Do B2B Industrial Companies Really Need Social Media?
This post is based on an excellent webinar on B2B social media for the industrial marketer hosted by GlobalSpec‘s Chris Chariton, entitled “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector.” What’s equally as interesting as the webinar is conversation that’s ensuing on the GlobalSpec’s LinkedIn Group, Industrial Marketing Mavens. Some of the conversation is centered on the resource-constrained B2B industrial marketer who, in many cases, is a lone marketing or marcom person who’s doing it all and is struggling with the time commitment to integrate social media into the marcom mix.
It got me thinking… didn’t we have this same discussion circa 1994 with growing use of the internet and websites? We were asking if this “internet thing” is for real or just a fad, and “do I really need a B2B website?” Turns out, the “internet thing” was real; and yes, you do need a website.
Do B2B industrial companies really need social media?
I think social media for industrial companies will be unavoidable. But do you need a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, etc.? B2B social media is real and you do need to participate, but the degree to which you participate depends on your marcom objectives and your marcom resources. When you consider the evolution of B2B industrial websites, at first marketing owned the corporate website, then it evolved to shared ownership by each of the departments represented. I think a similar transition will occur with social media.
B2B industrial marketers need to shift perspective from social media as a marcom tactic to a platform for doing business—one in which several functional areas within the company must collaborate and share the responsibility with marketing, though that’s future state. Perhaps marketing can lead the charge, but you need the support of R&D, product development, sales, tech support, and customer service.
As Chris pointed out in the webinar, marketing should be listening first to understand where, if at all, their customers and prospects are within the social sphere; and are they conducting business or personal activity. Sure there are 500+ million people on Facebook, some of whom are our customers and prospects. However, the reality that Chris mentioned (based on data from the GlobalSpec study) is that they’re on Facebook for personal reasons and not to conduct business. Whereas LinkedIn is shaking out to be a widely accepted business networking platform. (See Paul Gillin’s post “The Other Social Network” )
Where should B2B industrial marketers begin with social media?
I think there’s enough data to suggest that for many industrial companies, a well-written and relevant blog, coupled with a well-maintained LinkedIn Company page and profiles for all of the company’s colleagues and partners, and a monitoring program is a good and manageable starting point. It’s true that some B2B industrial and tech companies with a few more resources have had success with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but if you don’t have the resources to maintain them, a good foundation of blog, LinkedIn and monitoring can at least get you in the game.
Another important point is that Industrial marketers don’t always leverage the content they and their partners already have, which is ideal for the social media platform. For example, you’re likely to have a plethora of PowerPoint presentations from sales meetings, training seminars, and industry association conferences that could be repurposed on SlideShare and added to your LinkedIn profiles for added exposure and SEO. You may also produce industrial training videos for sales and technical support. They can be edited and made suitable to upload to YouTube, which can again lead to added exposure and SEO.
B2B Social media is about connecting the “digital dots”…
It’s not about doing more, although there is more work associated with social media; however, it’s about re-thinking how you’re working within the social sphere and leveraging your colleagues and partners, content, and the social platforms.
Think of it this way… years ago we only thought of the telephone system as a two way device, but then we shifted our thinking to leverage that two-way conversation into a teleconference shared by more than one, then taken a step further VoIP enabled internet-based calling and video conferencing. Was it just a phone system? No… it was a communications platform for conducting business.
It is clear that sooner or later B2B industrial marketers will have to adopt social media whether by plan or by default. My advice is to start small; think in terms of keywords when you post, upload or comment; and leverage existing content from you or your partners within the social platform wherever possible.
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