De-Mystifying B2B and Social Media So You Can Get Started<br />In March 2001, Vertical Marketing undertook a limited, but significant study to scout the landscape of B2B social media (SM) activity and interest among high technology companies. The results indicated a high level of confusion among companies and their agencies. The very definition of social media was unclear. Significant debate developed about the value of SM for B2B. ‘I can’t see what Facebook does for business’ was a typical response. ‘We don’t use social media’ was a mantra that many stated – almost as a source of pride, saying, in essence, SM is not for B2B.<br />Today, just a few months later, the landscape has changed. And the speed of change is unprecedented.<br />Vertical has been working in B2B for more than 23 years; historic years because they include the creation and development of the Internet, arguably the biggest change to marketing in our lifetimes. Never have we seen opinions and actions move so quickly. It took many, many years for some B2B companies to understand the importance of the Web. Now, in less than 12 months, B2B marketers have come to accept, if not fully understand, the value of and the need for an integrated social media strategy.<br />Already, the relationship between B2B and SM is moving into what can only be called Phase II. The ‘newness’ of SM tools and platforms has worn away. It’s fair to say that we, as members of high technology industries, are beginning to evaluate how SM in total will alter our marketing techniques… and by ‘alter’ it’s fair to say for the better, in most cases, but not always.<br />This presentation hopes to cover two aspects of SM for B2B… beginning with an attempt to cut through the noise that’s been generated by social media. There is so much hype, jargon and just plain ignorance that what is a very simple idea – a classic marketing concept – is now akin to rocket science. And there are (unnecessary) ideological battles: geeks versus marketers versus accounting departments versus management – with each side as intractable as Tories versus Labour. Plus, there’s an over-40 versus under-40 divide. Many B2B marketers are over 40 and without a lot of effort, unfortunately, we won’t understand how transparent and natural SM is to our under 30 customers.<br />Social media is another set of tools that is closer to the needs and wants of potential clients who have migrated away from older, more traditional tools. <br />OK, let me qualify: not everyone has migrated. But nearly 50% of your best customers (in the US, UK and Europe) prefer a new kind of information style and format delivered via social media platforms. So let’s ask a very simple basic question: are these 50% worth the effort it takes to develop and execute a social media strategy.<br />If not, stop here.<br />--<br />What’s changed?<br />
Clients around the world use different platforms to receive information. Trade magazines, trade shows, display ads, industry groups no longer unite your customers into places where they are easy to reach. It follows, then…
B2B marketers have seen their effective traditional media choices dwindle. Without SM platforms, where and how are you going to attract new business in your own region, much less in other parts of the world?
Corporations, brands, products no longer control their messages as they once did… Internet has opened information, criticism and comments to everyone, everywhere.
Clients/consumers no longer accept (to any significant degree) old style advertising – what’s been called ‘broadcasting’ and/or interruption marketing: sending a single message to consumers whether they want it or not. Clients want an individualised message; they want it at their pace, when they need it, not before; they want to receive the message in a format and a style that matches their expectations; no longer can you broadcast one message to a monolithic market… there are many niches requiring many messages.
Most importantly: you, as the company, no longer seek clients/customers… they seek you. Nothing is more important to understand than this: 70% - 80% of your customers come to you, seek you, when they are in need of a product or service. And they come to you AFTER doing a bit of research, mostly online word of mouth. They come to you with a predisposed notion of how good your products are, what type of company you are to deal with, how good is your customer service, etc. It follows then…
You message(s) no longer need the approval of a publisher or magazine or editor. You are the publisher… you have the power… you have the responsibility to direct the conversation and predispose customers to having a positive view of your company Nothing, literally nothing is there to stop you from saying what you like to whomever you like whenever you like… not publication limits and not cost.
What hasn’t changed?<br />
You need to get your message to interested clients/customers. That’s the nature of marketing regardless of whether it’s social or traditional. Simply put, you need message distribution into every corner of the markets you serve.
The heart of your message is its content: you still need a good story and a compelling argument to alter consumer perceptions. What’s really the difference between distributing a hard copy White Paper at a trade show, having it published in a magazine, sending it as a pdf via email, making it an ebook, putting it as a PPT on Slideshare, linking to it on Facebook? As a marketer there is no difference? Cost and access are both improved via SM.
A decade ago, you didn’t randomly place articles in trade magazines; rather, you had a strategy: articles here, lectures there, press releases first, then advertising, etc. You had an integrated plan. Same as now. Replace trade magazines with LinkedIn, lectures with webinars, PR with Twitter presence. So what has changed? Nothing, really.
People still like to do business with people they like. Marketers still should use any tools that work to build that ‘likeability quotient’. Nothing has changed.
