6 Tips for Managing a B2B Crisis Using Social Media

b2b-social-media-crisisEvery B2B company, regardless of size and industry, will encounter the occasional crisis. Whether your company botches a product shipment or endures a network outage that affects the mission-critical software you deliver, your customers will be upset. In times of trouble, B2B companies can find high-dollar contracts at risk and strategic relationships in jeopardy, and these threats can shake an organization to its core.

Social media has raised the stakes when a crisis occurs, given that customers can communicate their dissatisfaction quickly and broadly. If not managed properly, social media can amplify a crisis and severely damage your business before you have even had the opportunity to troubleshoot the problem. But even though sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn may make managing a crisis trickier, they can also help you communicate with your customers, demonstrate your commitment to them and bolster your reputation. In fact, a well-managed crisis can not only help you retain customers, but it can lead to new customers and additional deals.

Following are six tips for effectively managing a B2B crisis using social media.

1. Develop a Strategy

Crises emerge without notice and leave little time to do much more than react. To respond in a way that is best for your business and your customers, you must develop a crisis management strategy for social media before issues arise. Take the following steps to develop your plan:

  • Gather your key team members and brainstorm the best strategy for responding in times of crisis using social media.
  • Assign someone to draft the various communications that will be required, and determine what additional review and approval will be needed before they post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other channels.
  • Establish parameters for follow up posts, including how frequently your team will post or tweet updates.
  • Consider using email and your blog to deliver updates.
  • Document your plan.

By the time the meeting is over, your team should fully understand the plan that will be set into motion at the first sign of trouble.

2. Acknowledge the Crisis When it Occurs

At the first sign of a crisis that impacts your customers, quickly gather an understanding of what is happening and set your plan into motion. In your early messages to your audience on traditional and social channels, make sure to communicate what steps you will be taking to resolve the issues, and confirm how frequently they can expect updates.

3. Be Honest and Explicit

Don’t sugarcoat the problems at hand or address them in vague terms. Be honest and explicit, and stand accountable. Social media has ushered in an era of transparency and it is one of the most important values in a crisis. If you receive questions or feedback from customers, respond in a calm, calculated manner to ensure they are aware that you are putting them first and that you understand their needs. All responses in social channels are considered public statements and can easily be shared. Another reason honesty really is the best policy.

4. Keep the Information Flowing

Keep the information flowing, and strive to provide meaningful social media updates according to the schedule and on the platforms that you have established. If there is no new information to report, let your audience know. However, make sure they understand the steps that are being taken. By communicating frequently, and in multiple places, your audience will be confident that you are working as hard as you can to resolve the problems.

5. Apologize and Close the Loop

Once the crisis passes, complete the due diligence needed to understand what caused the problems and create a plan for avoiding similar issues in the future. Once you have this information, craft an apology email or blog post to your customers that provides a full picture of what happened, why it happened, and how you will prevent this from happening in the future. Speak candidly and be direct. This is the stage of the process where you reaffirm your commitment to your customers and the relationships you have with them.

6. Prevent the Same Crisis from Occurring Again

Simply put, don’t make the same mistake again. If you do, you will drive away any of the goodwill that you created through previous crisis management efforts and further damage your credibility. This can prove troubling for existing clients and those considering engaging with your company.

Social media can be your company’s best friend during a crisis, and if used effectively, it can help you provide assurance to existing customers while building your reputation in a way that impresses prospective customers.

What best practices do you use to manage crises through social media?

Create an Unfair Advantage in B2B Social Media with Competitive Intelligence

As B2B companies reach new levels of maturity in their social media marketing, the savvy ones recognize the golden opportunity available to them by studying what their key competitors are doing through social competitive intelligence.

While most companies are focused on building out their own social channels, listening to their buyers, engaging with their buyers and influencers, a few B2B companies have realized the unique opportunity afforded them by studying what their competitors are doing.

The multitude of listening and measurement tools available can be, and should be, applied to monitoring the conversation, following growth and engagement, and watching what your closest competitors are doing. By comparing what they are doing to best practices (and to what you are doing), you can create an unfair advantage.

