Discover Your B2B Industry with Social Media Monitoring

Over the past few months in this monitoring series we have been looking at specific situations where B2B companies would benefit from using a social media monitoring solution, rather than relying on just Google alerts, Twitter search and other basic monitoring tools. One of the main reasons B2B companies need to consider using a more robust solution is the sheer number of keywords that you need to follow in many situations. For this last post in the series we will be looking at monitoring an industry, and as you can imagine, there are definitely lots of terms to follow in this example.

Discover Your Industry
You need to begin any monitoring program with a discovery phase and a project as large as following an industry is no exception. Start with general industry terms to find relevant sources, blogs and people talking about your industry. Using the dashboard features of many monitoring programs you will need to take the time to dig into each one of these possible sources to determine if they are keepers or not. There are always going to be new sources of industry information that crop up, as well as one-off posts or articles, but you really need to establish a base of credible information. Make sure you review trade publications, association web sites, blogs, news sites, forums in your sources and include the sites you already know.
Bonus Content Idea: If you publish a weekly blog post with industry news, posts or other industry relevant information, this is a great ongoing source.

Discover Your Competitors
One specific area to focus on in your industry is your competitors. Add their websites to your monitoring, as well as search for their company name, product names, executive names in all of your searches. You might even want to keep up with locations of their major plants, if they are large enough to have a dominant presence in a community. While these are the competitors that you know, there may be companies moving into the space with a single product or service, or even a whole product line that suddenly competes with your business. Use keywords that are both general and specific around your industry to make sure you don’t miss any of these threats to your business. An early warning of this type may make your social media monitoring efforts all worth it.
Bonus Content Idea: An industry leader can openly blog about competitors on their own site. This makes management very nervous. With the depth of information from your monitoring, you can write about objective comparisons with your own products or services. Fight the marketing spin and be honest.

Discover Thought Leaders
One of the best ways to keep up with your industry is to keep up with the thought leaders. This is a totally different approach to keeping up with the news, products and events. This gives you an ongoing, higher level perspective of what is going on and where things might be headed in your industry. Or maybe where they should be headed. As with most of these suggestions regarding your industry, it is very likely you will know where to start on this. These would be the strategic thinkers at other companies, columnists at trade publications, event speakers, prominent bloggers. Once you have identified these individuals, make sure you monitor them by name. As you see who they interact with, those may be influential people worth monitoring.
Bonus Content Idea: By monitoring these thought leaders by name, you will learn where they are speaking, and you can easily arrange for a short video interview when they are speaking nearby.

I hope this post, and the series, has given you ideas and some necessary background for exploring social media monitoring solutions for your B2B company. If there are other situations that have benefited from social media monitoring, please leave comments below.

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook

Social Media Monitoring and Developing B2B Thought Leadership

There are lots of people who claim to be thought leaders in their B2B industry segments. Some of them even are thought leaders. Whether their outlet has been traditional trade media, a blog or even speaking engagements, it takes work to reach the status of a thought leader. It takes years of actually thinking about issues surrounding your industry, writing about those issues, talking to people about them, learning what others think of your ideas. One cannot claim thought leadership. It is bestowed upon someone by others.

So having laid out the parameters of thought leadership, how is it possible to get a head start and speed up the process using social media monitoring? There is no way to avoid the hard work of thinking, writing, speaking and listening, but social media monitoring can let you set up channels of influencers and understand what the issues in your industry are. While you can certainly set up RSS feeds of blogs, searches and alerts in a tool like Google Reader, it is much harder to discover trends across the results manually. A monitoring dashboard can reveal information within all those sources that may not have been visible when viewed separately.

Before we go any further, I will assume that you have been in the industry for at least three to five years and that you are in a position where you have a reasonable network within that industry. It is also assumed that you have the ability to use the information you find in new and thoughtful ways and can clearly communicate that to others.

Even though you should have a pretty good sense of what you should be thinking about, start by searching for the following people and organizations in your industry:

  • acknowledged thought leaders
  • leading bloggers
  • trade publications, including their writers and editors
  • trade associations
  • trade show management groups
  • analysts (if appropriate for your industry)
  • competitors
  • customers

Now that you have identified reliable sources in your industry, and are using a monitoring platform to make some sense of the data, you need to do something with this on your way to thought leadership. But first you have to identify some goals around this. The process needs to be tied to your business objectives, even though it could be a very long term prospect. It is unlikely that you can truly establish a company as thought leader, so you will have to focus on a person, and in this example it is you. However, with the proper dashboard setup, the information can be passed along to anyone in your organization who is thinking about the industry trends and ideas, and providing their thoughts on how things fit together, where the industry is going and what high-level issues should draw a company’s focus.

