Dun & Bradstreet Uses B2B Social Media to Bring Data to Life

One of the best ways to learn about B2B social media is to hear from marketers who are learning about social media themselves. Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) is the world’s leading source of commercial information and insight on businesses, with a global commercial database that contains more than 200 million business records. The following interview was conducted via email with Susan Lawler, Senior Vice President, Marketing.

What are D&B’s business objectives that are supported by social media and how do you measure success?

At a high level, our key business objective is to continue to be the leading source of commercial information and business insight so that our customers have the actionable intelligence needed to make sound business decisions. What that means is that we are everywhere our customers need us to be – from delivering payment trends on a new partner so you can determine credit terms to evaluating how the Japan disasters could impact your supply chain. We consider platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to be an extension of how we connect with, and can be a resource to, our customers, prospects and the community at large. What’s more, social media is part of how we bring D&B’s data to life: we’re a dynamic company and we want to connect D&B users with the people behind the data and insight as much as possible. Social media enables us to do that. We also use social media to tell our customers’ stories. For example, our 200 million campaign celebrated D&B’s milestone of reaching 200 million businesses covered in our global database. We said “thank you” to businesses around the world by inviting them to share their stories online.

With social media, we are playing an active in role in the conversations our customers and prospects find important, as well as listen to what they have to say. In terms of measurement, we determine success not just by the number of followers, comments or shares (which we do monitor in weekly reports), but by the overall quality of engagement. In other words, are key business professionals and decision-makers, over time, continuing to respond to, share and leverage our content and insight? Are we helping them become smarter and more efficient professionals? And are we building trust so that our customers can help us improve our products and the way we do business? Seeing a two-way, thought-provoking dialogue emerge is a major success indicator for us.

What are your most important social platforms, and how do they differ from a content, engagement and resource standpoint?

For now, our focus is primarily on LinkedIn and Twitter, with Facebook being another place where we devote resources to interacting with fans and crowdsourcing ideas. We use some of our social media properties as a place to showcase our company culture, and this is something we’d like to do more of at D&B. LinkedIn is one place where we’re demonstrating our thought-leadership and having more expertise-driven discussions and Q&A’s, and we’re looking to do this elsewhere as well. Twitter is another platform we use to engage with our influencers: industry analysts, supply chain and risk management professionals, small business folks, and sales and marketing strategists who have a direct impact on the news of the day. We also use Twitter to respond to customer inquiries, share industry news, participate in Twitter chats, and publish our insights. We’re contemplating Google+ and how we can best leverage that community to expand and enrich our online presence.

What is your approach to blogging? Hoover’s (a D&B company) had two blogs and one of them has been retired. Can you share some of the decision making process of shutting that down?

Such a great question – I think the topic of corporate blogging can be a struggle for any company, as it requires significant resources and a long term commitment to be successful. D&B is experimenting with blogging, and it’s something we are planning to expand. For example, we have had success with the Hoovers’s blog Bizmology for sales and marketing professionals. The blog discusses trends and news in a non-promotional way. It’s full of great writers and industry experts and is more like its own news vehicle than a blog at this point. I encourage folks to check it out; it’s a great place to gather industry content and insight for prospect touch points. The other blog you’re referring to, The Break Room, was another experiment tied to our Hoover’s service but we quickly realized it was too much to nurture two separate blogs for a similar audience. But it was a good lesson in terms of not spreading ourselves too thin. As we look to the future for D&B, we will use what we’ve learned from these endeavors to shape our future blogging strategy.

What’s your take on Google+ for B2B?

This is a timely question, given the brand pages were just rolled out to businesses. I honestly think it’s too soon to tell, as even early adopters of the platform are still trying to get a foothold on their brand pages. Even the basic assumptions you might make about page ownership and capabilities are radically different on Google+. Right now at D&B, we’re discussing how we can differentiate our content, voice and personality on Google+ and what kind of exclusive content we can make available to audiences there. So far, there are some widely differing opinions on Google+ for businesses – Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki agree it’s a must, while Robert Scoble has his doubts.

What’s one prediction you have for B2B social media trends in 2012?

It’s two-fold: alignment of strategy and differentiation of content. So many businesses have checked the box on every platform – saying, oh, we have a Facebook page run by Sally in marketing, and a Twitter feed run by Jon in operations – but it’s going to take a truly consolidated strategy across all social media platforms to be successful and functional. At the same time, each social media platform needs to be treated differently, and the content needs to be tailored accordingly. So I think overall we’re going to see a trend of businesses consolidating their platforms and looking for ways to create more dynamic, engaging content specific to each platform and its audience. This will also require companies to operationalize social engagement throughout the organization, empowering (and training) a team run by a proven leader and building a universal framework for baseline metrics.

Is there anything else about your social media program that you would like to share?

As I said earlier, social media is constantly evolving and, as a result, businesses need to make the effort to keep up while continuously evaluating what they’re doing. At D&B, we recognize this and are the first to say, “Hey, we’ve been doing this online and it’s working, which is great, but what more can we be doing for our customers and communities?” It’s important to decipher what’s not working and how we can improve. We’re not drinking our own Kool-Aid, if you will, rather, we recognize that social media comes with its challenges and we’re up to them. At the same time, we don’t take ourselves too seriously! We’ve posted photos of cats and employees in their Halloween costumes online to showcase our culture. It’s important to be able to have fun with social media and humanize your business so your fans and followers relate to your brand and vision.

SXSW: B2B Information Firm Hoover’s Uses Social Media

In our final video interview from SXSW, I spoke with Tim Walker, Social Media Manager at Hoover’s, the leading supplier of business information on companies, industries and people. This company provides data that allow a variety of people within B2B organizations do their jobs better.

Their primary external social media platform is Twitter, with a hand-crafted list of interested followers, made up of customers, prospects, and others interested in their company. They use Twitter to share interesting information from their blogs, as well as information from the general business press. Tim engages with other users, talking about interesting things in their space, and answers questions about their products and services. This allows Hoover’s to serve the free users of their site, along with paid subscribers. Some social media connections are in the works for their subscribers, too.

Hoover’s uses social media collaboration tools internally, so they can move projects along. Tim’s role is to make sure that social media tools reach the right parts of the organization.

Facebook is still viewed as an experiment for this B2B company. They share content from their blogs, and other parts of their world. In addition to posting the occasional question, Tim has used it to promote things like training options to remind people of their existence, and that exposure has been helpful.

And finally, TIm’s advice for anyone starting in social media is to be open and be yourself. Understand that this is not a short term project. It is iterative, and cumulative. Get into a rhythm that you can sustain, and keep going.

Follow Hoover’s on Twitter at @hoovers and Tim at @twalk.