Breaking The Rules of B2B Social Media

b2b-social-media-rulesWhen someone tells you to follow the rules, are you more likely to take their advice or do you believe that rules were made to be broken? There are so many rules governing B2B social media and almost all of them can or should be broken at one time or another.

But the thing about social media marketing and rules is that nobody can agree on what the rules are. Even if you pull back from the strict approach of rules and call them guidelines, nobody can agree on that either.

In the real world, rules are created in response to some complaint or action by someone or many someones. I recently checked into a beach hotel and there was a list of rules on the nightstand. Along with a reminder that guests not clean fish in their room (really?), was one that said they were not responsible for inclement weather. Wait, does that mean that someone complained to the hotel about the weather? I booked my beach vacation and you were supposed to guarantee my family five out of seven sunny days.

In social media every blogger, speaker, consultant and street corner huckster has their own set of rules. And they all contradict each other. Pick a common question and try to find a single answer. Try this one. How many times should I tweet? Once a day? Ten times a day? Multiple times for each tweet? And is that my content or someone else’s? You can pretty much find any answer you want. Want to justify your plan to your boss? You can probably find a blog post out there that supports what you want to do. It may not be from the most reputable source, but someone has likely recommended it.

The makes it easy to follow the rules. But it makes it even easier to break the rules.

What’s a B2B marketer to do?

Since so many B2B companies have very different audiences and marketing requirements, here are some suggestions for creating your own rules for social media. And by following these steps you will have a much better understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. You won’t need some blog post telling you what to do. Well, except this one.

1. Establish goals and objectives for your social media efforts.
This will help you measure success.

2. Decide if you are using social media for lead generation or customer retention.
This will drive your content and calls to action.

3. Determine if you need a local or global presence.
This will set the times of day you share content.

4. Talk to your customers to learn what social media sites provide value to them.
This will identify what sites to focus on.

5. Review what your competitors are doing on social media
This is give you a sense of social media awareness in the industry.

6. Realistically examine your resources.
This will keep you from over-extended you or your team.

7. Test and measure everything you do.
This will ensure you keep doing the things that work for your audience and drop the ones that don’t.

8. Give it time.
This shows you understand that social media does not change your marketing overnight.

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.

A Kickstart to Get You Started in B2B Social Media

Many B2B marketers are still exploring social media and wondering where to get started implementing it for their B2B companies. Today I have collected a series of posts that provide some simple guidelines and ideas around getting started. They are not complex. They are high level. And it will get you thinking in the right direction. There’s some of the what and some of the why. No matter how many statistics I read about social media adoption by B2B companies, I still come back to my conversations with marketers every day. A basic understanding of social media is still needed in many organizations. So I present that to you today.

If there are other posts you have seen recently that have helped you get started with your social media efforts please share them below.

A Simple Explanation why B2B Social Media Works So Well
from 41 Stories
While a study by BtoB Magazine conducted last year pegged 93% of all B2B marketers to be engaged in some form of social media marketing, I still see some B2B marketers shun a mufti-dimensional social media program. Sure, LinkedIn is okay but all the others?
Read more

Is B2B Really Ready For Social Media Marketing?
from MediaPost
Is B2B really ready for social media marketing? The short answer is no. The long answer is almost. Let’s just say that generally speaking, these kinds of companies are “social media curious.”
Read more

Social Media Strategy for B2B Companies
from Dijital Farm
What about Business to Business (B2B) companies? How should they approach their social media efforts and where should they spend their time? In today’s blog post, we examine three ways B2B companies can get more from social media.
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Tips for Building a Social Media Strategy
from Springbox
One resolution on everyone’s business agenda should be to develop an ongoing social strategy. As social media platforms become mainstream and your industry competitors settle in for the long haul, there’s no better time to get organized.
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The Future Of B2B Search: Start Preparing For Social SEO Now
from SearchEngineLand
Just when you thought your strategy was defined in SEO, the time has come for us to once again get ready for significant change in how we approach SEO as search marketers. With the recent announcements from Google, the future of search is indeed social in nature.
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Marketers Must Beat the B2B Brand Titans at Their Own Game
from ITSMA
ITSMA’s 2011 Professional Services and Solutions Brand Tracking Study reveals that there are a few market leaders and a large pack of followers; yet the market remains fragmented and opportunities for differentiation abound.
Read more

