B2B goes social media

B2B social media: fishing where the fish are.

Social Media in B2B demands courage, sustained engagement and a new form of creativity. Normally an easy task for B2B marketing managers, who are used to influential communication and referral marketing.

The popularity of social media changed the media landscape significantly. The amount of new community or sharing sites, of networks and tools, like blogs, wikis, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIN, Xing or Facebook increases continuously. The amount of posts and users is overwhelming. But – at least for B2B – it is not the amount of people out there that is significant. What really counts is the number of opportunities there are to place the desired messages to them.
 
Hobby sharing communities or competence network? A Choice that counts.

Social media, or social networks, are digital media that allow users to interact with a group or groups of friends and create content individually or together. For B2B in particular, only the kind of social media is interesting that has the opportunity to connect with people who have the same professional interests, needs, goals and values. For example making contact with people who want to know how to better use specific machines.
So it's not about interacting with communities of interest with subjects such as food, sports or movies, it is about finding communities of practice where the members are constituting a network of experts and specialists.
In B2B marketing it is important to take part in relevant interactions and provide useful information: about technology, applications and marginally about products and services. The goal hereby is to create affinity, generate preferences or to increase brand loyalty, to increase sales and profit.

Social media – the opportunity for dialog

Social networking is by definition voluntary and participatory and offers the opportunity that was missing in the past to reach a lot of people to talk about our products. But these people want to talk about themselves and their own problems and expect answers. That is where we can insert information in a smart way, as long as they don't come across as too sterile or promotional. What is more, the big amount of information that users reveal about themselves in social media is a huge tresor for B2B marketing managers who can gain useful insights out of it. What do useres care most about? What ist it about the product or service that makes it great?

Social media demands.
You can't control social networks. The community decides in what direction the conversation is going. Thereby, it is difficult for marketing managers to make predictions on how discussions evolve. Some might be intimidated by this fact, but smart marketing managers are aware of that and understand that this exactly is essential for success.
Social media needs quick actions and reactions. Costly produced content and visualisations are not needed, instead you will need courage, sustained engagement and a new form of creativity.

Visit communities of practice or build your own! But beware: the more specific it gets, the bigger is the hazard that the site won't generate enough traffic. Special stimulation is always needed to attract traffic, e.g. awards that you bring into being. Content must be „sticky“. That means it has to be unique, relevant and constantly up to date, so that users come back regularly. If the site isn't user friendly, it will fade, no matter how good its content is. If a network is dominated by only a few active users, it is difficult to support your ROI because of too few numbers, except if these users are important clients or interested buyers.

In contrast to the United States, in Germany people don't participate as much in the world wide web, we prefer to observe as for now. But this will change. The more digital natives will occupy business positions, the more importance fast communication through networks will get. They will rapidly blend in to group decision processes that characterise B2B and transfer their private habits to professional life, since they are technically versed, qualified and using social media since their early childhood. They trust ratings and appraisals on the internet more than their predecessors, even those of strangers. And everything is happening in real time, using mobile devices. All the important content of every B2B supplier should therefore be found easily and fast, be it on paid, earned or owned media.

Multiple channels, easy for B2B:

Although or even just because social and traditional media are different, none is superior. Social media should be part of the mix, not either/or. Both can lead to the desired goal. The important thing is, that the messages attain all target groups.

Fishing where the fish are...nothing new. And communication with influencers and referral marketing – although through other channels – are well-known tasks for B2B marketing managers, other than for the B2C colleagues. They can learn from B2B and its common general view of the whole decision processes.

Ingrid Wächter-Lauppe is CEO and partner of Wächter & Wächter Worldwide Partners GmbH and wrote this article in cooperation with the social media responsibles of her group and partners of the global network worldwidepartnersb2b.com, for example Godfrey and Carton & Donofrio, USA.