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Why B2B companies need social media too

Why B2B companies need social media too Reid Carr


Social media is an excellent vehicle for connecting with consumers. But what about other businesses? This question has surfaced many times in the last few months, and I'd like to respond to it here because I think a lot of people can benefit from the answer.


Business-to-business companies, like business-to-consumer companies, still have decision-makers and influencers that contribute to a sale. They also have a need to be personable, responsible, and communicative. In social media, companies stand to reach media, current customers, prospects, and other stakeholders.


If your company has something to say, social media can be a vehicle for you. If you care about a relationship with the media, then social media can be a place for you to dialog with them. If you currently send promotional email to your customer and/or prospect base, then social media can be a direct shot to these people without interference from a spam filter.


Now, the concern generally has been that people might actually talk back and you'd have to respond. Or, they may have something negative to say. Both instances are true; however, the conversation is already happening, and you're just not a part of it. People are talking about you, your industry, and your competitors right now in social media circles -- you are on the outside if you're not listening and participating.


If people are already saying negative things about you, then you're currently not satisfying them with an answer that might squash further disparagement. With social media, you can answer negative comments with the truth or with a way to solve people's problems. Consider that for a moment. What would it look like to prospective customers if you were to publicly display how well you solve problems for current customers? I assure you that few people expect you to be perfect, but they all expect you to take care of them.


Social media is necessary for your business if your primary target is regularly online. And while this is not everyone, I admit, B2B versus B2C is not the determinant. Social media is a place for feedback. (I believe it was Ken Blanchard who wrote, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions.") It's for sharing opinions and solving problems. Find the right mix of tools and vehicles and then put a communication strategy in place to use them efficiently and effectively.


In B2B, the most common tools I have seen used effectively are a combination of blogs allowing comments, as well as LinkedIn and Twitter. I have also seen Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, and wikis layered in for others who are perhaps more web-savvy. Your appropriate mix and level of dedication will be unique to you, but getting subject matter experts talking in social media circles -- if they truly fearlessly "know their stuff" -- can only serve to enhance your position in the market.


Remember, you don't have to have just one Twitter feed, one blog, etc. You might be able to have several subject matter experts with their own Twitter accounts in addition to the corporate account. The CEO can have a blog to talk about issues facing the company or strategic decisions, corporate communications can highlight positive community outreach, and the product development team can highlight company innovations. The company Twitter account could focus on news about the company, while a service account could simply deal with customer concerns. There are many ways to get creative in getting "in the game."


In any case, you should at least monitor social media for your name, your employees, your competitors, and your industry. Useful information can be gleaned in real-time. In fact, what you learn might support rationale for jumping in and getting into the conversation by virtue of what you find. Some conversations may simply inspire you to take action. There are many tools that can help you do that, including Google Alerts, search.twitter.com, as well as other more sophisticated (i.e., expensive) software packages like Radian6, BuzzLogic, and Nielsen's BuzzMetrics.


The myriad of options in social media are not exclusively useful for business-to-consumer companies. Some B2B companies are doing a great job engaging decision-makers and influencers, such as Hoovers, Intuit (in both B2B and B2C), Sun, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. The point is that anyone can and should leverage these tools to host a conversation with their desired, mixed audiences. The key driver for success, regardless of company type, is that there is a strategy in place that cultivates a healthy, open, and productive relationship with complex audiences. The bar is getting higher as more companies are getting better with the protocol; it is time to jump in.


Reid Carr is president of Red Door Interactive.

As Red Door Interactive's President & CEO, Reid is there for clients and employees alike. Having began his career in advertising, Reid appreciates the integrity of the brand, but focuses on the fact that what we do for clients has to make them...

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Comments

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Commenter: Reid Carr

2009, June 22

Katherine, Thanks for the feedback. Often my most important points come out of my end...

Commenter: Katherine Canipelli

2009, June 18

Reid, the most important point you make is at the end: "The key driver for success, regardless of company type, is that there is a STRATEGY in place that cultivates a healthy, open, and productive relationship with complex audiences."

No tactic should be planned in a vacuum, whether new school "social" contexts or old school marketing. Unfortunately, many B2B enterprises--particularly those whose business development organizations engage with complex buying processes--continue to under-invest in the upfront strategy work. As a result, marketing and sales efforts far less effective than they might be.

But things are changing. Just this morning I had an exchange with a B2B marketing director about replacing their traditional printed holiday greeting cards with a social media/networking approach (with viral potential) that would a) reinforce their brand in their target market, b) support the company's social responsibility agenda, c) engage citizens of the communities in which they operate, and d) create a program that their employees can actively participate in. Will it take planning? You bet. But by fitting it into the business strategy, a campaign like this will generate far greater value with specific commercial benefit--all tracked, measured, and with opportunity to learn how their audiences engage with the new media tools.

Katherine Ventres Canipelli
http://www.marketingfolio.com/the-industrious-marketer

Commenter: Kelly Lorenz

2009, June 17

Great post, Reid. I completely agree that B2B marketers are missing a huge opportunity by not engaging on social sites. I think the key here is to develop a strategy, determine where your audience is (Twitter, for instance, may not be the best medium to reach the decision makers -- I know, shocker!), and how to interact with them on these sites. I think what a lot of companies run into is a lack of buy-in from C-level executives and fear that the "voice" and the "brand" of the company will get lost in the shuffle. As you said, however, people are already out there talking, and marketers should want to get in on the conversation today.

-Kelly Lorenz