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In a recent post, I took a look at the challenges that Business to Consumer (B2C) companies face in deciding where they should focus their efforts when getting started with social media.  But what about Business to Business (B2B) companies?  How should they approach their social media efforts and where should they spend their time?  In today’s blog post, we examine three ways B2B companies can get more from social media.

Business to Business (B2B) Companies
B2B companies focus primarily on providing goods and services to other businesses.  This could range from business consulting groups to accountants to providers of office services.  At first pass, it may look like B2B and B2C companies face the same challenges when using social media.  However, a closer look reveals a different story.

As noted in my blog post on B2C companies, your social media efforts must focus on working within the social networks that your customers currently use.  That same principle holds true for B2B companies, but with a slight twist.  While customers of B2B companies are on a variety of social networks they come to those networks with different purposes and may not necessarily have their “business” hat on while using that network.  For example, someone in need of corporate accounting services for their business may be active on Facebook (and may even access Facebook while at work), but they may be on the social network for purely personal reasons.  As a result, if your company provides corporate accounting services and you try to engage this person within the Facebook platform, they may ignore you entirely because they do not have their business hat on at that time.  The same can hold true for Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus and beyond.

So, what can a B2B company do to make use of social media?  Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Know your audience, which social networks they use and why/how they use them.  As noted above, your audience is likely on social networks, but they may not be focused on their business needs/interests at that time.  While you could engage in disruptive marketing, I would not advise getting “in their face” and trying to push your message (see my earlier post about the importance of listening via social media).  Facebook has some great tools via its Ad Manager platform that will allow you to conduct research to find out if your audience is on Facebook.  Social Mention is a solid tool for Twitter.  The key is to find your audience and then listen to them to see what they are talking about.  If they are talking about business-related topics, that opens the door for you to begin the process of engaging with them.  However, proceed slowly so that you can build a relationship in a non-threatening way.
  2. Resolve to spend your time on social networks that are generally better for B2B.  In my B2C post, I presented pie charts that showed my recommendations on allocating your social media marketing time by network.  In that same spirit, I’ve provided a chart belowB2B social media strategy for B2B companies.  While the exact percentages are not critical, the key takeaway is that B2B companies should plan to spend more time within Twitter and LinkedIn and less within the more consumer-oriented platforms like Facebook.  LinkedIn, in particular, is a great place for B2B as it offers the chance to develop relationships in an online environment that can lead to off-line connections.  LinkedIn is a great place to present yourself, your company and your services in a concise, and searchable, manner that can lead to those connections you’re seeking (LinkedIn’s advanced search feature is great at doing just that).
  3. Position social media as a conversation starter and look to move the conversation to an off-line area to grow the relationship.  I recently had a conversation with someone that runs a social media program for a nationwide company and one of the things he mentioned that struck me is that he noted he frequently tries to move the conversation off-line as quickly as possible.  At first, that seems counter-intuitive because the norm seems to be keeping customers (B2B or B2C) within the social network that they engaged with you in.  As I talked with him further, it really started to make sense.  By moving the conversation to e-mail, and ultimately a phone call (and in-person for those rare occasions), he was able to get that person into an environment where they felt safe to share relevant information and really begin the process of building relationship.  And since one of the core tenets of B2B is building relationships that can lead to business opportunities, it makes sense to do that in a safe (and mostly non-public) way.  Regardless of where the conversation leads, however, I recommend focusing on creating a safe and comfortable situation for the contact so that you can establish trust with them.
  4. Develop a solid content marketing strategy that places your company as a knowledgeable resource about the markets you serve.  Content marketing is about developing blog posts, videos, e-mails, Tweets and more that you can deposit in locations throughout the Web (via social media) to be a part of the discussion.  If the corporate accounting group I noted earlier begins to develop blog posts discussing some of the latest changes in tax law and how they affect small businesses, they are positioning themselves to do a little teaching for small business owners when they need to know about tax law changes.  As a result, the corporate accounting group has established some name recognition and credibility with that audience, which should lead to an inquiry or two.

The thoughts above are merely starting points on the road to social media for B2B companies.  Social media is not easy, but it can be effective, regardless of industry or market.  To best position your company for success in social media, however, I strongly recommend working with a digital marketing professional that can help you craft a social media strategy specifically for your business.  I wish you the best in your social media efforts!