Learn from What’s Working

The first advantage you create is that, by paying attention to the competitive landscape and studying your competitors’ tactics, you can discover what’s working for them, and learn from that. That way, you can capitalize not only on what’s working for you, but also on what’s working for them. In other words, you leverage your competitors’ efforts. For example, you should pay attention to what kind of photos and videos they post, the cadence of their posting, the time of day of their posting, and what content themes they choose to post. Then, study their resulting engagement with the public.

Recently we were watching the social media efforts of one competitor who consistently posted a daily question on Facebook, to engage customers. When the competitor changed from posting text-only status updates to questions embedded within an image, we saw them experience an increase in engagement of 30 percent.

In other words, you can take your competitors’ experimentation efforts on their social channels and leverage what you learn from that to improve your own interactive marketing solutions. Not only can you learn as much as the competitor does, but you don’t have to experiment. You just do what works best.

Learn from What’s Not Working

On the flip side, you can also learn from what isn’t working. We watched a competitor launch a new branding campaign for a product line. This competitor was particularly proud of their new branding, and had a great deal to say about it on their social channels. The problem was that their audience was more interested in getting support issues resolved than they were in learning more about the new branding.

What didn’t work was that the competitor and their audience were speaking two different languages. They were not communicating. There was a disconnect in the competitor’s approach. Buyers were not hearing the competitor’s message about their new branding because they had other concerns. This was a missed opportunity for the brand, and a great reminder to focus on your audience’s concerns.

But even more important than a missed opportunity was the fact that customer complaints were not being addressed, and customers were frustrated at not being heard. And they made their frustrations known online.

So how do you put this into practice? Imagine you are studying a competitor’s interactive marketing efforts on social channels, and it turns out they are getting great engagement numbers. What you find curious about it, however, is that the engagement results from content that is very entertaining, but which is not relevant. Closer examination reveals that your competitor is so focused on increasing engagement that they don’t seem to care whether or not they are engaging with the right audience – and their audience profile doesn’t match the profile of their buyer.

Since you are focused on the same buyers, this is an opportunity for you to talk to the buyers about issues that are important to them, as opposed to focusing on just increasing your engagement levels, regardless of the audience. That competitor’s mistake enables you to communicate more effectively with the same target buyers – at a time when that competitor is talking to the wrong people. Capitalizing on that can give you a larger share of voice.

Create Social Media KPIs

Once you start focusing on your competition and the competitive landscape, your key performance indicators should not only compare your current performance to a prior timeframe, but should also compare it to your competitor’s.

In fact, you should use social media KPIs to measure the difference between you and your competitors, such as share of voice, share of engagement and even share of discussion. These are metrics you can create with a robust social competitive intelligence program.

With these new KPIs you will have information that will inform your social strategy, and will enable you to create an unfair advantage and beat your competition.

This post was co-authored by Robert McHardy. He is a Senior Social Strategist at Crimson Marketing. He is an expert in social strategy, marketing and analytics.

Photo: Flickr

43% of B2B CEOs of Never Consider Social Media in Decisions

As social media becomes an important part of business culture, considering the social media impact of decisions has to be part of the process for B2B companies. According to a recent study by the Zeno Group, CEO of all companies, but especially B2B companies, are not taking social media and its impact on their reputation online into account when making decisions. This has potential impact on attracting prospects and retaining customers, as social media sites and other online sources continue to be business people’s first stop when searching for information about companies.

Here are some highlights:

  • 43% of B2B CEOs never consider social media reputation in decision making
  • Only 45% of B2B Executives believe their company can respond to a negative online post within 24 hours
  • 13% of B2B companies would not engage an audience online at all to defend their reputation

What are you seeing in your B2B company? Is social media consideration part of your decision process?

Analyze Offline Data to Refine B2B Social Media Efforts

Many B2B companies do not realize that they already have a treasure trove of data waiting to be analyzed, to provide guidance for a variety of marketing activities, including their social media efforts.

It is very likely that your B2B company has a customer service division and chances are you may even record calls for quality assurance (I hope). Taking it a step further, you may even have a built-in speech analytics module that a business analyst may routinely look at to understand keywords, trends in tone, inflection, job title of the person calling, sentiment, and much more. I often think of these systems as the offline version of an online social media monitoring platform.