Your company promotes the existence of the thought leader as a way to build awareness of the company at trade events and other speaking engagements. It can also drive traffic to the thought leader’s content, by sharing their ideas with the industry. Thought leaders can also help close new business because they may be a recognized name in the industry, but be careful about holding up your first team of experts if they will not be working with a client or customer. Companies like to say they are working with industry experts, but they are more interested in actually working with them and getting the benefit of their high level thinking.

The most obvious use of the industry information is to create a blog where you, or your thought leader, publishes at least weekly. But you can also use this information to create white papers, email newsletters, trend stories, case studies and shareable presentations. A thought leader speaks from a platform of education and helping people, and the content needs to reflect the right tone for people to follow it and find it useful. Once you start creating this content, and have an understanding of what sources are the most helpful, go back to your monitoring dashboard and refine your influx of information. Adjust the sources you are following if some don’t really provide enough value, but also add more general industry topics, things associated with these sources, to discover additional sources to be included.

A social media monitoring platform will not make you a thought leader, but it will give you new insight into your industry from online sources. Having this insight is the first step, and every journey begins with one step.

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook

B2B Social Media Monitoring and Crisis Communication

A well thought-out crisis communication plan has always been a necessity for many B2B companies, although larger companies, or especially public companies, are the ones who generally create them. Many PR professionals recommend that all companies should have something in place. These plans are about being prepared with messaging and tactics for expected situations so you can respond quickly. Not only does the real-time web change the speed of what quickly means, but situations can arise in a variety of online forms as well.

Starting a Crisis Plan
If you don’t have a crisis communication plan in place, social media monitoring can help you establish an online baseline for sentiment, understand potential threats and set up a real-time dashboard for appropriate responses. While any monitoring plan always begins with the company name and top brand or product names, for crisis planning these help you understand what the initial online landscape looks like. Are there mentions of your company on the social web, and are they positive or negative? This is the general background to determine when the comment level changes, which could indicate a situation that needs to be addressed.

Monitoring for negative comments related to your industry or product types can help you find sites and people that are especially critical of basic industry practices and competitors. It is not a big stretch to think that these sites or people could also create a crisis situation for your company. These are sources that you can monitor to make sure you are aware of bigger issues or to make sure you are immediately aware of comments targeting your company.

One of the key parts of a crisis plan is to know who needs to respond and what the responses to particular situations are. By setting up a monitoring dashboard and sharing specific actions with the right people, they can be notified more quickly and take the appropriate action. Even small businesses should take the time to prepare for potentially damaging situations.

Managing an Existing Crisis Plan
If you do have a plan in place, monitoring can help you augment your plan and broaden your online sources to be aware of situations. While you may have a notebook with sample letters and actions to take for every imaginable crisis, you need to know when to take action, or alert your pr firm to take action. If your social media monitoring solution is managed by a firm that does not handle your pr and crisis communication, make sure everyone is in the loop regarding the crisis plan.

When setting up your crisis monitoring, make sure you are seeing local sources including newspaper and television sites where factories are located, including those of partners and vendors. While you may not control your production facilities, online monitoring may be the best way to alert you to potential issues that affect your company. While you hope that a plant manager contacts the corporate office before something makes the local news, there are local situations that affect local plants that happen outside the confines of your location. Situations can also arise with employees that take place offsite, and could make the local news before anyone at your location is even aware of it.

And where this all seems to come together is that all information is posted online before it is distributed through traditional media, and online attacks, even on your own presences on the social web, are both real and damaging, so it makes sense that a key component of your crisis communication plan is the in-depth, online monitoring provided by a social media monitoring solution.

What are some ways that social media monitoring can help your crisis communication plan?

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook

Use Social Media Monitoring to Improve B2B Advertising Effectiveness

Social media monitoring can help connect offline and online marketing initiatives by providing additional tracking data for B2B advertising. Most B2B advertising has a call to action. This is what you want your prospects to do after viewing the ad: go to a website, call a phone number, fill out a reader reply card (do these still exist?), or call their sales rep. These actions generate leads, but there are other actions a prospect can take online that can also add that prospect to the funnel. Let’s look at how this can work with different kinds of ads.

Print Ad
This is the most traditional kind of advertising there is. These ads are most likely to occur in a trade magazine for your industry, or another vertical industry you are targeting with your products or services. These days that print ad is likely supported with a pr placement or product announcement, a web banner on the publication’s site and maybe even a listing in an online directory. These additional placements generate more impressions than the print ad alone, but other than direct leads, it is difficult to know if these value-adds are effective.