--<br />Social Media is Uncontrollable, The Numbers Are Spurious, How Do I Know SM Is Working, SM Is for B2C, Facebook Isn’t for Business… and Other Arguments That Waste Your Time<br />Most objections to the use of SM come from a lack of understanding about what social media are (ways to reach clients), how much they cost and how perfect were the good old days… fondly remembered as a time when you could count on magazines to run display ads and articles, depend on trade shows to gather your audience and have a good feeling that you could track the success of your marketing initiatives.<br />As a former magazine publisher and editor, let me tell you that the ‘good old days’ weren’t all that good. In fact, you could argue that SM is so helpful to B2B marketing that right now we are seeing the new good old days.<br />Here’s the truth about magazines, trade shows and traditional media – the way we used to do things.<br />
Magazine circulation rates were never accurate, no more so than measuring online clicks, hits and views. Don’t let your memory fool you. Magazines measured print runs, postage, lists… none of which was accurate. How did you know that any of the magazines were getting into the hands of your potential clients? You didn’t. I could argue that at least when someone clicks on a web link you have an indication of intention. Throwing a trade magazine in the trash without ever opening it was a common occurrence. Lists were loosely qualified... industry members long since dead were still getting magazines! Postage tells you how many were mailed, not how many were delivered to the right person or read at all.
C’mon, how many trade show numbers were accurate? Every year, every year, the numbers reportedly went up, if the organizers are to be believed.<br />Both magazines and trade shows required a leap of faith – as do Facebook, Twitter and other SM platforms. You can’t hold SM to a false, higher standard of proof, one that never existed with traditional media. To do so is to delude yourself that the old way was better… it wasn’t.<br />
How did you know that magazine ads and articles were working to generate business? Bingo cards? Seeing the magazine on the desk of your customer? Mostly you judged success by a subjective increase in interest: more calls, more visibility, more industry buzz. How do you know SM efforts are working? Same way. So why do so many B2B marketers use lack of measurability as an excuse?
‘SM is great for B2C but not B2B.’ On the contrary, B2B needs SM, is desperate for it. As we’ve stated, without SM the options for B2B marketers are severely limited. B2B markets are generally tighter, more niche than B2C, and niche markets are what SM serves best: small, defined segments that can be addressed inexpensively in their own language, style and information needs.
There’s no way to gauge ROI! See above. You couldn’t measure ROI with magazines and trade shows – you thought you could but the numbers were spurious. Yet, these traditional outlets worked for years… and have only declined as your best clients changed their preferences as to how they wanted to receive info and in what form. And let’s be honest: an ad in a technical magazine could run £5000 a month or more, much more. What’s a LinkedIn company page cost? A Facebook page? Putting a technical article online? You’re spending less to reach more people. Finally you can afford to try different messages in various market segments without breaking the bank.
Don’t be dazzled. Social media are various platforms you can use to reach customers, have them reach you and help direct the tone of the discussion… just like magazine articles and a booth at Productronica.
Look, 100 years ago when salespeople went door to door or home to home on wagons someone said, ‘have you heard about the telephone?’ The phone was social media for 1920. And of course, there were those who screamed that it was changing the nature of sales, definitely wouldn’t work for B2B, etc., etc.
Q. Why Should I Use Social Media?<br />
At least half of your customers use SM platforms to search and exchange information… and in some parts of the world the number is more like 80%.
Your traditional marketing options are less effective; ROI is untenable.
SM is relatively inexpensive, it’s infinitely changeable, you can tailor messages to market segments, groups, the individual, if you like.
Q. Why should I use Facebook?<br />See aboveQ. Why should I join LinkedIn?<br />See above<br />Q. Why should I join Twitter?<br />See above<br />--<br />Changes in Perception<br />In less than a year, many once sceptical B2B marketers understand that SM is actually a godsend:<br />-Traditional media have grown less effective:<br />
trade magazines are substantially less effective, although still valuable
trade shows have followed the same patter as magazines
industry organizations are less important
press releases in standard format have limited distribution and draw limited attention
-Early digital media are declining in effectiveness<br />
email blasts seen as invasive
web initiatives are less effective
the role of web sites is changing for at least 50% of the audience
--<br />Know This Before You Start<br />“It is important to keep in mind that the one of the key objectives of any social media campaign should be to add value for your consumers through the information you distribute. The use of social media is not to preach to or only advertise to your audience but to engage and participate with them in conversations.”<br />Most B2B marketers get this point; many, however, are not yet comfortable with changing the tone and substance of their marketing materials.<br />
It’s not enough for an organization to just make itself visible on a social media platform. You have to create value through the content you make available for your readers and consumers and you have to be regular and consistent with your content creation and distribution.
Offer insight into your expertise through well-written and meaningful articles on your corporate blog.
Establish your position as thought leaders and the proven experts as it increases customer confidence.
Any organization that embarks on a social media campaign needs to actively participate in conversations relevant to the brand and its goals.
It’s important to remember that the organizations that succeed using social media are transparent and genuine with their reader base. They offer information that has value for their consumers and welcome the participation of these consumers on how to better improve the products and services offered as compared to the brands competitors. <br />(ADD STEPS TO GETTING STARTED)<br />Conclusion<br />Social media for B2B marketing continues to evolve, so quickly that it sometimes seems that what we knew yesterday is no longer applicable. It takes diligence to stay current. The good news, however, is that nothing has had the time to be set in stone. <br />There are some right things and wrong things – you shouldn’t broadcast a single message to everyone, you should engage clients not lecture them – but most of what lies ahead for B2B marketing and SM has yet to be developed. <br />But what is clear is the growing role social media will play in B2B marketing. The direct engagement model it encourages is set to transform relationships between businesses and customers. No longer will businesses hide (whether they wish to or not) behind "marcom" firewalls. <br />Transparency and clarity, sincerity and speed, will become some of the hallmarks of these rejuvenated B2B relationships. <br />