The great thing about the data that’s collected within these types of systems is that it’s easier to detect trends and eventually apply statistical meaning because of the sheer volume of this more traditional channel for customer insights. Also, with potentially less discussion occurring online from customers of B2B products, it’s that much more important to use the data you already have at your fingertips and work towards applying it to understanding your marketing mix.

Once you’ve secured access to this type of offline data, take the following steps:

1. Find Trends in Offline Data

Build a dataset that spans back at least 3-6 months and report on the most common keywords and trends in any positive or negative themes.

2. Use Keywords to Begin Social Listening

Take keywords and keyword phrases that the business analyst produces with the offline data source and use them in conjunction with your brand or specific product names using social listening tools.

3. Compare Historical Data

Use a social media monitoring platform that will allow you to retroactively pull social data that’s reflective of the same time period that you’re pulling your offline data. Date range-specific query is even more important in understanding trends in online and offline data when you launch a new product, service or promotion into market.

4. Optimize Marketing and Social Media Efforts

Use this information to inform your marketing organization in how to most effectively identify and communicate with their target audience via social media. The more authentic you can be in developing a communication bridge between your organization and your target customer, the more effective your message will be.

Have you analyzed the data from other functions within your B2B company to guide your social media efforts?

5 Ways to Use B2B Social Media to Improve Content Sharing

B2B companies that create content or research reports to drive awareness of their brand, products or services, or even traffic and leads, need to remember social media and their own websites in the mix. A press release in not enough. I always try to link studies back to their original sources, and I would rather link to the company’s website than a press release on another site. This happened with a recent study about the Fortune 500 and their promotion of their social media profiles on their websites (read a Forbes articles here).

I wanted to link to the study on the company’s website or blog (or even news page), but it is nowhere to be found. This could just be a delay in timing and it will be up in the site in day or two, but if the goal is to make prospects aware of you, this is a missed opportunity. If the goal is to create inbound links to increase SEO (search engine optimization) through both search and social media, this is another missed opportunity. And the people quoted in the Forbes article are the head of sales and the director of marketing. These are two people who should know about the importance of using social media to increase the amount of sharing and link love of the report. Only one of them is quoted in the press release, so there were interviews conducted with the Forbes reporter.

And from a social media perspective, they are sharing links to the articles published by others. It would be better to also share links to the article on their own site.

What could they do differently to improve the sharing of this report?

1. Post the press release to their news page
There is a press release that was sent to the media and it is published on Business Wire. At the same time this was released, the PR team needs to work with the web team to get this on the web site. This may be an oversight, as there are other recent releases on the site, but this is a major report and it is more important than product and partner releases. Again, this is super easy and might be done by the time you read this, but you should not ignore the easy stuff. If you can’t do anything else, this content needs to be on your site for people to link back to.

2. Create a downloadable report with the survey results
These days a press release about a report that is not supported by an actual report doesn’t make sense. People want to see the report. They don’t just want to read the numbers, but they want to see the numbers in charts and graphs. A report of this type can be used for lead generation to get contact information for prospects. Also include share buttons on the download page, thank you page and in the report itself.

3. Write a blog post summarizing the report
This is great content and the easiest way to share it is by writing a blog post. It should link to both the report itself and the hosted press release, creating some internal links within your site. The blog post should take a different angle on the research. Make it friendlier and less formal and focus on a couple of the big results. If the connection to your products or services is not clear, you can do that in the blog post.

4. Share blog post and report on social media profiles
As stated above, the company shared other coverage of their report. This is a great thing to do, but it doesn’t drive traffic back to your site, it doesn’t create links to your site, and it doesn’t give you opportunity to discover who among those interested in the report are prospects for your business. Share your content in different ways on all your social profiles.

5. Email customers and prospects a link to report
At the same time this research is released to the press, posted to the company website and blog, and shared via social profiles, it should be shared by email with the company’s customers and prospects. Customers are not always paying attention to what you are posting and sharing, so email can help you connect with them more directly. And prospects are looking for valuable information from you, and a report fits the bill pretty nicely.