Social media monitoring can help you discover if your ad and other bonus placements were actually more effective than your leads would have you believe. Monitor for key phrases in the ad, including the headline and key product differentiators. This may be easier if you have an especially creative campaign. If the phrases in your headline return results that are from your competitor’s products or other industries, your ads may not stand out among other ads, or your products may not be differentiated. These results can help you determine keywords for advertising monitoring, and it may help you refine the messaging for your ad for future insertions.

While it is possible people may be talking about the ad itself, it is more likely they are talking about their situations that you can help them solve. This gives you another use for monitoring the content of your print ads. It lets you find customers and prospects who may be in the market for your products or services. You can reach out to them and let them know about your solution. This does not need to be a sales pitch, but a really soft sell message that lets them know you were listening and might be able to help them.

Another thing you should be monitoring for specifically are all the calls to action on your print ad, whether it is a unique phone number or a campaign landing page URL. If your ad has a special offer, whether it is a free service or a big discount, you never know if one of your existing customers shares that information online with their network. This behavior combines a recommendation with providing value to their connections. If you discover these types of comments, you should definitely publicly thank your customer.

Direct Mail
Consider all of the above social media monitoring ideas listed above for a print ad when conducting a direct mail campaign. Listen for the headline, key messaging, special offers and specific calls to action. You can segment your list by any number of factors, including geography, industry, current customers, prospects and depending on the size of the segments, you can monitor for online discussion and revise subsequent mailings to improve their effectiveness.

Online Banner Ad
Depending on who you ask, on what day, and based on what study, determines whether you should run banner ads for your B2B company. The best things about them are that they can be very targeted and they have built-in metrics. You know how many impressions they got and you know how many clicks they got. Adding this to your side of the funnel, including the number of visits to the landing page and how many visitors completed your desired action, provides pretty good, trackable data. The biggest problem is that without lots of impressions, you don’t get lots of leads. By using social media monitoring before you start your online campaign, you can find sites that are more relevant to your ads, and you can refine your messaging to tailor it more to the language of prospects, rather than company jargon. By analyzing the comments online helps guide you not just in your keywords, but in using the correct terms.

Trade Show Booth
Trade shows offer a great use for social media because you combine people with a place for a limited time, but if you think about your trade show booth, or even your attendance at a trade show, as advertising, social media monitoring can help those dollars go further. While many tradeshows feature hashtags on Twitter, those show abbreviations preceded by # to aggregate the conversation about the shows, there is much more going on without the official hashtag. A full-blown monitoring campaign for two weeks before and two weeks after the show looking for general terms in the industry, your specific solutions and its messaging, as well as that related to competitors, will find blog posts, status updates, photos, videos and more that can connect you to prospects who you may not have met at the show.

What are some ways that you could use social media monitoring to improve your B2B advertising?

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook

Social Media Monitoring and B2B Product Development

Social media has implications for all aspects of B2B companies, but one that many people don’t think much about is product development. The social web is a great source for information about products and services, but you will only be successful in using this information if you can properly gather it, organize it and share it with the right people in your company. Social media monitoring tools can help you with this series of tasks. I will primarily use the term products in this post, but if you are a service company and you are looking to expand your offerings, consider using some of the same ideas.

Getting Started
Every social media monitoring project begins with an understanding of what you are looking for and what you hope to do with it. In a product development scenario, meet with the product development team or product manager to make sure you know what types of products they are already working on. Use this initial meeting to decide whether it makes sense to discover new features for existing products or to find suggestions for entirely new products. And yes, I understand that this cannot happen in a vacuum and companies can’t develop new products out of thin air, but the process might be used to validate the need for new products you are already working on.

Ideas for Monitoring
Assuming that you are already listening for mentions of your company, we will not consider that part of this approach. Start with the specific products you are considering. These include brand names, product descriptions, product numbers of your products and those of your main competitors. Also include some general industry terms to make sure any relevant conversations are picked up. While some comments you discover might be very specific like, “If the ABC company widget had a third screw halfway between the other two, it would fit my device without modification,” but you are more likely to find less specific comments that might not even relate to your products. As you start getting results, review them with your product managers to refine the search terms and to better understand how to track and use the comments.

Depending on the type of products you make, be sure you are monitoring technical forums to find both questions and answers. Many times, existing customers help others solve problems and those solutions can be incorporated into future product upgrades or even documentation.

