Social Media in the B2B Environment

If you yawn or roll your eyes when you hear the words “social media,” you are depriving your business of opportunities and profit potential.

Yes, you can use Twitter to follow the antics of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian Gang, and Donald Trump.  Yes, you can learn too much about your friends’ politics and gaming habits on Facebook.  That is at best entertainment and at worst sheer boredom. They are not your customers and are not your vendors.  So how can social media generate value for you?

The Case for Including Social Media in your B2B Marketing Mix

Think back to the best mutually beneficial B2B relationship you had with a client or vendor about 10-15 years ago.  If you were to describe that relationship, what words would you choose?

“Friendly,” “considerate,” “reliable,” and “fair” are probably near the top of your list.  I will also bet that you knew this person on a first name basis, knew something about each other’s families and interests, and maybe shared a few meals together.  It took time to get to know that person, but it was worth it, and that paid off for both your business and your counterpart’s.

When talking broadly about marketing in the B2B environment, it is tempting to discount the value of such relationships and say, “low price rules.”  But I will bet that “the cheapest” did not make your list from the paragraph above.

High quality B2B relationships are about people.  They were ten years ago.  They are today.  Social media platforms are not inanimate things.  They are organized communities where people congregate, including the people who drive your customers’ and suppliers’ companies.  They are the means by which people share things about themselves, stay abreast of current industry trends, communicate with each other, and meet new prospective B2B relationships.

Still not convinced?  Why do you go to Transportation Club meetings?  What are you doing there?  Is it worth your time?  You go there to maintain relationships and to build your network.  “Sure,” you scoff, “but those people are in my industry.”  Yes, and by using social media cleverly, you can enhance relationships with existing contacts and build an even larger network beyond the parameters of club membership and meeting attendance.

Engaging in Social Media with a Business Purpose

It is pretty safe to assume your goal in B2B is not fame.  So celebrities are not the business models for you to study.  You want leads.  You attend industry meetings partly to meet potential clients.  Apply this same logic to social media.

Here is a gradual path to boosting your B2B social media marketing that you can do starting with LinkedIn, which may be the best B2B platform.  Do not let my time estimates drive you away.  This is not goofing off; it is business development.

The bare minimum (1 hour of set-up, then 5 mins per day):

Establish or update your personal and corporate LinkedIn profiles.  Connect with your clients and industry peer contacts.  Then dedicate five minutes in your calendar each day to check LinkedIn for your contacts’ status updates.  When your contacts change employers, they will usually update this on LinkedIn, which provides you with the opportunity to send a congratulatory note or make a similar phone call.

Getting more comfortable (additional 5 mins per day):

Explore LinkedIn’s Groups for groups in your industry and join some of them.  These can provide advance notice of industry news.  (Tip:  there are closed groups and open groups; open groups can get overwhelmed with spam posts while closed groups tend to be monitored and governed).  Connect with and actively engage with your contacts and their employers on LinkedIn by liking or commenting on something you see.

Starting to do market research (additional 5 mins per day)

  • Follow corporate profiles that are of interest. These could be customers, prospects, vendors, and and industry peers.  Some will publish articles and share information that will give you additional insight into the company.
  • Notice that when you look at a company profile, LinkedIn will show you whether and how you have a relationship that leads to that company. If you do not have a first degree relationship, LinkedIn is showing you a path to get there.
  • Figure out which LinkedIn groups your customers favor and try to join those. Again, if you see a post you like, commenting on it online raises your profile a bit.

If you share a post you like, you have just done someone a favor and will earn a little gratitude from the person who originally posted the piece.

Advanced research (1 hour CRM set-up, 1-2 additional minutes per day):

Some online CRM’s like SalesForce.com can tie social media profiles and updates into a contact’s record.  Some, like Nimble.com, are also superb at sniffing out your contacts’ social profiles on other platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  It may not be wise to connect with your professional contacts on Facebook, but being able to view their status updates on Facebook and other platforms may reveal common interests and sometimes valuable business intelligence.

Positioning Yourself Online as a Leader in your Field (1-3 hours per week with a goal of publishing new content every other week)

  • Create a blog with your website.
  • Publish content to your blog regularly. If you do not want to type that much, do a video blog.
  • Post links to that content on LinkedIn and specifically into relevant groups you have joined.
  • Research and follow-up with anyone who comments or shares your post.

By the way, when you are in despair wondering if anyone actually ever reads your blog, take comfort that Google reads it every week!

Post-graduate level work:

Work to identify who influences the purchasing decisions of your key customers and prospects.  As in real life, this will not be easy, but it can be done.  It is the true deep water opportunity of social media marketing.  If you can position your company to be top-of-mind with the influencers of your key prospects, you have laid a serious foundation toward winning new business.

Measuring the Effort

How can we measure the value of this work in a way that you and your boss will respect?  Social media marketing vendors happily toss around bits of new media jargon like “shares,” “views,” “page likes,” “re-posts,” “re-tweets,” “tweets favorited,” and “+1’s.”  Those are partial indicators of your value to your audience, but they do not translate well to corporate revenue goals.

Here are some suggested key performance indicators:

  1. # of new prospect relationships that started via social media.

You will need to define what constitutes a valid prospect for your business, then add all prospects developed from social media to your CRM with an appropriate classification tag.  You could do a blanket “social media” tag, but over the long run you will learn more if you tag prospects according the original social media platform they used to find you (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

  1. Telephone and/or face-to-face meetings generated from social media leads.
  2. ROI — dollars vs. cost of time invested. Some social media marketing vendors will tell you it is impossible to measure this.  It is not impossible. It may be difficult and you may have to do a little cost accounting work to capture the data you need, but you ultimately need the data to justify the effort and to evaluate additional investment.
  3. Elapsed time to develop a new client or referral. Be patient.  Some recent studies have suggested that it may take two years of work before you begin to see a return on the investment in social media marketing.  Is that an outrageous period of time to develop a quality client relationship?  Would two years be reasonable if the activities that led to the conversion were golfing, meals, and gifts?

In addition, active social media engagement will likely generate new traffic to your website as people check your company out.  You can measure “social referral” activity to your site through Google Analytics.  So we should also measure:

  1. Clicks referred through social media posts to your website (a.k.a. “social referrals”)
  2. “Social referral” visitors who engage one step beyond visiting. This can include telephone calls, completing your Contact Us form, subscribing to your newsletter, or engaging via social media.  You will want to be able to query all new prospects as to whom you may thank for referring them to you…and collect that data so you can measure it!

Conclusion

What Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, and Donald Trump do exceedingly well is brand themselves.  They are branding themselves in a consumer-marketing posture –they are broadcasting, not listening.  That does not work well in B2B.  B2B requires listening skills.  You can apply those listening skills on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, and there are tools to help you filter out the noise and focus in on key signals.

Will social media marketing replace traditional forms of business development?  No, but then it is not really meant to replace anything.  It is a new selection of channels by which people communicate with each other.  And if some people have a serious preference for communicating and connecting via those channels, it would be unwise to ignore that preference.

By the way, TCT currently has a closed group on LinkedIn that you are invited to join. The TCT Board wants to make that a more active space, so feel free to share with the Club’s board members the sort of content you would like to see there — what would make you want to visit that group page regularly.

 

by Gerald Moczynski
Co-Owner, I’m In Stitches, LLC
Owner, Blackfish Strategy, LLC