How to Build a Great B2B Community on Facebook

b2b-facebookWe know you (yes, you B2B marketer) are skeptical. The social network of choice for many B2B marketers is LinkedIn. Even though Facebook is the largest social network by far (and one of the most trafficked websites overall), B2B marketers remain skeptical of Facebook’s viability for marketing impact.

Mike Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer of Peoplefluent kicked things off his session at MarketingProfs B2B Forum with a few important statistics courtesy of a recent Hubspot report about Facebook:

  • 750 million monthly visitors
  • 51% more likely to make a purchase after they “liked” a brand on Facebook
  • 41% of B2Bs surveyed indicated they have acquired customers through Facebook

Here are three examples of B2B Facebook pages worth reviewing:

Mike also showed a business page he worked on – Awareness Social Media Best Practices – and the key is / was content and communication (and literally, “best practices”). The page went from 0 – 10k likes in 2011 and more importantly the organization could track 22% of leads back to a first interaction on this Facebook page.

What makes these examples outstanding?

  • Audience engagement
  • Compelling and relevant conversations
  • Encouraging the share
  • No selling (direct selling at least)

6 Keys to effective B2B Facebook page development:

  • Paying Attention
  • Interaction
  • Content
  • Presence
  • Management
  • Measurement

On paying attention: listen to people and their actions and behaviors. This is the heart of a Facebook strategy but more importantly (taking a phrase from Chris Brogan – paraphrasing) ”It’s not what you say, it’s about what you hear.”

  • Why are you listening?
  • Where are you going to listen?
  • What are you going to pay attention to?

Silo your attention based on brand, keywords, buying signals, etc. Understand the market landscape, brand, competition, customers, influencers, buying intent phrases (situational, problems, etc), and of course, what’s happening on the page itself.

If attention is the yin, interaction is the yang. Mike outlined how to understand your extended audience, since your direct competition is not necessarily your competition on Facebook. You’re also competing with other brands, a person’s friends, family, network, etc.

At a high level, here is your extended audience and the basis for how to communicate with them:

  • Broad Extended Audience – share photos and videos
  • Passive – ask questions
  • Moderate – consistency is key
  • Active – make them champions
  • Influential – guest post opportunities

Considerations for improving and developing presence:

  • Use milestones
  • Star and highlight important information
  • Connect other channels
  • Use custom tabs within your Facebook page
  • Maintain consistent branding across Facebook page

All in all great examples and ideas that hopefully can sway a skeptical B2B market audience to do more with Facebook.

12 Social Media Tools for B2B Pre-Event Marketing

Social media has enabled B2B marketers with a wide range of opportunities for promoting their events. Whether it’s a webinar or a multi-day conference, leveraging social media can help event organizers extend an event’s visibility, attendance and pre-event conversations.

Using social media to build event attendance

Most larger events have their own web site and most smaller events have a least a landing page with registration (and hopefully those include social sharing functionality), but very few take advantage of the event capabilities of several social media channels or services. If you are running an event, consider promotion in the following areas:

1. LinkedIn Events
LinkedIn Events

Setting up an event in LinkedIn is a fairly simple process. Once your event is created, invite your connections to attend. LinkedIn users will be shown events that match their specific business needs based on the information they’ve added to their LinkedIn profile (Job Title, Industry, etc.), so your event may show up in their recommendations. In addition, your event will become searchable, and people connected to event attendees will see the event listed in their contact’s profile.

2. Facebook Events
Facebook Events
Facebook doesn’t have the most elegant option for managing events, but it can be effective. If your event or organization does not have a Facebook presence, just set up your event in Facebook Events and invite all your friends. Here’s a good guide from Mashable on How To: Organize an Event on Facebook. It’s a year old but the information is still useful.

If your event or organization does have a Facebook Page, you should create the event through that Page. It is a bit convoluted, but start by going to your Page and click “Edit Page” in the lefthand navigation. Click “Applications” in the left hand navigation. Events shows in your list of applications, and click “Go to Application.” Now you can create the event normally, but it is associated with the Page. This event will appear on the Page Wall, and you can still invite your friends, plus send an update to everyone who has liked the page.