Product Testing
Social media monitoring does need to just be a passive listening activity to support product development. You can identify specific users, within customer companies and those using competitors’ products, and reach out to them. If you have a product that needs beta testers, but you don’t want to publicly announce where you are in the development cycle, you can find testers, or people to give feedback, through monitoring.

Competitors’ Products
To make sure you get the widest possible range of data around your product category, it makes sense to include general industry terms and specific terms from your competitors. A side benefit of this approach is that you may learn about their products from their customers, which could inform the development of your products. This information could also be helpful for the sales team as a way to help sell against the competition. Comments about a feature that doesn’t meet a customer’s needs could convince your product team to add a feature that more fully functions to the requirements.

Ongoing Process
This use of social media monitoring in this case is definitely an ongoing process where you continue to review the results with the product manager for relevance and applicability. It is not a “set and forget” program. As products change and industry trends change you will be looking for different terms, different reactions, different customers. You might even consider this approach as you explore expanding your product offerings into other vertical industries.

Have you thought about using social media monitoring for product development and what would your challenges be?

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook

B2B Reputation Management using Social Media Monitoring

As B2B companies develop social media strategies, there is a real need for monitoring the social space using tools that have been designed for the task. This is the beginning of a new series that looks at various uses for social media monitoring in the context of B2B. Each post in the series introduces a single topic. This first post will discuss reputation management.

The idea of reputation management is not new with the advent of social media, it just requires more vigilance. PR pros have always kept their ear to the ground through their sources to discover what was being said about their clients. Beyond those sources, the offline world presents challenges to find mentions of your company, unless they make it to some form of published media. In some cases, when it reaches that stage is too late. And you would never know that an individual was talking about your brand. There has never been a public platform to amplify those opinons to others beyond a single conversation. Now they are having those conversations online using Twitter, blogs, community forums, Facebook and LinkedIn. This should not be a surprise to anyone reading this blog. Your customers now have a voice to express the positive and negative about your company and products. Some have even gone so far as to say that we have all become publishers on the social web.

The first step in online reputation management is the discovery phase. You need to discover what people are saying about your company and your products. While many communications people start with Google by doing searches and setting up Google alerts, if you are serious about social media monitoring, you need to explore social business tools for the job. When you read the recommended list below, you will understand why you should explore social media monitoring tools to properly manage the incoming data. The shortcoming of Google is that its search results are based on returning the most relevant results for your queries. This is based on a variety of factors including your own search history and how Google determines relevance and authority of links. This approach may not yield the mention on an obscure site that is relevant to your industry. Plus there is not a good way to manage the data.

Here are some suggestions of the kinds of things you should be listening for:

  • Company or Brand Name: You are interested in the mentions of your company name or brand name. Include both if they are different, as well as any variations or common abbreviations.
  • Product or Service Names: People are as likely to mention products or services by name and not mention the company name at all. This is even a good idea to monitor these if your product names, or product lines, feature numbers rather than descriptive names.
  • Common Product or Service Terms: Many times customers have their own terms for your products or services. Include those as well.
  • Top Executives’ Names: If news or comments surface about one of your executives, you want to be the first to know. Tragedy and scandal travel faster than ever with social media.
  • Main Competitor Names: Many product or service comments are tied to comparisons with your competitors, sometimes without ever mentioning your company or product names at all.
  • General Industry Terms: Listening to discussion around several terms that describe your industry are also a good source of commentary.

Once you start discovering tweets, posts, status updates and comments across the social web, you must now determine how to deal with all this data as it affects your online reputation. This first step of setting up a listening post is a good way to respond to the naysayers who say that your customers are not talking about you. Even if it is not your customers, there are very likely people talking about your industry and looking for product recommendations. As you develop processes for dealing with the online mentions you need to take a triage approach.

First, identify the negative comments and handle them immediately. These can get passed to customer service pros who understand customer issues, but make sure they have social media training so they know how to deal with customers in public. Convince them that every word they say will be posted online. This is their new challenge.

Second, identify the positive comments that need to be responded to. If these people support your company and products, make sure they know you are listening and engaging. A small online conversation goes a long way to building that relationship. Advocates can easily become influencers for their networks.

Third, identify comments that do not need a response, but are just part of the general conversation around your industry. These comments show up on summary reports and dashboards shared with executives as additional relevant social data, but it is not actionable. This information can help support the need to dedicate resources to social media.

This should give you a basic understanding of using social media monitoring tools to manage your online reputation. What is unique about your company or industry that makes social media monitoring tools a requirement for online reputation management?

The B2B Social Media Monitoring 101 Series is sponsored by Jive Software | Jive on Facebook