Last week I was on a panel about “Social Media for the B2B Marketer” at the top-rated MarketingSherpa B2B Summit, moderated by Sergio Balegno, Director of Research, MarketingSherpa, MECLABS. My co-panelists were: Alex Plant, Director, Social Media, NetApp; Eric Majchrzak, Marketing Manager for Freed, Maxick & Battaglia, and Natascha Thomson, Sr. Director, Social Media Audience Manager at SAP. There are so few events and peer networking opportunities for B2B that this was really a treat for all of us!
We focused on the process of marketing for B2B companies and how it differs from B2C. From the questions to ask before starting a marketing program to the steps to engage, the panel team covered the experiences and best practice to help B2B companies be more effective. Sergio presented some fantastic data drawn from MarketingSherpa’s wealth of quantitative industry benchmarks and the panel offered examples from our work as practitioners. Here is my point of view.
How to set the stage for social marketing
Too often, social marketing programs are developed out of context, focused on the act of using social and not well-integrated into core business objectives and strategic programs. The social tactics try to trigger events similar to traditional marketing programs, such as get more leads or drive downloads, rather than using the social channel as a relationship–building initiative.
There are two sets of questions to ask before starting a social marketing program: strategic questions and tactical questions.
Strategic questions include:
- What are the top three business goals this program can help support?
- What are some ways social engagement can support the company and its core objectives?
- What are the key performance indicators or success measures that should be applied to the social marketing program?
Tactical questions include:
- Who is the audience we are trying to reach and what do they want or need from us?
- Is our social media marketing footprint camera-ready? In other words, before engaging online, do our social channel choices and messages (channels + messages = footprint) clearly represent how our company should appear to a customer or prospect?
- Do we have a point of view to share; can we make a contribution to the conversation about a particular topic or issue?
Finding answers to these questions involves:
Step 1: Research – Gather intelligence on target audiences, social use and competition
One common misstep with social marketing is trying to be all things to all people, and emerging as nothing to anyone. The current social marketing emphasis in the B2C world is on size and scale. But that is not always useful in B2B. Size does not always matter, but attracting and engaging the right people does!
Do you know your audience, who you want to reach and engage with longer term? This ties into the first set of questions regarding the importance of understanding your company’s business and strategic goals. How will this audience find and engage with you in the social channel? Are you prepared for the longer ramp for B2B social marketing as compared to more traditional marketing programs?
What are your competitors doing in the social space, and how are they perceived? It is not always bad to be a fast follower in social marketing. Listening to and monitoring the social channels will provide insight into how prospects and customers perceive you and your competitions’ strengths and weaknesses. This is a key activity for crafting effective messaging and engagement tactics.
Step 2: Objectives – Define goals and measures of success
Make sure the social marketing program’s goals are based on and aligned with the company’s strategic business objectives. Too many firms try to retrofit their ad-hoc social business efforts to meet their overall business goals, resulting in duplication of effort, wasted resources and, sometimes, mixed messages to the audience. Establishing metrics that reflect the social program’s goals help define success and keep the program moving forward.
Objectives can vary widely from company to company. Within our own client base, we have one large firm whose goals include driving customer intimacy and maintaining thought leadership in their industry segments. They have created multiple private or gated communities to serve the specific member-driven needs in each segment. Another client needed to drive leads and increase the adoption and use of their products. They chose social media as a broadcast channel, creating and supporting a crowd-sourcing effort to engage their market, gather input and capture client testimonials to help grow their user base.
Both examples use a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures — ranging from conversions to social metrics to changes in ComScore ratings to the number of editorial media vs. paid media mentions — to measure the success of their social efforts and guide the program’s evolution.
Step 3: Plans – Create a tactical plan for your social marketing activities
A key step for social marketing is creating a sustainable tactical plan that get executed, measured and adjusted over time. Social programs take patience, persistence and a point of view to be successful. Many a social marketing program has started well but slouched along or faltered before crossing the finish line because those involved did not have the skills or resources to persevere. We advocate creating a detailed project plan for marketing programs that captures the discrete social marketing tactics required with the same degree of exactness used by offline marketing planners.
That plan might include:
- A complete outreach and engagement program with multiple threads for audience segments, outreach methodology, engagement triggers, response recognition and incentives.
- An editorial calendar with adequate prep and execution time to find resources, assets, approvals and audience acceptance.
- A detailed messaging and response program. What will you do when someone responds to your outreach? It is bad practice and bad for your brand to receive social feedback and then fail to respond or take appropriate action.
- A clearly defined social media policy coupled with staff training on that policy to be sure everyone understands the why and how of your social efforts.
Step 4: Platforms – Choose social platforms and devices based on tactical effectiveness and architectural fit
The old saying “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail’ is often true for social media tool selection. Many organizations try to use a single platform — often one already in-house — to handle a variety of social business tasks. Given the wide array of social tools and channels available, this needn’t be the case.
Starting from the business goals and performance measures, look for platforms that support those goals. For example, if you need to reach senior professionals, LinkedIn is more likely to be a productive environment than, say, Twitter. Gated communities for clients concerned with privacy and security or a robust blogging tool for public thought leadership provide very different social experiences. Offer your audience what they need, not just what you have on hand.
The best advice is to know your audience – understand where you can find them – and how they want to engage with you online.
MarketingSherpa’s Dan Burnstein just published a great blog entry as a follow-up to a conversation the panel had with the audience about how to manage negative social events online.