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Involve social media in your B2B communication - Part 1

Social media is a standard communication channel for most of the companies from the B2C market. However, B2B companies have held some reservations in regard to involving social media in their communication – but the „B“ on both sides of this abbreviation also means people. When is the right moment for involving social media into B2B communication and how can organizations benefit from using it?

FAQ:

Why start using social media

Which platforms to choose

How to find the audience

What to communicate

Unlike the B2C market, social media cannot be recommended to use for all B2B companies as a part of their communication mix. Involvement of social media might be inappropriate or ungraspable in some cases, sometimes it can be even counterproductive (chemical, weapon industry, etc.). Social media also should not be involved into communication just because the organization considers it as a necessity.

Involvement of social media has to be considered in deep communication strategy which puts individual outputs to into context. This matter also needs to be thought over in the chosen level of particular social networks and your typical customers.

Our experience from the projects of our clients has convinced us that the room for involving social media in B2B communication is surprisingly large.

Why start using social media

Your motivation for the involvement of social media into your B2B communication should not be only you considering it as a necessity or just because your competitors are doing so. Social media entered B2C communication in this way few years ago. A lot of brands joined social media but a clear and defined objective was missing in their communication. Their social media communication wasnt matching other channels they used.

Traditional advertising agencies, which have transformed to digital agencies, now added social in their portfolios. They tried to apply to social media the same principles which worked somewhere else, but it hasnt worked. The situation has changed with the mistakes of these agencies which has made a room for startups with this focus; with a clearer vision of social media, a large amount of articles and blogposts about it as well as with conferences.

Companies started giving higher priority to social media in their communication mix and creating special positions focused right on social media. The great example can be telecommunication companies which have dedicated entire teams for social media and manage a significant part of their customer care with it.

The meaning of this turnoff to B2C market is in the edification that it is not necessary to repeat the same mistakes or to discover what's already been discovered. It is enough to understand the principles working for B2C communication on social media and put them into the context of your business, existing communication and your typical customers. If you will find an intersection among things mentioned above, then the thoughts regarding social media integration into your organization are appropriate.

The previous text describes the process of integration as very simplified. Social media integration is a complex decision which requires deep knowledge of the social media environment, risks (managing crisis communication) and much further consequences. If you are unable to manage this process within your organization resources, then you need to get in touch with a communication agency.

The agency has to have experience with B2B communication and ideally, directly from your market. It is possible to work together with agencies you already have a contract with the basic assumption is that the agency has enough experience with social media. Working with an already contracted agency is the best away after using your internal staff. The agency could then coordinate communication among all of the channels you use.

Which platform to choose

The basic question you need to ask yourself is are my customers (or partners, employees or people who are interested in any way and you want to influence them) there? The answer can be found by multiple ways. The most straight way is a questionnaire for your current customers, but then the results wont include the group of potential customer.

Another way is utilizing data from advertising manager tools where you define your target user and get an estimated size of the group. It works only when you are able to define your current customers in the terms of demographical and behavioral data. From the B2B point of view, the information can be the most easily found on LinkedIn where you can choose from particular industries and specific fields as well as from organizations or positions. Industries could be also chosen on Facebook, but with significantly less accuracy. The less accuracy needs to be compensated by using mentioned demographical and behavioral patterns.

The next option is estimation, intuition and knowledge of the business environment which can beneficial, but also distorted by personal attitude and opinion of social media. The best foundation for the final decision is the combination of all mentioned above. By the way, the questionnaire says a lot of about content which you should post; estimated sizes from social media show the potential size of audience and your experience puts everything together and gets it into real context.

Another aspect which needs to be considered are the types of content you are able to create. Some social networks have its specifics regarding the content form especially Instagram and Pinterest where you have to be able to create enough visually attractive materials.

Facebook, Twitter (not considering limitation of the text length) and LinkedIn havent got specific requirements in the meaning of the content. Some types of the content are more successful, some are less. This is a topic of analytics which has been mentioned in many articles on the web.