3. Eventbrite
Eventbrite empowers you with simple but powerful tools to manage, promote and sell out your event. It’s free to sign up and get started. Eventbrite provides everything you need including custom page templates and the ability to sell tickets. If you sell tickets, Eventbrite charges a fee, plus you will need to link to a Paypal or Google Checkout account to accept payment. Eventbrite will also list your public event in its directory. You can even track your registration page in Google Analytics.

4. Plancast

Plancast Screenshot

Plancast is the easiest way to share events with friends. Just create an account, add an event and invite people to announce their attendance. Once your event has multiple attendees, people can leave comments, invite their contacts, add the event to their calendar and more.

5. Twitter
Twitter can offer limitless value in promoting your event. Here’s some Twitter event-marketing recommendations:

  • For larger events only, create a new Twitter account that you can update all year long
  • Establish and publicize a hashtag for your event
  • Create separate Twitter lists of event speakers, sponsors, attendees and local restaurants and attractions
  • Use Twitter search to find potential attendees and follow them
  • Tweet about event-specific information including sessions, speakers, exhibitors, benefits of attending, etc.
  • Promote your event by running a contest. For example, give away a free or discounted registration for those that tweet about your event

6. Facebook Page

Social Fresh Cruise Facebook Group

A Facebook Page can provide a destination for attendees to engage with event organizers. Organizers can share their pre-event processes and event updates which will help generate interest. Sharing photos, videos, press releases, media coverage, speaker updates, etc. and receiving feedback on those posts will benefit both the attendees and the event organizers.

7. Blog
Social Fresh Blog

Create a blog for the conference and source content from speakers and attendees. Write posts about the conference and answer frequently asked questions. The blog can even extend beyond the conference and be used as a year-round source of information. Social Fresh and Social Media Week NY are good examples of event blogs that generate marketing value.

8. YouTube and UStream Videos
Create pre-event videos discussing conference topics or featuring conference speakers. Consider a live video show a few days prior to the event to share event information, agenda, speaker bios, and whatever other event-related topics you’d like to cover. Invite attendees to ask questions via Twitter or live chat.

9. Community
Building a community around your event may only be viable for the larger conferences like SXSW, but the value it can bring to attendees is worth the consideration. Within the SXSW community, attendees can research and vote on panel sessions, engage in event-related discussions and prepare their schedule. If your event has the resources and a large enough base of attendees, consider putting a community in your event planning agenda.

10. Mobile

There’s a variety of mobile marketing options to consider for your event. You can use pre-event text voting to get attendee feedback, use QR codes on marketing materials like posters and print ads, and mobile apps can be created to provide event details, agendas, locations and other pertinent information.

11. Slideshare
Put together a slide presentation of your conference benefits, topics or speakers and posting it to Slideshare. Leverage it for other uses too including the event blog, Facebook page, etc.

12. Foursquare, Gowalla and other check-in apps
Ignite Foursquare BadgeTwitter 140 Conf. BadgeInternet Week Foursquare Badge
It seems people will do anything for a badge or other check-in reward. Use this to your advantage. See if you can offer something special at the event check-in for those using a location based service like Foursquare, Gowalla or Whrrl.

So what other ways have you used social media for your B2B event marketing?

Debunking the Myths of Social Selling for B2B

The social selling revolution is well underway for B2B companies. Every step of the sales cycle now involves some aspect of online social practices – from identifying the target prospect to initiating conversation to finalizing the sale and even sustaining the relationship.

As with all innovation, social selling has its early, middle and late adopters. The concept of utilizing online networks for selling may sound foreign to some, but the practice is far from infancy. If you’ve adopted the social process, you’re en route to achieving higher volume and higher velocity sales. If new to this process, you’ve likely been laced with doubts (either from others or due to self-hesitation) about why social selling is more of a burden than an asset.

Either way, there are myths to debunk in order to drive adoption and help you make the most of social selling opportunities. Here are the ones that are most pressing, and which provide the most hesitation and largest barriers to social adoption for sales.


Myth #1: It’s the customer’s community…vendors, stay out!
Odds are your presence on this site or your interest in this article means that you are in some way involved with social media, even if this involvement is for personal, non work-related purposes. You may even tap into social media for insights on B2C products and services you are considering. B2B companies are NOT exempt from this trend. Your customers are likely actively discussing your products and services. If you need more proof, do a search for your company and product names – odds are more will show up that just your company’s website.

