Notes from the B2B social media panel at SocialFresh


I'm in Charlotte, NC today for the Social Fresh social media conference. I'm on the Social Media B2B panel with Nathan Gilliatt and Jeff Cohen, moderated by Kipp Bodnar.

When we met a few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to share stories, engage the audience and interact with them, so we decided not to make slides. I know that's the cutting-edge view these days but for a guy like me with a corporate background, being told we'd be presenting without slides makes me only slightly less uncomfortable than being told we'd be presenting without pants.

Since I don't have a slide deck to share with you, here are some of the questions we identified in advance, and the answers I wrote out in preparation.

Let's get this out of the way. What do you say to B2B folks who say their customers aren’t online?

Everybody needs to be the expert in their own market, so if you tell me your customers aren't online, I'm not going to stand here and tell you you're wrong. But these days in nearly every business, at least some of your customers are going to be online. If they aren't yet, they will be sooner than you think. And even if you don't think your customers are online, are your competitors?

What are some successful practices you have seen or used to ensure that your social media strategy aligned with business objectives?

You need to think of social media as a set of tools, not as a strategy in themselves. Presumably you already have established objectives for your business, and you probably also have a marketing and communications plan. Don't think, “What is our social media strategy?” Think, “What is our established marketing strategy and how can social media support that?”

Don't just get on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter. Look at your marketing campaigns and see if Twitter can support them.

Are you going to a trade show? Do you have a goal of getting a certain number of people to your booth? That's a measurable goal and something you can support with social media. Does the show have a hashtag? Is there a Facebook event page for the show? Those become other avenues, in addition to the ones that have been successful in the past, that you can pursue.

Social media isn’t always the best option from a marketing standpoint. How do you define the ROI before you decide to execute?

Don't abandon anything that's working for you in favor of social media. Think of social media as another tool. Make sure you have a measurable objective before you start. “We want to increase web traffic to our marketing campaign landing page by 30 percent over the next quarter.” That's a measurable objective.

What social media tools are you going to use and how are you going to track them? Once you establish the metrics and the method of measurement, and if you take the time to do it in a comprehensive manner, you'll see what kind of results you get. Then you've established a benchmark. And let's not underestimate the importance of establishing benchmarks.

If you're just getting started in social media, then “Establish a benchmark” is a valid objective.

The big question: Who should “own” social media in an organization?

I have two answers for that. The first is, it should be owned by the person or people who are most enthusiastic about social media; the ones who are champing at the bit to get started. Because if you force it down the throat of someone who doesn't know or care about social media, it's just going to become another chore, and you won't see any progress.

Now that's not always practical, so my politic answer is, “It depends,” both on the size and type of your organization, and what you hope to accomplish with social media. Ultimately you want to make social media tools available to everyone in your organization who has a role in communicating a message.

Marketing folks should be in charge of how they use social media to support marketing campaigns and generate leads. The external comms or PR folks should be responsible for the reputation monitoring and management aspects. Your sales folks should be using social media tools for prospecting, getting market information and building and maintaining relatioships. Your tech support and customer service folks need to take responsibility for doing those tasks in social media.

But if you have to start with overall responsibility in one place, my bias is toward the marketing communications or PR folks, because they should have an overall view of your branding, messaging and communications objectives.

Is there value in allocating resources to educate customers about social media?

Absolutely. If your customers are interested in social media and want to get started, if you show them how to do it, you're creating a built-in audience for your message. My father jokes that he's a Mac guy because the first computer he ever used at work was a Mac, and he imprinted on it the way a baby bird imprints on the first thing it sees when it comes out of the shell. If your customers learn how to use Twitter because you teach them, you can be pretty sure they're going to follow you.

If you're worried that your information isn't getting through the noise to your customers, create a campaign to show them how to use RSS feeds, and make your feeds easy for them to get.

And even if you're not very active yourself yet, I think there's a tremendous value in saying, “Are you curious about social media? So are we. Follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our blog, and we'll figure it out together.”

When is social media wrong for B2B?

Again, everyone needs to be the expert in their own market. If you're not sure if social media is right for your audience, you need to do some research, whether it's web research and reading analyst reports, or just asking your customers directly.

But it's true there are times when social media isn't going to be a viable option. If you have a lot of customers in government, for instance, you might find they can't use social networks at work. If you're in a very traditional industry and your major customers block access to YouTube, for instance, you wouldn't put a lot of time and effort into a video campaign.

Do I ask for permission or forgiveness?

That depends on your company and your boss, but speaking as someone who works for a company of 11,000 people, it's much easier for me to do my job when I have consensus, and when I have a reputation for being someone who can be trusted to take all the relevant factors into consideration before beginning an initiative.

What is the most important thing companies should know about starting a B2B focused blog?

Find someone to write it who is really excited by the prospect, not someone who should do it based on their title or position and isn't really interested. Ideally it would be someone who already has a blog about your industry. Then make it a part of his or her job and make sure it's built into that person's job description, so they can make it a priority and keep it active. Because I still believe a dormant blog is worse than no blog at all.

What should folks read to stay current on social media and thoughts on its marketing applications?,,,,, the Marketing Over Coffee podcast.

What should folks tell their boss about what they learn from this panel?

If you think you don't have time to get involved in social media, look at all the information you share every day either through email, on the phone, in conversation, in meetings, the articles you forward to you friends. You could be sharing all of that on a blog, on Twitter or in a social network. Once you get started and develop your “social media muscle,” you'll start finding more and more to share.

You don't have to do everything, but you can't do nothing, so do something.


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