Have you created content for your B2B company and shared it across your website and all social properties to drive traffic and leads?

Photo credit: Flickr

3 Unique Ideas from SXSW B2B Social Media Panel

At this year’s SXSW, one of the strongest B2B social media sessions was the panel “Social Media in the Underground World of B2B.” The panel provided eye-opening insight and touched on some unexpected topics, making it an invaluable learning session for B2B marketers.

SXSW B2B Social Media PanelThe presenters included Duane Schulz from Xerox Corporation (@duaneschulz), Jeanette Gibson from Cisco Systems (@JeanetteG), Shanee Ben-Zur from NVIDIA (@sbenzur), Susan Emerick (@sfemerick) from IBM and Melissa Chanslor from Text 100 (@Chanslor).

The panel opened by covering social strategy and engagement. The panelists agreed that the best place to start B2B social media marketing is where your audience is. Identify areas where key decision makers spend their time. Shape your engagement strategy around where those prospects are. Use listening tools, participate in the conversation, and measure effectiveness.

Unique Idea #1: Use Facebook and OpenID for B2B Website Login
Show the connection from social to sales. Cisco Systems is using Facebook and OpenID for login on their website. It’s led to a 40% reduction in cost and has increased event registration by 20%.

When it comes to participation, find the best social citizens within your organization to enact the social strategy. Enable them to be true representatives of the brand. By recruiting the right subject experts internally, brands can bring value to the conversation. And no one knows your brand better than your employees, so enable them and make sure they reflect your brand properly.

IBM stresses the importance of their people understanding that they represent the brand, and if they do it well, customers will become brand ambassadors too.

Adoption among employees is key. Engaged employees equals engaged customers. So how do you get employees to adopt social media?  Expose them to it.

Unique Idea #2: Conversation Starters
NVIDIA and Cisco System have large LCD screens that display real-time Twitter streams and other social conversations in high traffic areas of their office (meeting areas, near bathrooms, etc.). Employees routinely stop to see what is being mentioned about their brand online. This tactic leads to employee engagement.

When asked about B2B social media challenges, the panelists pointed to ROI and internal resources being the biggest obstacles.

On the topic of ROI, panelists noted that social media ROI can’t always be measured. They recommended creating benchmarks and showing growth over time.  Show that you changed a trend.

Shanee Ben-Zur from NVIDIA provided additional insight: “Your business objectives should guide you to what you should measure. Tie social back to the original objective and use that as the measurement standard.”

Dwayne Schulz said that Xerox is not worrying about ROI for the next 2 years.  Their goal is to create a literate community within their organization first.

Unique Idea #3: Gamification
Many B2B marketers may feel that gamification is only for consumer marketing, but rewarding people for participation and incentivizing behavior are tactics B2B marketers can employ too.  Integrate game mechanics into an interaction to emotionally engage and empower users.

IBM and Cisco are using gamification now. “IBM is using gamification internally to build leaders through rewards and recognition” mentioned Susan Emerick.  And Jeanette Gibson from Cisco Systems mentioned how they were using it on their blog.  “You can get badges for sign up, reading, commenting, sharing, etc.”

Although the panel covered several other notable points, these topics seemed to generate the most interest from the session attendees.  And with good reason- all are unique concepts that help these notable brands achieve success with their B2B social media marketing.

Are you using any of these unique B2B social media ideas?  Share your thoughts, stories and feedback in the comments.

Big Data Provides Insights from B2B Social Media

In a recent post from eMarketer about the importance of companies managing their big data, there was not even consensus on the definition of big data. And 21% of those surveyed admitted that they weren’t really sure what big data meant.

IBM defines big data by example. “Everyday, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data–so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: from sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos posted online, transaction records of online purchases, and from cell phone GPS signals to name a few.”

As digital communications, in all forms including social media components, grow for B2B companies, more and more data is available to make better decisions. The biggest challenges cited by companies related to resources, especially manpower and time required to sort through the data, and the volume of data.

The top three uses for analyzing data are competitive monitoring, brand monitoring and pricing/product information. These are key elements of a marketer's job. What are my competitors up? What do customers and prospects think of my brand? How are people responding to my company's products and pricing?

