relevant to your trade. A B2B social media strategy should incorporate industry conversation instead of sole self-promotion."
You’ll also need to get the right people involved within your company to help maintain the campaign after its launch. “Develop a team that is cross-functional and integrated to collaborate on the initiative,” says Crawford. “If you do decide to go with Facebook and Twitter, your comments and posts will be a reflection of your company, not your marketing coordinator. Think about which employees are social media savvy; as long as they have a comprehensive understanding of your brand and objectives, they should be able to post content that will push your B2B business into the social media world.”
Define your audience
The first step is to consider your audience in terms of how you can reach them through social media and what they might find useful from you, says Courtney Seiter, who is community manager for Raven Internet Marketing Tools in Nashville. While noting that a software or marketing company will follow a different path than, say, an auto parts manufacturer, Seiter suggests asking yourself the following questions as a way to refine who and where you want to conduct your social media campaign.
- Where is my company being talked about online?
- Are my customers on social media? Where? Can I find online forums, chat rooms or groups devoted to my industry or specialty?
- What are the “pain points” I can identify in my customers? Are they looking for technical help and customer service that I can provide through social media? Do they want education and expertise I can share?
- What information do customers want to share with me? What are they already sharing? How? Is there an opportunity for them to interact with me more?
- What is my company’s communication style and tone? How much am I willing to share? B2Bs in highly proprietary industries will obviously have to give this one some serious thought.
Plan your attack
B2B social media really shouldn’t be that different from B2C social media, says Kristina Allen, who heads up Type K Marketing in Fort Lauderdale. “Companies must remember that even though they are selling to a business, the business doesn’t make the final purchasing decision, a person does,” says Allen. “B2B messages must still resonate with people.” Given that advice, Allen suggests the following tactics.
- Use social media for lead generation: connect with people talking about the topics your company can help with and begin a conversation with them.
- Use social media to establish your brand as a thought leader: connect with other thought leaders, produce a thought-leadership blog, produce white papers and podcasts, etc.
- Use social media for lead nurture: create a hidden list to add your warm leads to.
- Engage them daily on Twitter and other networks to keep them warm and move them toward purchase.
- Use social media for customer service: monitor brand keywords and reach out to any customers who need assistance.
- Create how-to videos and circulate them socially.
- Create industry related, branded infographics and use them for lead generation.
Measure, measure and measure again
Most B2Bs are looking for serious ROI in social media, says Seiter of Raven Tools. “Some might even still be worried about employees ‘wasting time’ on social media,” she says. “That’s why determining what you can measure on the front end helps clear up those concerns.” Some examples of metrics that might be useful for B2Bs include the following.
- Number of Facebook fans/Twitter followers
- Percent reduction in support costs
- Increase in product reviews
- Number of product improvement suggestions
- Percentage positive/negative brand sentiment
- Ratio of positive/negative mentions of your business as compared to a competitor
Plan your next steps
Crawford of M/C/C warns that even as you plan out every detail of your social media campaign, you should not expect instant results. “The B2B target market is more targeted and much smaller than the average consumer audience on the Web,” he says. “In order to effectively reach such a specific market online, you've got to find them. Use hashtags, keywords and follow industry peers. Remember, building online relationships takes time and dedication.”
It’s also imperative to think about what you do after you have attracted or connected with your B2B customers. “We use social media as a first step, not as an end goal, in establishing or maintaining relationships,” says Sprouse of Epic Marketing. “Our goal is to have our customers interact with us on our own terms—at our website or by filling out an inquiry form—and get them used to being communicated to by us through channels other than social media.”