As Jeremiah Owyang said (still relevant even a year later), companies must connect with customer advocates. Although the customer dictates the bulk and flow of the conversation, they also welcome the insight and expertise from industry professionals. This does not mean you should ever enter an online community (LinkedIn, Twitter, online forum, etc.) and spam the site with sales and marketing material.

Communities such as LinkedIn or Focus welcome executive thought leadership and referencing. My team actively seeks opportunities to engage those that are uncertain about implementing sales intelligence technologies or even entrepreneurs looking to learn more about social selling. However, organizations can also be experts on other topics they know. If your company conducts regular webinars or produces whitepapers, other professionals are likely asking questions right now where your expertise may propel their process forward.

Engage, but think like a peer, not a sales or marketing professional.



Myth #2: Role of the vendor: Responder

Engagement means more than being responsive. Yes, a B2B company should look for opportunities to answer questions and be a reference for issues pertaining to their expertise. However, social selling also involves initiating conversation, catalyzing discussion and acting as ambassadors to their industry. The more visible and proactive your presence on social networks, the more reputable and sought after your brand will become.

LinkedIn is, again, a great example. Joining groups enables community members to initiate conversation and group discussion by asking simple, yet widely applicable questions. These questions not only result in unique insights from community activists, but also draw attention to the individual who initiated the topic of discussion. Think and talk like a marketer and your question will be ignored faster than yesterday’s tweet.

Think and talk like a community member and your inquiry will be topic of conversation for months to come.

Myth #3: There are too many social networks to monitor

As the Web expands and social networks diversify, segmenting and monitoring ironically can become less of a burden. If you have the resources, simply search for social media monitoring platforms – these will provide immediate insight about who is talking to/about you, as well as offer the sentiment of the conversation and opportunities for engagement.

If resources are minimal, devote a couple of hours to researching which platforms contain the greatest and most relevant amount of information pertaining to your company, industry and competitors.

Also, share your social networks. Although they’re becoming busier and louder, the most influential networks are also easier to identify thanks to natural topical segmentation and prior interests.


Myth #4: Social selling is only for the sales team
False! But let me clarify. Yes, your B2B sales team is responsible for the bulk of lead generation and qualification and closing the deals. However, many of your most influential brand ambassadors will be the employees outside of the sales team. Why? Because they’re likely active on social media, and if your product is as great as you think it is, your employees are likely discussing it within their own networks.

Although these individuals are associated with your company, they most likely are not intentionally trying to sell. However, so long as the company name is listed somewhere within their social profile, their actions will impact the perceived company image. Should you ban their social activity? No! Why? Because they’ll go home and do it anyway, and if they happen to be bitter about corporate restrictions, their commentary will skew negatively. Instead applaud their social contributions, remind them that they are all ambassadors of the company and that their online social network ultimately catalyzes the rise or fall of the organization’s sales success.

So, engage with your customers’ and competitors’ social networks and act as a peer, not a sales person. Be responsive and educational to inquiries and requests, and do not be intimidated by the expansive social networking landscape (it’s easy to navigate once you get your feet wet). Champion the social initiatives of the individuals within your organization and the social selling process will be yet another influential platform for both planned and organic sales results.

Let me know about your social selling successes or challenges in the comments below.

3 Private Social Community Options for B2B Companies

What do you do when your B2B company wants to establish a social community but only for a select audience? Well, there are options. Creating a private community environment with the ability to control member enrollment is key, and making sure your community understands that it is a select group of qualified individuals will help keep the environment focused and held in high regard.

Many popular social networking tools don’t provide a logical space for this kind of community organization (like Facebook and Twitter), but there are a handful of options and likely one will fulfill your B2B social media requirements.

1. A Hosted Private Community
Building a private community provides the ability to fully control your community access, while offering a full set of social networking features. There are several solutions that will allow you to quickly and easily establish a social community using third party software and host it on their servers. The most popular options are Ning, KickApps and SocialGo.

The benefits to using these tools include a quick development timeframe (hours, not days) and support is usually readily available from the developer or from other users in forums or message boards. Most technologies are very customizable and the financial commitment is minimal, if not free.

