5 Reasons Social Media For B2B Is Not “A Fad In Search Of A Purpose”

Sometimes you find a post that you so passionately disagree with that you have no choice but to write a blog post expressing your side of the debate. Last week Mark Hall was kind enough to write a blog post about our new blog, but then went on to argue that social media “…as a tool for B2B marketers, it’s a fad in search of purpose.” I could not disagree more with Mr. Hall.

Note: I would also like to note that I posted a comment the day the post was published asking Mark for a podcast interview to discuss this subject, but have not yet heard from him.

Here are five reasons why social media is relevant to B2B now more than ever.

1. Search Is Becoming More Relevant – The user generated content created on social media platforms means that the Internet is becoming flooded with data everyday. With this continued influx of data comes the need for businesses to sort and find the most relevant information to them. Think about how often your employees use search engines for researching every day. Think about the most recent searches you have done. You probably remember seeing results for  a YouTube video, message board thread, or a blog. This is not a trend that will go away. Search will get much more social. If your business continues to print sales collateral and brochures and your only data online is a five page company Web site then you will we be lost in the mountain of search data and become irrelevant.

2. Social Media Helps Sales Staff Merchandise Information To Prospects – A battle that I have long witnessed in the B2B world is ensuring that communication with sales staff and the marketing team are open. Taking that a step further, many marketers have a difficult time providing their sales staff with materials that the sales team can leverage to close a sale. A big part of this problem has always been relevancy.  The tactic in the past has been to get a case study or feature article published in an important trade publication and then provide the sales team with reprints to discuss and leave behind with potential customers. This is a good thing to do, but it leaves a lot holes unfilled: How does the sales staff stay current on industry trends? How do they get customized information that is relevant to their customers?

Social media can begin to fill in these gaps.  An organization should set up a Google Reader account for each sale team member and include industry news, as well as a shared feed where the marketing team can instantly share new articles with the sales team.

To fill in the other hole I want to provide you with an example. Let’s say that you are a food service distributor that supplies hotels and restaurants with food products. How can social media help you? How about the next time you go into a sales meeting you have a graph that you made for free on Trendrr that shows that positive blog posts and Twitter messages have increased for a new hotel customer of yours once you started supplying the food. That is valuable, actionable information that can help close a sale.

3. Social Data Enables Better Customer Dialogue – The long standing belief by those in the B2B world is that relationships are paramount to the success of the organization. Social media is all about developing relationships and sharing information. So shouldn’t B2B organizations and social media be aligned with each other? Part of having and building good relationships is understanding what is going on in your customers’ industry, with its suppliers and even locally within its community.  I talked about the industry news part in my second point in this post, but what about the local community aspect?

Let’s say you are flying into Seattle for a customer meeting and it has been awhile since you have been in town. You need to know what is going on there and you need to know it fast. I have two free social media related suggestions for you. The first is to do a quick blog search for local blogs that discuss Seattle related events and news. I find that local blogs get to the meat of the issues in a more direct way than traditional media. Additionally you can sign up for a service like Near.ly which will e-mail you hyperlocal news links based on your Twitter location. This will let you zero in on information from where your customer lives and works. I would also recommend checking out activity on location-based social networks such as Whrrl and Brightkite.

4. The “My Customers Aren’t On Social Networks” Excuse Is Quickly Fading – This is probably the biggest argument against social media in B2B organizations. They simply say, my customers aren’t online, and for some companies this is true. I contend that more B2B customers are online than most companies are willing to believe. I know that I have seen this happen first-hand with B2B clients that start in social media only to realize many more of their customers are there then they originally thought. I would also contend that if your customers aren’t there now, they will be soon. And this is the perfect time to take hold of the online market for your industry. The cost of entry is relatively low and I would suggest establishing your web presence. Also begin to monitor social media with a tool like Radian6 to help prepare you for your customer’s shifting online behaviors.

5.  Without Adoption Of Social Media You will Lose The Talent War – Most of the business owners I have worked with declare that great talent is the key to their success. I am here to tell you that unless you start to evolve your views on social media the next generation of worker will not want to work for you. I realize that the economy is bad right now and it is currently easier to find good talent, however great talent is also a competitive market. The future generation, whether you like it or not, does not want to work some place where they have to print e-mails for you to review or can’t access Facebook or YouTube. These social tools are a part of how they research and facilitate relationships. The companies that adapt and grow with the changing online landscape will win the talent war.

I am sure that my five points have sparked some thought and disagreement with you. If so please take a second and provide your thoughts in the comments and I will make sure I respond to each of you.