It is no longer enough to rely on interns and anecdotal data. B2B companies, even those who have not started social media marketing plans, need to implement formal data gathering processes and dedicate the analytical brain power to determining the business ramifications. There have been several large consumer brands that have recently responded to a large social media backlash regarding pricing charges, including Netflix, Bank of America and Verizon. If your company were in a similar situation, would you have had anything in place to collect and understand the reaction?

According to a McKinsey report about big data, it “will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth and innovation.” The report includes seven insights from their research in five domains—healthcare in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal-location data globally.

What have you done to address the gathering of big data for your B2B company?

Review of 2011 B2B Social Media Predictions

Before we publish our 2012 B2B Social Media Predictions, we wanted to review of predictions for 2011, and see how the year turned out for B2B marketers and their adoption for social media. In general it seems that some B2B companies started moving forward with social media initiatives, but many of these conservative-minded companies did not embrace it with the gusto of their B2C cousins. Read on for the details.

1. Mobile, Mobile, Mobile
Mobile continued to grow, as expected, and some B2B companies began experimenting with different mobile tactics, including QR codes, but B2B companies did not focus on making their websites mobile friendly.

2. Open APIs Support Information Portability
Some applications provided API access for their customers to use their data in more powerful ways, but this was not fully utilized by B2B companies for better reporting and analysis.

3. Collect, Analyze and Visualize Data
With the explosion of infographics as content both on the web and in mainstream publications, you could almost call 2011 the Year of the Infographic. But B2B companies did not take this to heart and incorporate data visualization principles into their business reporting. We still saw lots of line graphs and pie charts on people’s desks.

4. Share Compelling Stories
Successful B2B companies who understood the value of storytelling made a bigger connection with their customers, although many companies are still trying to break out of their product-based shells.

5. Continued Growth of Social Search
The growth of social search was huge in 2011 and B2B marketers learned the value of incorporating their social graph into business networks. Google+ is an important part of this growth, but leveraging the large number of connections on Facebook and LinkedIn is key as well.

6. Expanded Forums of Social Communications
It is hard to determine the success of these forums, but some like Focus.com certainly increased their prominence in 2011. This expertise site features more than 1 million members and over 5,000 business and technology experts asking and answering questions.

7. The Year of Conversions
2011 was the very early stages of social media conversions for B2B companies. Some began laying the ground work for this to happen in the coming year.

8. Customer Service is More Social Than Marketing
This was one of the huge advances in social media for B2B companies. Many companies understood that they needed to listen for and respond to customer service requests on social channels.

9. Daily Deals and Group Buying Change Pricing Models
With so much upheaval in the daily deals space, including sustainability questions about Groupon’s business model and copycat offers in the B2B space, it remains to be seen if daily deals will have any effect long term. It did not in 2011.

10. Social Media will be More Accepted in the Enterprise
Some of the most social B2B enterprise companies, like Dell, Cisco and Intel, continued to make social media an important component of the way they do business, but for many large organizations, there is still some reluctance to “go social.”

11. Companies with Limited Results Pull Back from Social Media
For some companies that did not see huge wins with social media, they re-focused their marketing efforts on tactics that have been successful in the past, like pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising and trade shows.

What are your thoughts on how these predictions came to pass for B2B companies and social media in 2011?

A B2B Social Media Turning Point

Today’s posts for B2B marketers seem to have a negative tone. I didn’t pick them with that in mind, but these are some of the posts that resonated with me this week. This indicates to me that we are at a turning point with B2B social media. According to many statistics, there is a high adoption rate, but marketers are unsure how to proceed to get results, how to measure those results and how to share their successes. Too many companies have “dipped their toe in the water” of social media, and answered yes to survey questions that they are using social media. Many executives are convinced there is no additional cost to social media, because the platforms are free. If you are a B2B marketer struggling with any of these issues, it is time to go outside your organization for additional resources.

The articles below may help inspire you to move forward in a way to achieve measurable results, but on this rainy Friday (where I am), it should at least get you thinking that there is more to social media than pushing out corporate messages.