2. A Private Community on your server
If you must retain control of your content for legal or security reasons (you may not want proprietary information on a third party server), you may need to consider developing a community using software you can install on your own webserver. Some of these options are add-ons or modules to a CMS (content management system) package and some are stand-alone applications.

Among the options to consider are JomSocial which integrates with Joomla CMS, Elgg, Pligg and Dolphin.

Setup of the software will require some technical assistance, and then you’ll want to customize the look and feel and the functionality to your requirements. However, once established, the community will operate in a very secure environment and you’ll retain full control over the content.

3. LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn can also be used for private communities. Simply establish a group and send out invitations. The community creator will be able to control who joins. You can also create subgroups to further organize your members.

A private LinkedIn Group can be setup in no time, and you already have a contact list to use for the initial invitations. On top of this, LinkedIn makes it easy to send weekly messages to the group, create discussions and share information.

Managing Your Private Community
No matter which private community you choose to create, once its launched your work has just begun. Make sure you’re ready to manage it properly. To learn more about managing your community you should read Chris Brogan’s Essential Skills of a Community Manager, 3 Tips for Managing a Social Media Community or get a first hand account from Amber Naslund about Being a Director of Community.

Is a private social community in your plans? What options are you considering? Do you already have one? If so, please share your experiences.

SXSW: B2B Companies Need Strong Community Managers

Aaron Strout is the CMO of Powered, a social media agency in Austin, Texas, and he talked to me at the end of the SXSW Interactive Conference about how his agency approaches social media for B2B companies. He recently wrote a blog post entitled, Social Media for B2B: It CAN be done, which is why we connected.

Aaron recommends business to business companies create communities with a strong community manager, because the number of content creators are very small. Content creators in this case are readers who leave comments and add their thoughts to the conversations. It is important that community managers encourage and nurture these communities. Another tactic he recommends is to follow customers, prospects, competitors and industry thought leaders on Twitter and interact with them, but not as a product manager, more like a community manager. This strengthens your relationships with existing customers as you learn more about them.

Follow Aaron at his blog, Citizen Marketer 2.1 and on Twitter @AaronStrout.

A B2B Blog by Any Other Name

I recently wrote about the best way to set up a B2B corporate blog, and I want to take that one step further. Why does a blog even need to be called a blog. This contraction of weblog has been around since the late 1990s. As blogs have grown in importance to B2B companies it seems like a quaint name for something that offers so many benefits to this specialized web site that no longer resembles the personal narratives that logged peoples’ lives.

A blog is meant to build a community around a business, an idea or an industry. As B2B organizations create content to connect and engage with influencers, customers and prospects, there are many other choices for the name of the tab that is listed on the top level navigation of their corporate website. Some examples from the two preceding sentences are Community, Connections, or Engage. Each one of those terms have different connotations that relate to how your company approaches your social media plans.

Community
This name works for a social media approach that is like a forum. If you are looking to build strong links between the readers of your site, with your company as the leader, or facilitator, of the community, this is a great name. While your B2B company is still at the center, this name implies that you are creating something bigger than the company.

Connections
If you are interested in forming connections with your customers, prospects and partners, but remaining responsible for all aspects of the relationship, this is a good word to use to describe this specialized site. By providing relevant content to your readers, you create these connections to their benefit and yours.

Engage
While every blog hopes to create two-way conversations with their readers through comments on their blog post, calling your blog Engage is a great way to set the tone for an active conversation. This suggestion is a verb that can be taken two ways. You are encouraging your readers to engage with your company, and you are also setting the expectation that you are looking to engage with them. Taking this approach requires a commitment to this name.

Solutions
One of the other big things that a B2B blog can do is generate leads for your product or service. A content marketing approach to driving traffic to your site is to write about solutions to your customers’ and prospects’ problems. By calling this collection of relevant articles Solutions points to the value of this content to your readers. Make sure you have a clear call-to-action for lead generation to support this idea, whether it is in the footer or in the sidebar.

What are some other words that would entice readers to click that link formerly known as blog and read what your company has to share?

Who Owns B2B Online Communities?

