Although many have pooh-poohed the place of social in the business-to-business world, there are several ways in which social networking products and practices are being used to develop relationships with existing and potential customers. The trick is to not simply duplicate what's done in the B2C space.
1. Thought Leadership.
Most B2B product categories are crowded. Especially if your company shares space with a giant in the field, it can be difficult to be thought of seriously -- or thought of at all. This is where content comes in.
[ Why is social low on the to-do list of many CIOs? Read CIOs Clueless About Social? Maybe Not. ]
Just as crowded spaces are challenging for the companies competing in them, it can be difficult for corporate buyers to make decisions amid all the noise. They are hungry for content that will help them keep up with constant changes and make informed decisions. It's not easy to develop videos, whitepapers, blog posts and the like that provide relevant, meaningful content and at the same time get your company's message across without beating people over the head with it. But if you can strike that balance, they will come.
2. Lead Generation.
People who engage with all of this great content -- say, by downloading a gated whitepaper -- are potential leads. Lead generation via social networks will become increasingly important as corporate buyers' time shifts to social media outlets from other channels.
Unlike with most consumer products, the lifecycles of B2B products and services is long -- at least, that's the hope. The companies that use your products and the people who implement and manage them will need ongoing service, support and insight. When it comes to the latter, there's nothing like the insight of peers. Smart B2B companies are creating spaces on social networks, such as groups on LinkedIn and Google+, within which corporate users and buyers can safely and privately discuss issues and share experiences. Several vertical social networks are popping up that also provide focused work and community spaces.
Good employees are hard to find, but it's a little easier with social networks. Using social networks, companies can proactively identify the people they want on their teams. Conversely, a company that is active -- in a relevant, useful sort of way -- on social networks will attract job seekers, especially younger workers, who likely have the expectation that if you're a company doing business you're doing some of that business on social networks.
Although there is much more chatter on social networks about consumer-oriented products and issues, people are talking about business. They're talking about your space, your category, your competitors, your company and maybe even your company's products and level of service. You want to make sure that you are listening for these discussions, then collecting and analyzing the resulting data to make business decisions moving forward.
Is your organization making use of social? Please let us know in the comments section below.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
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