Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Flavors of Social Media Execution in a B2B Corporate Environment

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, Digg, Reddit…I love them all.  Yet, their value has been overstated.

These social networks are merely another channel to address the market, in many ways comparable to traditional forms of communication such direct mail, trade shows and events.

Now consider Web 2.0 offerings like BeFunky, PixxMe, Go!animate and Apture.  While they’re certainly cool, they are merely tools designed to dress up staid content.

It is encouraging that the adoption of social media in corporate environments has marched on at an accelerating pace.  However, executive buy-in and budget commitment has been dampened by the curious fascination that social practitioners have with online communities and tools, rather than the strategies and applications necessary to produce a measurable ROI.

During the past four years, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has designed, executed and evaluated nearly 40 social media campaigns for the world’s largest, fastest growing and most successful technology companies.  Our clients have included global brands such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, EMC, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom, NeuStar, Monster and BearingPoint, as well as emerging vendors like Merchant Link, Cimcor, ePok and govWin.

While the practice and influence of social media can be applied across the organization, our experience teaches us there are primarily three high-value viable applications of social in a B2B environment.

Social Media for Public Relations

It’s no secret there has been a sustained shift in influence from traditional sources of credibility like trade publishers, market research firms and conferences to the conversations and debate that define social networks.  However, interest from and coverage by journalists and analysts still delivers much-needed awareness and third-party validation.

Plus, bloggers and social media power users now flex their influence with daily commentary, staking claim to their place in the public relations landscape.

Participation in online communities can deliver a direct channel to these high-value influencers, helping PR professionals cultivate relationships, present story ideas and participate in the news gathering process.

The practice and importance of public relations remains constant.  Social now overshadows the phone and Email as the preferred means of communication.

Social Media for Corporate Positioning

Canvas corporate sites on the Web and it’s apparent that most marketing departments are getting hip to audience demand for a Facebook fan page, LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed.  In fact, in some instances a company’s presence in an online community can eclipse the relevance of its own corporate Web site. 

A defined strategy and appropriate benchmarks for success in areas such as market awareness and positioning are a must for an organization to experience a positive return from this corporate-driven social presence. 

Equally important, corporations have begun to recognize that a lack of participation in popular online communities can be damaging.  Key audiences such as customers, partners and investors may stand perplexed and, in some instances, question the viability of an organization that fails to sport a Facebook logo on its Web site.

Social Media for Sales

Referred to at Strategic as the “last mile,” the ability to appropriately tap into online communities for lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture delivers the most meaningful ROI in a B2B environment.

Consider that a social network is merely a collection of individuals who have organized around a shared theme or topic of interest.  Participants in this community also self-identify, sharing with other members information about their professional responsibilities and areas of interest.

Plus, everyone in a social environment leaves a digital footprint -- who they follow, the discussions they participate in and the comments they provide.  All of this intelligence informs the astute marketer about what this individual deems important.

By publishing thought leadership content that enhances the value of participation for community members, a corporation can attract a loyal and engaged following.  It’s then a matter of presenting opportunities for those followers to choose to strike up a more intimate conversation.

When integrated with a socially-trained sales team, these conversations can be assessed, vetted and evaluated for their business potential. 

The end result:  social media becomes a driver of high-value sales activity and opportunity.  The awareness, credibility and search engine optimization (SEO) resulting from participation in social networks becomes merely an unintended benefit.


Advanced Marketer said...

Firstly, I agree with you that the focus for any organization is to consider social media as 'just' another channel. The big difference between this channel and most of the channels we are used to interacting with is that social media is a feedback mechanism. We are engaging with the customer in ways that have been previously impossible and for many this is a scary prospect. The fact is that it's now impossible to control/manage a brand in the same way as we have been classicly trained. The up side is that when we demonstrate authenticity we can engage and resonate much more strongly with our customers than ever before.

So, I am not sure if there is an additional executional element to the marketing mix that comes from involvement in social media, but the look and feel of interactions differs significantly. From an executional perspective this feels very different, but what we are really talking about here is content and not the marketing objective behind the execution, and this should not change just because the media is unfamiliar.

Where I would suggest social media adds a qualitative layering to marketing efforts is in insight generation. While we know that care must be taken not to be influenced by 'noisy' social media contacts, the direct and non managed interactions with customers offers exceptional opportunities to better define our value proposition and offering. Yes, it's upstream of the executional elements, but I think a very valuable social media benefit that should make B2B marketing more effective.

web design melbourne said...

I have used social media for several clients, some are B2b and some are b2c. if we plan it will, any business can gain a significant impact on our business. Issue is, many people expect very quick results as ppc or paper advertisment. but through social media, it wont happen instantly and need to bear some times till it pick up

Kimberly Durand said...

Thanks for posting. Did you mention social media for customer support? Companies sometimes overlook that powerful application for social media.

The fantastic Paul Dunay has great ideas on that subject -

Marc Hausman said...

@Kimberly - thanks for the comment and excellent point about the applications of social media in a customer support environment.

I have yet to work on a project with that specific goal which is why I excluded it from my post.

Also, fyi...I know Paul Dunay well as he was a client when he helped run external communications at BearingPoint. He's done a great job incorporating social media into Avaya's communications programs.

Andy said...

Hi Marc: these three areas are important, but the list is more complete by adding customer co-created product development, human talent development (aka 'human resource' management), sales channel development (you might have covered that one in 'sales'), and customer service. Social media produces value for every one of these functional areas.

I hesitate to use the term 'measurable ROI,' since technically, any ROI is measurable, even if it's negative. I find other measures that take into account time and risk (which ROI doesn't) more useful. Although some of my number-crunching colleagues might complain, I think the greater selling point for social media is on having positive operational impact, and on directing effort toward achieving it, rather than chasing or expecting financial benefits that often appear mushy until they can be evaluated over longer timeframes.