FohBoh

The rise of niche social networks through platforms such as Ning has allowed active communities to form. Since B2B is all about niches, it make sense that we see B2B communities like FohBoh (Front of the House, Back of the House) form and strive. As we see B2B communities form we also see different organizations try to “manage” where the community assembles. Media companies, industry businesses and individual thought leaders are all currently fighting for control of their industry’s online community.

Do you think I am wrong? Think about how many different companies have asked you to join their new network. Media outlets think they should own the communities because they are the independent experts within the industry. Industry businesses think they should own the community because they have the industry insider perspective and can provide special deals and insight. The fact is that no one really owns a community. If they did, MySpace would still be relevant and Twitter would never have grown like it did.

Communities Follow Leadership

It doesn’t matter if you are a media company, private business or an individual, anyone can build and leverage an online community for business. I have seen successful examples of all types of community leadership. The issue is not in who builds a community, but instead how it is built. Successful online networks are built through sincere, selfless leadership.

It is important to remember that every person, on one level or another, wants to belong and be a part of something bigger than themselves. In the B2B space people want to be connect to their peers in a community that helps to push toward a larger industry goals.

For example, if you were working to build a community of researchers, and your hook to get them to participate is special access to your company’s proprietary research and products, well they don’t care about that. What do they care about? What can get them to take action? It is likely something that gives all of them a purpose. For example if you start a community with the goal of educating the public on the practical benefits of research to leverage additional government funding, that is a cause researchers could get behind.

It is not about what is in it for you, instead it is about what unites the collective group.

Technology Doesn’t Matter For Communities

You don’t have to spend thousands or millions of dollars on fancy online community platforms and technology to develop a community. The community doesn’t care. Sure, there are great technology solutions out there from a host of different companies, but it is not the technology that builds the community. You can start out as basic as a forum or a Ning group if you need to. It comes back to the leadership. If you can lead a community appropriately, it can grow. As the community grows it will be vocal about the tools it needs and you can scale up your efforts from there.

Organizations that spend months debating the best community platform are wasting time and demonstrating that they do not have the leadership ability to successfully lead their community. If you can’t lead your community, someone else will.

My Recent Social Media B2B Pitch Talking Points

Recently I was part of a client pitch. I handled the social media portion for an old school, B2B industrial firm. Before I share what I talked about, I want to describe my presentation experience. Six different people from our team would be sharing the presenting responsibilities. We practiced beforehand standing at a podium at one end of a conference room table. This was a very comfortable way for me to present. When we arrived at the client’s site, due to technical difficulties that I didn’t fully understand, we presented from a laptop in the middle of the table, rather than at the podium. This now meant our presentations would be given while sitting at the table. After my first segment was done sitting at the table, I decided that did not work for me. It was conversational and informal by just turning to look at the clients at the other end of table, but it was a bit too confined for me.

When I talk about social media, especially to people who are just starting to wrap their heads around it, I tend to get excited. I speak with my hands. I also needed to point to the slide on the screen just a little bit. I decided that I would stand at the end of the table. I waved my arms. I walked back and forth while I made eye contact with our prospective clients. I spoke about our social media plans with passion. I had a few notecards with some bullet points on them. I didn’t look at them, but just waved them around. Below are some of things I said as an introduction to Social Media in the B2B space.

Social Media’s Role in Public Relations

There is an ongoing discussion about whether social media lives within marketing or public relations as a primary communication medium. While most social media strategists would recommend that social media needs to be pervasive throughout an organization, one department or function frequently launches the foray into social media. Using the conversation prism model, this demonstrates the modern view of public relations that includes an ongoing feedback loop with traditional sources, as well as social web outlets.

Public relations involves crafting messages that express the company’s position or touts their products. What if you can send those messages out into the wild and let them go? Find the influencers that can take those messages, change them, make them their own, and spread them further than the reach of a news site or a printed trade magazine. And you must monitor those messages and mentions. Traditional PR services involved clipping. Now we “clip the web.” And this can be done at a simple level using basic monitoring tools, or at a deeper level with more complex tools. These choices are determined by the scale of your online universe. As these idea come back through monitoring you can determine what worked and what didn’t in a continuous evaluation and analysis process.