Comments

  1. says

    Kipp, love the truisms. For me, especially on #1 and search results. Having tutorials, white papers, articles, brochures, in any written or multimedia form OUTSIDE a business’s website is a fantastic way to educate and attract potential new clients – in any industry. “Conversation” doesn’t even need to be an intrinsic element of the effort, so long as people know they can comment or get ahold of you. IMO, this is another form of publishing, and if the free online social media channels have no practical limitations on usage, this is free PR. Now, when the channel profiles and posts are SEO (direct/indirect) and WOM friendly, that’s when the magic happens. This can do wonders for gaining ground on relevant SERPs for keywords & phrases relating to the UNIQUE product/service provided, geographical location, brand/company name, and personnel names.

    Keep up the great work, I’ll be watching!

  2. says

    Kipp,

    I’ve long been of the mind that social media has immense potential in the B2B space. We have to break free of the mindset that it’s “a business” that we’re trying to connect with, and realize that there are humans on the other end of our communications, regardless of whether or not they represent a corporate entity.

    Social media strips down so many barriers between businesses, and provides immensely powerful tools that we never had before to showcase not only our capabilities, but the people behind them. As a veteran of B2B companies, I can say without doubt that it is NOT a fad, and it’s changing the way companies do business. For good.

    Cheers,
    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community | Radian6
    @AmberCadabra

  3. says

    One of the differences between B2B and B2C is that typically, the relationships in B2B are stronger than in B2C. Another difference is that typically, a B2C company has many times more customers than a B2B company. ”Duh” you might say, but this is the reason why Social Media is compulsory for a B2C company today – and why it’s not nearly as obvious for B2B companies.

    Social media is too powerful for B2B companies to ignore, but there’s certainly no need to feel left behind if you don’t have a Facebook group, Twitter account and Youtube channel.

    Re your points:
    1. It’s true that social media sources show up more and more in search results, but that depends a lot on what you search for. A B2B company should do a search on their own keywords – and may find very few social media resources.
    2. Google reader is a great tool – but your example is all about how you internally distribute relevant information. It does very little to encourage a company’s clients to engage in conversation.
    3. On sharing information – a fundamental difference between the clients of a B2B company and a B2C company, is that end consumers rarely compete with each other. B2B clients often do. B2B clients are thus much less likely to want to share information. And your examples of researching what goes on locally is something any tourist might also use.
    4. You business contacts may be on Facebook and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re there to discuss business. Before launching into social media, make sure to check what your contacts are doing there.
    5. The Talent War – again, I miss the relevant examples. Being able to handle e-mail and allowing access to Facebook and Youtube does not a social media strategy make.

  4. Trey Warren says

    Responding to Nils:

    Point #3 – very good point. A B2B strategy will need to look to see where a community will have the biggest impact and where sharing is beneficial.

    For some businesses, it may be a single B2B relationship – meaning a collaborative effort between two partners instead of all partners leveraging the social media capabilities. I think that this is more directed to those businesses providing a service – where as a product is standardized and all those using the product would benefit from sharing knowledge about the product.

    Thoughts?

  5. says

    Trey,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that companies must prioritize relationships and communities. Regardless if it is a service or product based business the priority should be determining how to create a valuable experience for the customer. Social media is simply the vehicle to accomplish this in some cases.

    Thank you!
    Kipp

  6. says

    Responding to Trey:

    I think they the difference isn’t so much between services and products as between what function the service or product performs. If part of your competitive advantage is derived from the service/product, then you are less likely to want to share information on how you use it.

    The challenge here is of course that you’ll be less passionate about products/services that aren’t “mission critical”. And it takes a bit of passion to spend time on discussing it.

    I’m not saying there’s a formula for B2C social media strategy, but the benefits for B2C companies are much more obvious. B2B social media will take a lot more thought and a lot more effort on the company’s part. It will be very interesting to see this field evolve though.

  7. says

    One of the differences between B2B and B2C is that typically, the relationships in B2B are stronger than in B2C. Another difference is that typically, a B2C company has many times more customers than a B2B company. ”Duh” you might say, but this is the reason why Social Media is compulsory for a B2C company today – and why it’s not nearly as obvious for B2B companies.

    Social media is too powerful for B2B companies to ignore, but there’s certainly no need to feel left behind if you don’t have a Facebook group, Twitter account and Youtube channel.

    Re your points:
    1. It’s true that social media sources show up more and more in search results, but that depends a lot on what you search for. A B2B company should do a search on their own keywords – and may find very few social media resources.
    2. Google reader is a great tool – but your example is all about how you internally distribute relevant information. It does very little to encourage a company’s clients to engage in conversation.
    3. On sharing information – a fundamental difference between the clients of a B2B company and a B2C company, is that end consumers rarely compete with each other. B2B clients often do. B2B clients are thus much less likely to want to share information. And your examples of researching what goes on locally is something any tourist might also use.
    4. You business contacts may be on Facebook and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re there to discuss business. Before launching into social media, make sure to check what your contacts are doing there.
    5. The Talent War – again, I miss the relevant examples. Being able to handle e-mail and allowing access to Facebook and Youtube does not a social media strategy make.

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