Approach Your B2B Social Media Strategy from Many Sides

Many B2B marketers approach their social media programs from a tactic entry point. There is pressure to get started. Sometimes that pressure is from above. Sometimes it’s from below. There can even be pressure from the industry and competitors. This is why so many blog posts about social media focus on the tactics. They answer “how to” questions. They help solve marketers’ biggest challenges. And the small ones too.

Social media succeeds for B2B companies when it starts from a strategic level where goals and metrics are tied to higher level business objectives. I feel like I say this all the time. Not just here on this site, but in my day job, in presentations and in our book. But it is still worth reminding marketers of this. The following articles all get you thinking about higher level strategies that you need to put in place. Even the LinkedIn article about new demographic data available in the platform, which seems very tactical, should make you think about your target audience and how to reach them. Those are strategic thoughts, or at least they should be.

Have you seen any other posts recently that have inspired your strategy approach? Share them in the comments below.

The Evolution of B2B Marketing: Why Generating Leads Isn’t Enough Anymore
from MarketingProfs
If you’re like most B2B marketers, you diligently plan and execute campaigns to drive new opportunities and, ultimately, increase revenue. But unless you’re ready to rethink marketing’s role, you may be throwing precious budget dollars out the window and missing opportunities to drive real customer value.
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Social, Content & Selling – a Chief Revenue Officer’s take
from Inside Sales Experts Blog
I recently participated in a conversation over at How can you create a culture where your employees feel comfortable creating content? The idea being, that the creation of content is now an organizational responsibility as opposed to just being Marketing’s. At one point in the dialogue, I was sick of hearing what all the pundits think (myself included) so I threw down the glove and asked a Sales Exec to chime in. Well, Alex Shootman the Chief Revenue Officer of Eloqua did.
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Lessons from a B2B Summit Coach: Five Steps to Cut through the Noise, Turn off the Hype and Create a B2B Social Media Program that Works
from B2B Lead Roundtable Blog
I am further convinced social media is one of the most challenging channels for B2B marketers to manage. It’s so unpredictable, yet there’s so much pressure surrounding it – everyone feels like they need to be on every social media channel or else. And there’s so many people claiming to be social media experts, but don’t just blindly follow their advice. You see, I don’t believe anyone can be a true social media guru because there are constantly new ideas, platforms and methodologies.
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ZMOT, and what it means to B2B marketers
from Velocity B2B Marketing Blog
What is Zero Moment of Truth and what do buyers do during ZMOT?
They google, of course. They learn about their choices online, read reviews, watch videos, etc., etc., etc. To big brands like Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola and General Electric, the new mental model defined by ZMOT has attracted a tremendous amount of attention. Research undertaken by Shopper Science indicated that ZMOT was even more influential on purchases than the original stimulus that starts a purchase decision, and the first moment of truth. Arguably, ZMOT carries more importance for B2B markets than it does for B2C markets, as the larger the purchase the more time for pre-purchase research.
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LinkedIn Becomes More Relevant for B2B Communicators
from B2B Voices
LinkedIn continues to be enhance its platform for B2B communicators. Last month the company announced that companies could stream news and information from its corporate page. That was a small change and a much needed addition. But a much bigger change has just happened.
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7 Steps For Developing A B2B Social Media Marketing Strategy

With today’s post we aim to answer the most common question we get about B2B social media marketing: How do you do it? It is a broad question that could have a lot of answers, but today we are going to focus on specifically how a B2B social media marketing campaign gets developed and executed. These seven steps should serve as an outline for you, and as you talk about your own social media efforts with members of your team, as well as management.