Content

Much of the legwork of the content creation of a social media plan can occur within the PR function. They interact with company subject matter experts. They interview industry thought leaders. They are in constant contact with editors, writers, bloggers in the industry to keep a pulse on what is happening. While press releases are happening in this world, this is not important to this part of the story. We are more interested in the deeper dives of the case studies and white papers. This information can be turned on its side for the more informal content required for a blog, which is the core component of social media for a B2B company. The best thing about a blog is that it shows how a company thinks. Don’t talk about products, services, features and benefits, but use a blog to show industry leadership. What are the questions others are asking? You can answer them. And all this content needs to be published on a regular and consistent basis. Your PR team can develop and maintain an editorial calendar to keep this on task.

And this blog content can now radiate outward. Repurpose it on a Facebook fan page. Post links to in Twitter. Share it on LinkedIn. When people ask questions in an online forum use content from the blog to answer them. You can tell them you wrote a blog post about it, excerpt the relevant section, and provide a link if they want to read the rest of the post. This will start building relationships.

Relationship

So now the question comes up is social media right for B2B? Is it too early? Are we ready? Well, B2B selling is all about relationships, engaging and a long sales cycle. That’s why social media is perfect fit, because that’s what social media is all about. It’s about building relationships. Engaging with others with similar interests. Developing trust by providing value and solutions. Social media provides many opportunities for continuous touch points over a long sales cycle. But social media can’t fix your product. If you have quality issues, those become magnified through these relationships. No social media plan can cover up company problems. In fact, many times, these types of programs provide the incentive to get the product right. And if you brand stands for quality, now is the time to back that up.

Community

So the last piece of the social media landscape is community. These relationships don’t happen in isolation. The point is to connect with others in an ever-growing web of connection and influence. By engaging and building trust with your connections, they can share you ideas with their connections. The influencers are the leaders of these communities. Some are formal, while others are informal. Yes, there are opportunities to sponsor and support these communities, but companies and brands will never lead them. There is more value in letting go of control and letting your message spread organically through the community. This is building your brand through social media.

While I was speaking within the context of a larger presentation, these concepts work as a stand alone explanation of the benefits of social media in a B2B organization. What are some the keys points you use to sell social media either within your company or to your clients?

Create Community Impact with B2B Social Media

It is important to create a set of goals for any business program, and social media is no different. One of the most important parts of your social media strategy is to create a list of questions to outline those goals before you start creating profiles.

  • What do you want to get out of Social Media?
  • Who are you trying to reach and what communities do they participate in?
  • What type of content are you going to share?
  • How are you going to measure your results?
  • What community are you going to participate in?

There are hundreds of social media sites, thousands and thousands of blogs, forums and millions of conversations happening each day. That in no was means you need to participate in all of them, most of them or even any of them.

What you do have is the opportunity to expand your physical community or local sector into a larger online community that is interested in you, your products, services and staff purely based on the content you produce and the communities you participate in. Geography no longer matters on the web!

Here are two great places to start your community research:

Twitter Search

Most social media sites allow you to connect with your current networks and expand on them. My favorite part about Twitter is you are mainly building followers by your interests and sometimes location. Spend some time in the Advanced Search feature of Twitter Search and see if people are talking about your business, your industry, your keywords and decide if this is a place you could really make some good business connections.

Twitter’s advanced search lets you modify your search and get very specific. You can search for tweets that include certain keywords and omit other terms. You can narrow your search down by location, dates and more. Take a few minutes and search for your business, industry, your website keywords, or even your name and see what you come up with.

LinkedIn Groups and Answers

The demographic of LinkedIn is a bit older and it is generally used as a business networking tool . LinkedIn is the daddy of social networking sites and it is because of its ability to adapt to the needs of their users and the use of Groups and Answer sections. The discussions and news posted, shared and commented on inside these individual groups is what brings so much value to LinkedIn as a social networking site. Generally speaking, the more specific and smaller the group, the more in-depth the conversations. Same goes with the Answers section of LinkedIn. You can get quite specific on your Question topics and really drill down to the community you want to talk to.

Those are just two quick ideas to test the waters. Taking part in social media is about more than posting updates. It is about creating a community online that is generally interested in your content. The number of followers, subscribers, friends is nowhere near as important as who those people are, and if they are interested in you and your company. With a little research you should be able to find a few of the right communities that you would provide benefit to your company.