Social media campaigns – the leveraging of online platforms for strategic purposes – represent an increasingly important part of many organisations that are, or want to engage in direct contact with their end-customers and other important stakeholders. For instance, many FMCG companies, such as Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice campaign or political organisations (e.g. US President Barack Obama during the 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaigns) effectively used online tools to further engage customers or mobilise their voters and foster actual purchases or votes.
Smaller companies, often less well-known, can also greatly benefit from social media through catchy offerings that go viral. For instance, Blendtec, a small blender producer, multiplied its revenues by 500 in a short span of time by designing a funny video campaign that quickly spread through online networks and dramatically increased the brand’s awareness.
These companies, whether large or small, generally speak directly to their end-customers. Yet, even though great numbers of B2B companies are not in direct contact with their end-customers, they can still benefit from social media. Although the connection between social media and B2B is not obvious at first glance, B2B companies have in fact a lot to gain by leveraging their respective positions in the industry, provided they are talking to the right audience. As in everything, context matters, according to Hari Krishnan – when you have a professional message to put across, you want your audience to have their professional hats on. In turn, such resonance between message creators and their audience greatly facilitate communication and encourage engagement. For instance, a recent Forrester survey pointed out that some 48 percent of B2B social marketers plan to increase their lead generation usage of LinkedIn discussion groups and pages, due to the high usage of LinkedIn by senior decision makers. How can B2B companies most benefit from social media? Here are three tips.
1) Think big. It’s an entire ecosystem, not just the market or customer
Social media is not “just” another media channel, an n+1 communication tool in a marketer’s toolbox. Its nature and scope make it a unique instrument to leverage interactions between not just two parties (such as a company and its customers) but between multiple actors (e.g. a company, its customers, employees, collaborators, public and non-governmental agencies, external talents, etc.). This perspective is particularly relevant in the B2B context, where it helps to think about the environment as an ecosystem where companies can get a competitive advantage as the go-to party that has the tools and platforms to bringing all the actors together. In other words, think about your business as a node (a simple point in your network) and social media as the force that helps you create, maintain and leverage links that strengthen your position in the network by continuously fostering the central position you should occupy in your network. Leveraging social media, thus, helps you be seen as an essential, central actor within your area of expertise.
Take American Express for instance, a company in both the B2C and B2B spaces. American Express recently set up conversational platforms, both independent (e.g., Open Forum) and on mainstream social media platforms (e.g., Amex on Facebook), aimed at strengthening their interactions with small businesses, but also with potential investors. Key to their success was a “pull” approach, whereby they continuously power their websites with news relevant to their audience (e.g., facts and trends about small businesses), as well as posting challenging and forward-looking questions aimed at engaging their audience and creating interactions between small businesses. They would also sometimes invite experts on specific topics as an additional source of information for their users and collaborators. As a result, they managed to create meaningful threads of conversations around topics relevant to their audience (e.g., improving business processes, reaching to a new audience) and consequently positioned themselves as a centre of information exchange within their industry.
Another example is Citi, which launched Connect: Professional Women’s Network, a Managed Group on LinkedIn. The bank wanted to reach professional women in a social media setting to encourage conversations around business and financial topics, in the process increasing their brand favorability. Discussions are user-generated, partly based on news content, polls and videos. Within 4 months of its launch, the group had more than 43,000 members who are highly active, with 30-50 percent returning every week to the group and generating some 18,000 discussions comments. Overall, Citi’s objective was not so much to sell more, but to push themselves as central, caring, thinking actor at the forefront of thought such as women in leadership positions. And they were successful at doing just that.
Importantly, a key value of social media is that social networks often consist naturally of individuals or companies with similar profiles (for more on the science behind social network, see TED talk by Christakis). Thus, social media is often an easy way to access an untapped market and get quick referrals, faster than would happen through another channel. On LinkedIn, companies like HP have also gone further to cultivate “followers” by building emotional connections. This helped it to become the first company to hit 1 million followers who are in turned connected to some 43 million members on LinkedIn.
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