Social Media for B2B: It CAN be done

This was originally posted on my friend Tommy Landry’s blog, Return on Now, as a guest post on February 8, 2010.

Why is it that when it comes to conversation about social media, business-to-business (B2B) seems to draw the short stick every single time? As someone that does a lot of webcasts, blog posts and speaking gigs, the questions/comment that always comes up is, “what about B2B examples.” Fortunately for me, I’m able to mention companies like BreakingPoint Systems and Hubspot that do a great job tapping into the power of social media but I often wish there were more examples (with public results) that I could discuss.

In thinking about this topic, one of the main reasons that B2B has taken a little longer to adopt social media into its marketing mix is that it’s harder to do effectively. It’s also feels risky because there is less control then there is in other channels. With that said, I personally believe that B2B companies stand to benefit the most from social media because they live and die based on the strength of their customer relationships. On top of that, many B2B companies actually know exactly know who their prospective customers are so seeking those folks out in a meaningful way and creating relationships with them can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

Given that I’m a prescriptive kind of guy, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t offer up some ways that companies can start thinking about putting social media into practice. There are obviously tons of ways but here are a few (including a diagram that provides more color commentary on item number three):

  1. Start listening. This is easier to do than you think. Set up a Google alert for your company’s name, your competitors’ names and keywords for your industry. If you’re already doing this, consider hiring a “listening” service like Techrigy, Radian6 or Meltwater Buzz. This will help you find out where all the relevant conversations in your space are happening.
  2. Create a Twitter account for your business. However, resist the urge to put up links to press releases, product specs and links to press that are signing your business’s praises (at least out of the gate). Instead, talk about things that people in your industry care about. For instance, if you create bill payment software, talk about the needs of small to medium sized businesses across the financial spectrum (payroll, credit, vendor managment, etc.) Link to reports and industry analysis. Point out other people’s blog posts and magazine articles.
  3. Set up a blog. Before you do this though, make sure you have someone (ideally internal) that is willing to commit to posting at least 5-6 times/month. This can be someone on your marketing, product, or PR teams or even better, one of your executives. Think about creating an editorial calendar to help guide your topics. Most importantly, spend time looking at other industry related blogs — in fact, you should spend at least a month doing this before you set up your own blog. Be sure to comment on those blogs (talk about the topic, not your company). This will help with getting to know the relevant “social” people in the space.
  4. Create an online community. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with items 1-3, start thinking about a online community. Ideally, this is for both customers and prospective customers. Some businesses feel more comfortable about creating private communities where customers can talk to one another. The key either way is to hire a great community manager and let them help you create relevant content via webinars, blog posts and conference calls (see diagram below). A community manager will also help you draw out your customers and insure that conversations stay relevant and productive.
  5. Measure, measure, measure. This is less difficult than you might imagine. This really should start with looking at your current goals i.e. new customers, greater retention, larger share of wallet, referrals, etc. Then make sure you benchmark e.g. look at your webstats and current KPI’s before you launch your social efforts. Then look at how your moving the bar over time. A key place to look is at your web analytics to see what kind of traffic and engagement your Twitter feed and/or blog efforts are driving. Also, it doesn’t hurt to survey customers and ask them if your efforts are impacting their loyalty to your company.

    I won’t lie to you, everything I mentioned above takes effort. But it’s worth trying, especially when it’s done right, because it will yield results. One thing that I failed to mention is the importance of integrating the recommendations above with your existing marketing/channel activity. Social media doesn’t live in a vacuum and if nobody can find the fruit of your efforts, you may as well not have exerted the time and resources.

    Am I missing anything? You bet I am. But that’s where you come in. What types of social media have you tried? What’s worked? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

    • http://www.mygrants.us Government Grants

      Excellent Post, Social Media is certainly the NEXT BIG thing, but for those who've been involved in doing business the traditional way, it's taking time to transition to being OPEN, from the old approach of being in CONTROL. For some, it has taken years to be able to transition to this NEW way that will change the course of BUSINESS on this PLANET… forever!!!This all can be summed upto to 1 phrase:"MARKET … don't SELL"again…."start MARKETING… stop SELLING !!!"

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

      GG – great point. And I do realize that moving from "control" to "open" isn't always easy as it sounds (trust me, I used to work at a large financial services company so I've seen both ends of the spectrum). I like your recommendation of "market… don't sell" as that's really what it's all about.

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10818901224807486703 mwallcomm

      Aaron:Great post. There is clearly a fear with companies thinking about b2b social media – even with all the success stories out there. In my opinion, it has more to do with change than anything else. I wrote a guest post on Mashable awhile back that might be helpful for b2b companies thinking about getting started.http://mashable.com/2009/11/25/social-media-b2b/Again very useful post.Mark@mwallcomm

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09964204478772858370 Aaron_Strout

      Thanks Mark. Much appreciated coming from you (someone that's also doing a great job with social in the B2B space as testified by your recent Groundswell Award AND my subsequent interview with you on this very blog!)Headed over to check out your guest post on Mashable as we speak.