How to find the audience

Building the audience is a close topic to content (see the next section). Presence on social media should be mentioned on your website and in printed materials. This information can be also included in promo materials at conferences and on business cards. A link to your LinkedIn profile can be added to signature of emails as well.

The organic growth of followers has a huge value in the meaning of relevancy of the users, but it is very slow at the beginning (and in B2B market in general). It might incorrectly lead to a negative evaluation and termination of the project. Especially at the beginning when the expectations are high and management is watching the performance. Therefore advertising and other activities need to be involved in the project from its start.

Adverts will be targeted to defined groups of users and will inform them about your presence on social media. Multiple ways of promotion are available. Well-known brands can communicate through their brand aura, ads can show reasons and advantages of following you and your content could be shown to users who dont follow you yet (promoted posts). The campaign should be running for a long-term period, but its intensity could be changed over time.

A very effective tool for building an audience is remarketing (available only on Facebook at the moment). A special piece of code is placed into your website and this code verifies if a person who came on your website is logged into a Facebook account. If so, the script adds its ID to a special list to which you can target your ads. This tool creates a database of highly relevant people which can be used anytime for targeting your ads.

You can upload a list of e-mail addresses (from a newsletter, etc.) to an advertising manager where these addresses can be paired with accounts on Facebook, then you can display ads to these users. However, utilizing this tool for B2B needs has two potential problems. The first one is that this type of usage is probably against your organizations data policy. The second problem is that you have business addresses of users, but they use their personal addresses for logging in.

What to communicate

There is no universal advice for what you should post about, definitely not for the B2B market. However, few common attributes can be named. Your content should meet them on the premise of attractive content. Content should be actual, unique, short, cogent, visually attractive, informal. Your communication strategy has to define in which topics will these attributes be reflected. Based on my experience with B2B communication and companies I follow on social media, there are few content types which work well, regardless the industry.

It is actual information from the industry, case studies, innovations, concepts of the future, and industry-related humor. It is always true that posting primarily about your products and solutions leads to a significant amount of unfollowing your profile. Hardly any B2C profile could work primarily commercially, so this is definitely not possible on a B2B profile. The objective of B2B presence on social media should be building the community of relevant users which can be converted to leads.

Leads generation is not only the one possible objective for B2B presence on social media. I mentioned ir firstly just because I receive this type of question often right from clients from B2B market.

Social media can work for B2B companies as a tool for increasing brand awareness, brand knowledge or for communication of social values (sustainable development, ecology...).

The great example is Maersks Instagram profile. Maersk is a Danish logistic company which ensures container shipping around the world, so it is a clear example of a B2B company. Maersk posts photos of ships, colorful containers, and of course everything with hashtags. Maersk is followed by 30 thousand users; its page on Facebook follows even more than million users. The company's objective for social media presence is to get closer to their customers. This goal is not measurable, but the company obviously achieves it. I found a nice definition of social media at their website:

Social media is about communication, not marketing. Its about engaging, not pushing. And social media is definitely not just about the media side.

Before you decide for integration of social media into your communication, you have to realize that communication in social media works bi-directionally. Advice on how the communication can be managed and through which tools are offered in many articles on the web.

More important is handling crisis communication. Occurrence of crisis communication is higher as the social media supports a bidirectional way of communication. This fact needs to be considered as a project risk and processes within the organization have to be set according to it. Sometimes the presence of the organization itself is enough of an impulse for the start of crisis communication. This applies for example for industries that were named at the beginning of this article. Otherwise it is better to be on social media than not in general.

The second part (will be issued on 15. 12. 2014) of this article will get you an answer for remaining questions:

How to integrate social media into an organizations processes

Which goals to define

How to measure social media

What is the role of a web integrator in the process of social media integration

How to use social media for internal communication

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Involve social media in your B2B communication - Part 1

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