So why are B2B leaders hesitant to enter the social media space considering social media has been proved to increase and target communication with partners and/or suppliers; support and motivate an internal sales force and develop added value content to bolster product/service knowledge?
"The B2C market quickly embraced social media as it seemed like the logical next step in their marketing campaigns. B2B companies have not engaged with the same vigor possible because there is a perception that the connection between their business objectives and social media is less obvious," says Lara Bryant, chief strategist at NATIVE, one of the leading digital agencies in South Africa. "The reality, however, is that social media is about attracting, engaging and retaining relationships with clients and staff. The objectives of the communication for both B2C and B2B remain the same, and the principles behind social media strategy remain the same too."
The tough economic climate necessitates even closer relationships to staff in securing loyalty and ensuring streamlined communication, as well as better relationships with partners and clients to ensure ongoing business flow and sales.
The first step in any social media strategy, whether be it for a B2C or B2B organisation, is to clearly define goals and objectives. While your social media strategy might be managed and implemented by an internal and external task team of community experts, it should have multi-departmental input and buy-in from the broader organisation. This helps to ensure your social media objectives are aligned with the overall company objectives.
Train several employees on the use of social media so it becomes an integral part of your culture. Make sure they have bought into your strategy, as well as the implementation to be used across all platforms when representing the organisation.
The next step is to ensure you understand your audience - speak to clients and conduct research to understand their online habits. Once you understand where and how your audience spends their time online, you can make a decision as to what platform your social media campaign should be hosted on. The organisation should consider several questions including: how digital savvy is our audience; does our audience have easy access to social media; does our audience have better mobile access as opposed to desktop access; what other industry blogs/platforms exist; and what are our competitors doing in the online space?
"Remember that your community of customers already exists. All you're doing is creating a place for them to connect. You may find that Facebook is too public and something more private is necessary. You may have more success in finding new customers within a network like Linkedin," says Bryant.
There are a host of platforms and tactics to consider. If you choose to go the free platform route, such as Facebook or Twitter for example, you could create closed profiles. Closed profiles require permission to access the page, giving you the opportunity to control who sees the content. South African engineering consultancy firm TWP created a locked Twitter profile for engineers assigned to a particular project. Important updates regarding the project were communicated to the team via this profile, eliminating the need for clumsy emails or costly text messages.
LinkedIn, also a free platform, is a valuable source of information and a great platform to make professional connections. Company pages are given more credibility by recommendations that are made by your peers and passed on to other like-minded individuals. Additionally, LinkedIn offers tools that enable you to link content from your blog and Twitter feed to your LinkedIn profile, thereby giving those interested in your company valuable information that could be passed on.
On the paid-for platform side, a private, closed social network allows you to create a social network for your company alone. A closed social network gives you the opportunity to archive information and you have more control over the content. Only employees and clients that have been granted access can make use of this type of platform. www.yammer.com
is a great example of this platform option.
Alternatively a business can design and develop its own social network service (SNS) instead of using an existing free tool or a paid-for, pre-existing network. This is particularly useful if specific development needs are required, for example, real time orders, product tracking or online support.
"The benefits of a blog should also not be overlooked. A blog can be created to communicate with internal or external audiences. As an internal tool, it becomes a digital platform for employees to share ideas and comment on processes or the work environment in general, creating a culture of approachability," adds Bryant.
She cites The Fence Post (http://www.louispage.com/blog/) from Louis E. Page, a mesh and fence manufacturer, as a great example of an industry blog. The business was founded in 1893 and not only has a blog, but also makes use of YouTube, whitepapers and their blog platform to communicate information important to their client base. "The benefit is that by successfully tagging the content that they are creating they are also improving their search results." The company boasts an 850 percent increase in sales leads since the launch of its blog.
"Regardless of which platform you use, the cornerstones of success for any social media strategy boil down to two things: valuable content and regular communication. Your audience is bombarded with information on a daily basis. If you want them to read your content, it has to offer value. Seth Godin, well-known American entrepreneur, author and public speaker, speaks of communities of value. These are the ones where members are encouraged to speak to each other and not just to the business. As business starts engaging with customers online, encouraging a dialogue and discussion amongst each other, the outcome is the growth of a community," she says.
For those B2B companies brave enough to venture into the social media space, its critical they allocate enough budget and time, adequate and qualified resources, and provide sufficient content to the effort. "Be realistic about the impact on operational activity and the level of agility to respond to customers. I would suggest that you start with internal social media involving your employees and test what works before extending into the external social media space. That way you can iron out any issues that arise before engaging with your customers," advises Bryant.
"Imagine the business impact that better relationships with your partners and staff would enable, as well as better informed intermediaries and you start seeing how an effective B2B social media strategy can start to impact your bottom line and business longevity," she concludes.