A topic that often arises in a B2B company when discussing social media is “Why should I care?” Marketers in B2B companies often disregard the use of social media using excuses such as time needed for such a task, return on investment, the issue of professionalism, and the underlying argument that consumers use social media, not businesses. These so-called “reasons” are mistake number one.
Social media cannot be merely viewed as a B2C service providing direct access to the buyer. One must look at these digital networks as an aspect of public relations, as a research tool, as a means of communication, as search engine optimization (SEO) support, and as a forum for discussion – many of which overlap. Stated in a previous blog post, Kyle Lacy (author of Twitter Marketing For Dummies) explained it perfectly. If your consumers, competitors, or industry professionals are using it, so should you. Disregarding the ever-growing community of online social doers can result in reduced response time to negative publicity, lost access to valuable information, missed opportunities within public relations, and lower search engine optimization leverage.
Social Media Marketing as Public Relations
Communicating a value proposition to the public, gaining positive press coverage, creating brand awareness, enhancing a brand’s image, and having quick access to communicating information. These are just a few goals of a public relations strategy. Social media has opened up a door of easy access to accomplishing such tasks.
Utilizing these tools offers marketers a way to monitor the public’s perception of a brand. Using social media allows a company or organization to stay current on how others are feeling about that brand, what they love about it, what they wish could change, and how their overall experience has been. Knowing what is being said is the first step in either correcting negative press or further developing that which is positively received. Step 1 in any social media strategy must include the monitoring of social media sites such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others similar to these.
Taking action is the next step in the process. Resolve negative comments, enhance programs that the public agrees with, post information such as press releases, and build an overall image for your brand. After all, what is the purpose of collecting data if you will not act upon it? Remember that although another business may not, as an entity, go onto a site such as Facebook to find their next vendor, the individuals within that company may be. Moreover, having a developed presence where it is apparent that key players from your company are actively resolving any issues and interacting with customers sheds a positive light upon the company.
Social Media Marketing as a Research Tool
Aside from the core value of research within a public relations setting, social media serves as a research tool beyond any others. By monitoring talk about competitors, industry news, and overall trends, a company may gain access to an endless wealth of information useful in determining larger business strategies.
For example, a site such as Twitter serves as a beneficial aggregate of recent news and trends. By setting up a free, third party account with a service such as Hootsuite, a company may choose key words or phrases to monitor within the Twitterverse (that’s Twitter + Universe, if you were wondering). A company should be looking at what the competitors are posting as well as what is posted about their competitors. From a legal aspect, it is always good to watch for new developments within government agencies affecting a business and even communicating these to their followers. Trade publications provide trending issues, innovations, and technologies crucial to staying up to date in this fast paced world.
Staying on top of current information can even make or break a company. Don’t get lost in 90’s – it’s 2011!
Social Media Marketing as a Communication & a Visibility Tool
So, you’ve written your press release… Now what? Who is going to see your press release? Social media offers up free services to help push that information to the public. Hired a new board member? Great, tell the world! Unfortunately, most people will probably not being checking back on your company website every hour for updated news. That’s not to say they may not receive a stream of your blog posts via an RSS feed!
Think of this other possibility. If you offer an insightful blog that feeds into your Facebook page’s wall, someone is just slightly more likely to stumble across that information. Even better, your blog also posts to Twitter, so Joe Shmoe over in Boston sees your intriguing tweet during his lunchtime Twitter break and reads on. Congratulations! Increased visibility is the result.
Note that in many industries, industry trade publications are watching social media activity like hawks for new developments. Companies have been successful in receiving free (yes, I said FREE) press coverage as a result of their exposure due to social media. By connecting with decision makers at these publications through the active use of social media, your company can find itself in a position of great media power!
The more you strategically integrate your communication tools and place your content carefully, the better your chances are of someone actually seeing it. With this visibility comes brand awareness and recognition. Hey, that sounds like some positive PR to me!
Social Media Marketing as Search Engine Optimization Support
Remember that oh-so complicated sounding SEO thing? Right, we’re talking about search engine optimization. For those of you non-marketing geeks, the goal of SEO is to dominate the first page of Google search results for various related key words. You’re probably thinking, “That’s easy, pay Google your life and they’ll put you wherever you want!” WRONG! Purchasing Google ad words merely places you in the designated paid slots, which research shows aren’t statistically the places most viewers look first when searching on Google. That leaves the rest of those front page spots to the magic genie behind the Google algorithm calculating your successful placement or, for worse, your “Google search results demise.”
Where do social media sites come in, you ask? They may assist in nudging your page up on those search results. Let’s try to be as overly simplistic and paint a quick picture of this. Part of the algorithm Google uses in determining search results involves the value and quantity of inbound links to that site. Let’s take Company X’s blog post as an example. When company X posts a tweet to twitter with a link to an exquisite blog post hosted on their company website, which is retweeted by our friend Gerry over in Alaska, whose friend sees the link and places it on their blog, which is then posted to Beth’s Facebook profile… (you get the picture), check out how many “impressions” along with inbound links we have created now! Along comes Industry genius researcher with a “Google-recognized,” renowned website for valuable information who, through all of this reposting, quickly comes across Company X’s link to their insightful blog post. He places a link to the blog post and right there the Google genie throws up his arms in praise saying, “THIS must be one excellent blog post.” There you have it. Your Google score has just increased enough to surpass your evil twin competitor for spot number 1 on the Google result page. (This, of course, is an over-exaggeration, but it gets the point across.) By increasing your visibility and gaining a following, you can take advantage of the system.
Utilize social media to communicate your expertise, your value, your mission, your philanthropic endeavors, or whatever it may be. Create valuable content for your followers and take advantage of the free means to communicate it available through the use of social media. The key ingredients are valuable content, visibility, and network utilization.
Social Media Marketing as a Forum for Discussion
Without going too far into detail, the disclaimer must be given first. Always be careful what you ask for because asking for feedback can sometimes mean opening a can of worms, yuk! However, with careful moderation, asking for feedback can often result in many positive developments. Customers want to voice their opinions and will do so whether you ask for it or not. Wouldn’t you rather they do it somewhere where you can control the content being published? Don’t you want to easily find these voiced opinions, resolve any issues, and respond to this feedback? By creating a place where customers may ask questions, provide insight on what they need to be satisfied, and interact with the company, you will find yourself faced with a much happier clientele. By personally housing the forum, you may control and monitor closely what is being said without having to search on Yelp only to find out you can’t delete the post by the crazy lunatic from your evil competitor trying to push negative information about you.
Archer Technologies did just this. They created what is called “Archer Community” where customers interact with each other, provide feedback on products, and offer up best practices. From this, Archer has been able to further develop their products tailored to the customers’ needs. Give your customers this same opportunity to aid in the development of the perfect product and you may find a new universe of growth and opportunities.
Again, please don’t forget that such a task involves extensive monitoring, a strategic plan, and a crisis response in place, should any type of issue arise. Always discuss such matters with your public relations team and legal department.
The information and support for use of social media in B2B companies could reach on forever. Many B2B companies have been successful in utilizing social media. This isn’t to say there haven’t been mishaps as well. For this reason, it is vital that a defined strategy always be drafted up prior to execution with all possible outcomes considered and responses to these created. Make sure that all key departments and company officials are involved with the planning process. Consider creating social media policies and guidelines and even make them public. Start your brain working in the technological direction. There are many reasons to jump on the bandwagon and begin your first steps to social media implementation. Take advantage of the free tools available, and don’t fall behind the rest of the 21st century!
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