And thanks to Alan Belniak for his shout-out in the article below about adding Twitter buttons to specific items in a post or ebook. It’s a great way to get your community to share your content.

Survey: 71% of CMOs Feel Unprepared For Today’s Market
from B2B Marketing Insider
As CMOs go full-force into planning mode for their 2012 marketing strategy, a recent report suggests that they are ill-prepared for the changes taking place in the larger business world. This is according to the Global Chief Marketing Officer survey from IBM.
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Does Good Content Matter Anymore?
from Direct Marketing Observations
We’re content starved. The emergence of tablets and mobile devices has only enhanced our desire to consume digital content. There’s a problem though. When content producers cannot meet the demands of a ravenous public, things can get ugly and the public walks-digitally speaking.
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12 Reasons Your Business Blog is Failing
from Hubspot
Let’s say that a couple of months ago, you decided to really start drinking the inbound marketing Kool-Aid, and you took the plunge: you started a business blog. You put in the time to get it going, published a few posts, and waited for the leads to start rolling in.
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Still Pitching to Use Social Media? Here are Three Steps to Take
from B2B Voices
Social media in B2B continues to rise in use. In fact, research from BtoB magazine shows that more than 90 percent of B2B companies are now using some form of social media to communicate with stakeholders. Before you present that B2B social media plan to executives or a client, the best thing to do is prepare. Here are three ways to ensure your pitch is a success.
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How to Pre-Populate A Twitter Status On The Web
from Subjectively Speaking
You may have come across a site like this before: you see a nice bit of text (a quote, a joke, something with a hashtag in it) that is shareable. Next to that text is a Twitter icon. You click it, and it bounces you to your browser, opens a new window, and pre-populates a tweet for you. All you need to do is click ‘Tweet’ or make an edit or two, and then click ‘Tweet’.
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7 Awesome Email And B2B Social Media Integrations

B2B Social MediaGreat inbound marketing is integrated marketing.  Social media can’t be an isolated tactic and succeed. Instead it has to be part of an overall inbound marketing strategy that includes search engine optimization, blogging, email marketing, marketing automation, and other strategies.  One of the most powerful points of integration exists between email marketing and social media.

For most B2B marketers their email database is the most powerful tool with the biggest reach at their disposal. When teamed up with B2B social media, email becomes even more powerful. This integration lays the foundation for a future in which email is a less reliable source of lead generation.

7 Steps For Integrating Email With A B2B Social Media Strategy

1. Include Social Media Follow Links In Email Marketing Messages - It seems simple, but many B2B companies simply don’t do it. In all of your marketing email include clear and visible links for an email recipient to click on and follow your active social media accounts.

2. Use Social Media To Grow Your Email List – It isn’t enough to have a prospective customer only connected with you via social media. Getting them  on to your email marketing list will increase their likelihood of becoming a lead. Schedule regular updates to encourage social media connections to become part of your email community. Note: It is critical when doing this to set expectations. Let you social media followers know what information they will receive in your emails.

3. Test Email Marketing Offers In Social Media – Since your email list is your most significant marketing channel, you don’t want to waste it. Share a lead generation offer to your social media connections before your email list to determine if it converts visitors into leads at a high enough rate to merit an email send.

4. Use Email AND Social Media To Nurture Leads – Nurturing existing leads is about far more than email. Social media can be a valuable way to move leads through the sales funnel. Sharing content on social media that helps move leads from investigators to buyers. Use your marketing automation software to help you send custom social media messages to leads when they take an action on your website.

5. Source Email Content From Social Media – What are your social media connections talking about? Use hot topics in social media to fuel content for new email marketing offers and copy. Give people the information that want!

6. Make One Coordinated Push – When you send out an email marketing message for lead generation it should be part of a coordinated push. A blog post about the offer should go up that day and social media messages about the offer should be shared throughout the day. This coordinated push will help to maximize response rates and subsequently leads.

7. Source Leads Correctly – Make sure to use tracking URLs to understand which leads for a particular campaign are coming from social media versus email marketing. Data is powerful. Having clean data will allow you to make informed choices about future campaigns and  increase results.

Have you seen benefits from integrating your social media and email lead generation efforts?