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Creating a social media strategy for B2B audiences, products and services

Author's avatar By Rene Power 29 Jan, 2014
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4 inspiring examples of B2B companies harnessing social media for B2B marketing

In our 7 Steps B2B Digital Marketing Guide we show the importance of tailoring planning and content generation and curation around the specific needs of business-to-business (B2B) buyers when positioning B2B products and services. In this post I will look at more examples of B2B companies making good use of social media.

Social media and business are two phrases that have sat uncomfortably for several years; I think for good reason. I think about my own use of social media going back before 2008 to when the major platforms developed into mass audience participation, real-time news and networking sites, and the ways in which people use them. Business applications of social media do appear to have been shoehorned in as an afterthought.

In previous posts, we talked about the importance of curating content and creating great original content and offered a number of examples of brands in B2B doing this well. When you have a well designed content plan in place, it makes social media far easier to plan for. For me,  content is the fuel needed to power effective social media campaigns that serve to inform, educate, entertain, persuade, engage and endure.

Enduring social media strategies go beyond broadcasting your own news and views and B2B marketers need to be ruthless about how, where and when they deploy social media. Without the stellar consumer budgets or mass market audiences, the pressures on return on investment are heightened.

Here’s a warning. Social media may not cost a lot, but it can suck time if not managed correctly. Don’t believe the books, gurus and bloggers that suggest you can manage social media in 10 minutes a day, because that’s not true. Even with the latest cutting-edge software integration, this is impossible. If you are going to use it effectively, it requires a change in your mindset.

Three strategic uses for social media in B2B

Social media can deliver many things, but for me, it offers business three key things.

  • 1. It offers an opportunity to boost customer acquisition by expanding a brand's reach, add scale to campaigns and enhance conversion through recommendations.
  • 2. It can help form deeper relationships and advocacy through improving customer service, brand reputation and even product and service quality.
  • 3. It also provides the opportunity to access a huge market to test, trial and crowd source new ideas about your products and services.

How to approach B2B social media in the right way

If social media is about engaging, adding value and showcasing expertise, how can you make sure you talk about the things that matter to the people that matter on the platforms that matter?

Use the CARE model to guide you in evaluating what Content you want to be associated with, what Audience/s you wish to interact with, how Relevant you are going to be, and how you might go about Evaluation of your activities.

CARE model

Examples of B2B use of social media

Here are four examples of B2B brands that demonstrate these thought processes in their social media interaction.

Avery Dennison takes a great approach to social media online and has succesfully developed some platforms whilst showing a willingness to always try out others.

I think they do some interesting things on their Facebook page which help pull together lots of other elements of their marketing programme to provide a dynamic and rich content experience for Facebook page followers.

In particular, I like how they make a huge splash around their many global trade shows and bring the experience to the page with the use of snippets of video hosted on YouTube. It's also good how they mine their history to continually tell the story of the business in an engaging way. A great content plan will help drive this. Visit the social media centre for links to other social media profiles.

Stan Avery 1973 Facebook

PepperL+Fuchs use Twitter in a way that really helps the company to interact with its target audience. Unlike many large corporates with 10,000+ employees and a strict corporate tone of voice, there are several accounts. The corporate US account provides the news and product related broadcast tweets.

But what is interesting is their new account which looks like it will cover Europe. The social media team, admittedly in it's infancy peppers (no pun intended) the usual broadcast stream with a healthy mix of tweets designed to engage and offer narrative. From simple 'meet the team behind the tweets' updates to use of mainstream hashtags to get involved in real-time real dialogue, you can see it is going to be focused on delivering information but in a very personable way.

PepperlFuchs Twitter

Knauf Insulation has been showing through its use of social media in the UK how to stay on topic and remain relevant to its audience. In this case, Knauf are one of the founding businesses involved in the UK's Green Deal project created to improve the insulation of older housing stock across the UK - benefitting energy consumers and the environment long term. Talking consistently about, and adding value to the debate around, a small number of issues means you are much more likely to have a more engaged audience.

As a result, the company is active in shadowing and commenting on the national agenda, posting its own news on the website and then syndicating this content online. Twitter is a particularly useful element of this strategy, again where broadcast is mixed with topical. Check out how managing director John Sinfield has also been profiled by the business to give a very humanistic approach - and to give the campaign a face.

KnaufUK Twitter

Above, Knauf UK targeting #GreenDeal. Below, Knauf UK MD John Sinfield doing his bit with some direct to politician and media canvassing on the topic.

MD_Kine Knauf TwitterWe know online a picture paints a thousand words. Companies in the business of design can profit from the emergence of image based social media applications like Pinterest, Instagram, even SnapChat, to build a profile and reputation and remain relevant and true to what they believe.

Milliken Carpets Pinterest page offers an interesting example of how to move far beyond the limitations of product features to accentuate the benefits and, in some cases inherent beauty of design, in products and their environment. The attractiveness of a Pinterest page lies in its simplicity; it can provide a very immediate visual inspiration and want people to seek out more. Keep in mind this business sells carpet tiles!

Image based marketing offers lots of opportunities to B2B marketers - think about your events, your blog posts, your product literature and more. Pinterest can also be a good place to host and find the latest data laden infographics too. The approach to boards makes it easy to project your people, your office, your interests, your work in ways that really draw people in.

B2B social media pitfalls

As we're considering strategy, I thought I'd end this post by looking at some of the pitfalls that afflict B2B marketers when pulling a social media strategy together. Squarely the challenges fall into three categories; what to say, to who, where.

1. Don’t leave it to one person to handle. There needs to be a team effort to designing and implementing a social media strategy that may extend beyond different timezones, sectors, audiences and content.

2. Don’t leave it to the wrong person or people. That means don't leave it to the new graduate or intern. Like most initiatives that require company wide engagement and buy-in, it needs senior level backing and resource..

3. Have a plan for content. Take a lead from Knauf and identify the dominant industry issue you can help with.

4. Set some metrics to measure success in social media. By tracking vanity metrics like fans, follows, like or using more sophisticated engagement data and tracking conversion through to specific calls to action. (The topic of a future post).

5. Select the right platforms. By this I mean the right watering holes. Where do your target audiences congregate online...or where can you direct them if nothing currently exists?

6. Make sure your employees can participate. If you need to have a social media policy, keep it simple but give people a degree of autonomy to use sites in work time and to share content - especially through Linkedin Inshare to professional contacts.

7. Integrate social media with business goals and objectives. Sounds simple but how many companies do it? Consider existing customers, prospects, suppliers, employees, recruitment and other third parties you are already communicating with and consider how some platforms might make this easier.

8. Give it time. Remember the 'social' element. Lead generation won't happen overnight. Accept building a brand reputation through social media is a long game.

What great examples of B2B social media have you seen? What challenges do you face in developing a B2B social media strategy?

Author's avatar

By Rene Power

René Power, has been the Smart Insights Expert commentator on B2B marketing for over four years. He consults, talks and trains on the deployment of the full marketing mix within trade B2B sectors including packaging, food, science, construction, engineering and professional services. He specializes in integrating digital with traditional and demystifying digital marketing, social media and content marketing for trade B2B companies. A Chartered Marketer, René authors the The Marketing Assassin blog, shares updates on Twitter @renepower and you can connect via Linkedin. Rene also authored the recently updated Smart Insights Expert members guide: 7 Steps to Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing guide.

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