Step 1: Assess Your Market
Like most plans, the first step is the most important, because it dictates how to move forward. Before you write a single word in a document or on a PowerPoint slide, you must first get your hands dirty and do some serious research to determine if social media marketing is a viable option for your business. In a previous post I outlined times when social media isn’t right for B2B, but those are not catch-all cases.

To begin your research I recommend that that you look for any third party research about social media usage specific to your industry. You should also consider doing a formal or informal study of your current customers to see how they get news and information, but more importantly, how they are influenced. At the same time, use a free search tool like Technorati, Google Blog Search, Board Reader, and Twitter Search to do some research of your own to determine influencers in your industry that are active online.

Finally, this is the most important part of step one. If you complete your research and it shows that social media has little impact on your customers, then stop reading this post. Do not complete any of the other steps. Set a time 6-12 months from now to do another round of research, but until it shows that social media is an important enough factor, do not spend resources on something that will not be effective. You can use some free tools to monitor your company and industry, but that should be the extent of it, until a time when social media is a more viable option for your business.

Step 2: Determine Key Business Objectives
You are reading correctly, we are on step two and I am talking about nothing related to technology or the Internet. The reason for this is clear. It doesn’t matter how viable social web channels are for your business, if you don’t align your efforts with business objectives, you are wasting time and money. Schedule a meeting with all key stakeholders to review current marketing and business objectives and determine how online communications can be used to support them.

Step 3: Dedicate Resources
If you want to fail and fail quickly at anything, and social media is no different, then do something without the appropriate resources needed to succeed. In the case of social media for B2B, resources can mean many things. Mostly it refers to time. Do you have the manpower to execute the strategy you are in the process of developing? Have you estimated how many hours a week it will take? Additionally, have you thought about non-time resources: computers, video cameras, smart phones, and other items that help facilitate online communications. I realize that you can’t have everything all at once, but if you think about resources and plan for them in the future, it will greatly improve your likelihood for success.

Step 4: Prioritize Value Of Engagement Opportunities
All online opportunities are not created equal, just as all sales opportunities are not created equal. Look at where you current sales are coming from as well as forecast where they should be coming from in the next year. Allow these customer segments to help guide your time and engagement online. You can’t do everything at once. You must admit that to yourself and focus your efforts on the opportunities that have the most value to your business. If you have customers on Facebook, but your high value targets get most of their information from search, then focus less time on social networks and more time on a corporate blog and a search engine optimization strategy.

Step 5: Develop Daily, Monthly and Annual Plans for Tactical Execution

Repeat after me: “Without a plan, I am wasting time.” A major complaint about social media for marketing purposes is that it takes a lot of time and yes it does. However, most people are spending more time then they need to because they do not have a daily and monthly plan for their activities. Make a list of all of the engagement work you need to be doing and all of the content that you need to be developing and then assign it on a daily calendar over the course of a month. This is your guide to ensure your strategy is executed and time is not wasted.

Step 6: Measure, Measure, Measure

You can measure anything that is tied back to an objective. When it comes to social media their are two very important reasons for measuring all of your efforts. The first is determine ROI to ensure that your initial strategy is delivering the needed results. The second and equally important need for measuring to to determine how to shift or maintain focus on key tactics in an effort to improve impact. Having a tactical execution plan (outlined in Step 5) will also make it easier to manage the measurement process. To measure effectively you need access to as much data as possible. You need to ensure that your corporate Web site is set up with analytic software such as Google Analytics or Clicky. Use URL shortening services such as to help track clicks on each link shared on social platforms. Remember to use your data to help dictate future actions

Step 7: Do more of what is working and less of what isn’t
The final step may seem obvious, but I can assure you it is one that is not always done. On this blog we talk a lot about how quickly the landscape of online communications changes. If you understand that platforms and communities online change and that the adoption rate of your customers getting information on the social web helps to change this, then it should make sense that you can’t keep doing the same thing year after year. A look at your measurement in step 6 should help you make informed decisions of how to shift your strategy.

If you are in the planning stages and you don’t know where to begin, these steps should help you get started. If you are already down that road, what are other steps you are including your process? Let me know if the comments below.