We hear a lot about how brands are effectively using social to increase engagement and deepen relationships with their customers. But what about B2B marketers? Are they following suit and using social media to attract, grow and hold their target audiences? As with so many things, that depends on whom you ask.
At the recent International BMA Conference’s “Four B2B Thought-Provokers in 60 Minutes” session, four B2B industry experts spoke to how important (or not) social is in the B2B environment, and how they believe it can be used to maximum effect.
Ralph A. Oliva is Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets. He points out social isn’t really new. Relationships have always been the primary tool in the B2B arsenal. What social does is allow the scaling and amplification of those relationships. He’s impressed with how customers can talk about their experiences with brands, both positive and negative, and sees B2B brands are going to have to spend a lot more time nurturing the customer experience post-sale. His chief concern seems to be controlling the consistency of the message. “Where everyone is talking to everyone else, how do you teach everyone what your brand means?”
Reaction: If your team doesn’t know what your brand means, you have a larger, internal communications problem. Or maybe a brand identity/personality problem. Flexible, customizable admin capabilities on your social management platform can also ease control and messaging concerns. As for those outside your organization, they are indeed beyond your “control,” a key reason for social’s success. Best practice is to listen, monitor, and interact reflecting the brand’s position. Oliva is 100% dead-on correct on the importance of post-sale, ongoing customer engagement.
Jonathan Salem Baskin is co-author of “Tell the Truth,” and positioned himself as a bit of a social devil’s advocate, questioning its importance and the resources B2B marketers are putting toward it. Baskin says the premise marketers need to engage with customers via social is flawed, asking, “How about you switch it off and see if anyone complains?”
Reaction: Social is a marketing tool, one among many. If you question the importance of ongoing interaction and relationship-building with your customers and prospects, then you should also question the necessity of your phones. Social is a highly efficient, effective means of interacting. “Switch it off,” and your audience may not complain, but it will be because you’re no longer on their radar.
Lisa A. Burns, Director-Corporate Marketing and Branding at Corning, and John Mannion, Executive VP-Director of Client Relations at Doremus, see things differently than Baskin. Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass,” a video illustrating glass’ pervasive presence, scored over 19 million YouTube views. While it was intended to be used by salespeople, it’s generated steady calls from prospects who caught it online.
Reaction: Tremendous. The most attractive thing about this story is Corning did not set out to make a “viral” video. They set out to make the coolest video for their salespeople that they could. The wider potential target base then organically rewarded them for it.
Bob Pearson, Chief Technology and Media Officer of consultancy WCG, thinks B2B marketers embrace the role of publishers and use social to reach influencers. Targets who may not create or share content, do read it. They are exposed to the brand and the message. Not quite as concerned as Oliva about message control, Pearson is an advocate of using both customers and employees to advocate for the brand.
Reaction: Big “yes” on B2B marketers accepting their role as publishers. It’s amazing how many brands, especially B2B, keep content creation at arms length. It is not an expendable element. As for employees advocating for the brand, imagine your own attitude shift if the company you love built a megaphone to promote the brand, then told you they don’t trust you enough to touch it.
In our B2B world, we sometimes have a tendency to completely negate the fact that although we are marketing to businesses, the consumers of the content we’re putting out on our social channels are human beings. They skip irrelevant content just like human beings. They get bored with bad content just like human beings. They don’t emotionally connect to corporate-speak that reads like it was written by a cacophony of automatons, PR agencies and legal teams. For B2B to embrace and thrive in social, they must also embrace what it means to be social.