• 01/24/2013
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5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

There are several ways you can -- and should -- use social to develop your business-to-business customer relationships.
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
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Social media and B2C are a match made in heaven. Consumer-facing companies can engage directly with their customers, branding, marketing, selling and servicing -- often for a lower cost than through traditional channels. But what about social and B2B?

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.

3. Community.

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.

4. Recruitment.

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.

5. Intelligence.

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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re: 5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

I'd agree with your article, we're developing a vertical community that mirrors that of "local businesses in real-life". Definitely a different business model to that of Yelp! The way we explain it to our primary customer is internally, we're your customer relationship management system (social CRM.) But externally, we're a conduit for social interaction using real-time content management. We can seamlessly take online conversations , "offline" and collect more data as needed from surveys and interviews..

re: 5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

Thank you for your comment. It seems that social capabilities are increasingly being integrated into enterprise systems such as content and document management.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

Great article, and I broadly agree with your points. My problem with B2B social media is that it's not easy to immediately attribute gains or leads. Even when making yourself seen in the marketplace, eventual buyers who happen to remember your company instead of clicking a specific track link are credited to "direct traffic" instead of SM.

I think it's slightly more direct with communities on Google+ and groups on LinkedIn, but I still see social media as being widely disparaged for not being "real."

re: 5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

Thank you for your comment, and your point is well-taken. It seems like there have to be some tight controls and management around the interactions, which can be challenging depending on the platform(s) being used.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 5 Ways Social Media Makes B2B Sense

Good article. Social CRM provides a platform for businesses to engage effectively with customers. Just read an informative whitepaper on " Utilizing Social CRM to enhance business relationships", readers will find it useful @