In what is a sign of a definitive trend toward mainstream mass media (newspapers and such) paying more than just a glance at social media, a piece on B2B social media by Anol (founder and regular B2Bento contributor) gets featured in Singapore’s premier business daily – The Business Times. Here’s the piece in full:
BT-Citibank Young Investors’ Forum : Published – March 15, 2010
Businesses can use social media to expand reach, fuel new offerings and find more revenue channels, says ANOL BHATTACHARYA
SOCIAL media is no longer just a platform for social networking. More businesses are leveraging on social media as a means to boost their business-to-business (B2B) marketing strategy.
This is because it has now developed into a platform where conversations, interactions and consumer-generated content have merged together to create a unique fusion of online communities like no other.
And this provides opportunities for businesses to engage directly with existing and potential customers, in order to better understand them and meet their needs.
Using social media is particularly powerful in the B2B marketing arena, since B2B buyers rely heavily on third-party feedback when making purchase decisions. They network actively online to build professional online communities, share insights and solve problems. Because of this, businesses can use social media to expand reach, fuel new offerings, develop more revenue channels and identify potential partnerships.
The first step is to put in place a social media strategy and decide which marketing goals to focus on. Possible objectives include boosting lead generation, assisting in customer retention, establishing the company as a thought leader, or increasing a product’s brand awareness.
The next step is to do the research. There is a range of different social media platforms, for example LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and forums. Different platforms have different advantages and different types of users.
Finding the right platform is critical, although many organisations use a combination of platforms. Research includes finding out what existing and potential customers are saying about the company, products, after-sales service, staff, competitors’ brands, industry trends, etc. This is made easier through a range of social media tools, which listen in on conversations revolving around specified key words. These tools can also be used in monitoring the results (described later).
Set the guidelines
The final step is to put in place the right guidelines so that all staff will know what to do and how to do it. Here are some guidelines to consider:
Focus on providing value to the consumer by giving useful information. Do NOT preach or advertise. Make it clear when you are sharing an opinion or stating a fact.
Post regularly and frequently to encourage followers and give readers a reason to check often. Always reply in a timely manner when a response is appropriate.
When relevant, participate in others’ contributions and visit other social media channels. When responding to a difficult situation, be mindful of the tone of reply. Re-read the post carefully before sending it. If a mistake has been made, admit it and seek ways to solve the problem. If a confrontational issue arises, consider discussing the reply with a manager or legal representative.
Be responsible by ensuring all content is consistent with the company’s brand, values and standards.
Measure the results
Once a business has commenced utilising social media, it will face a new problem: How to measure the return on investments (ROI)? Before this can be done, a company needs to monitor a range of topics, where these topics are being discussed and by whom, why customers are passionate about certain topics, and how to add value to customers.
A range of social media tools can help. These include:
Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts): a free tool which monitors millions of blogs and sites, using target keywords. The user can choose to receive streaming or batch reports.
Social Mention (www.socialmention.com): a search and analysis platform that aggregates user-generated content into a single stream of information.
However, statistics do not necessarily show measurement of ROI. In fact, unlike traditional marketing channels, with B2B marketing, less is usually more.
This is because social media provide an opportunity for businesses to directly engage with their customers, get real-time survey data and experiment with ideas.
So rather than focusing on figures, the company should focus on the goal set in their social media strategy. For example, a company that wishes to use social media to boost customer retention may consider measuring advocacy rates (advocates are those who support the company and products).
The good news is that there are several tools to measure factors such as buzz (who is talking about the company and their tone), influence (complaints or compliments coming from people with a large following), reach (how far the messages are spreading) and virality (how fast the messages are spreading). These include:
Viralheat (www.viralheat.com): Monitors buzz in real time and can deliver analytics
Meteor Solutions (www.meteorsolutions.com): Determines the impact of social media marketing programmes on traffic and conversion.
Sysomos (www.sysomos.com): Real-time and interactive social media monitoring and analytics tool.
The use of social media in B2B marketing continues to evolve. What is clear is that social media will play an increasingly important role for businesses. Its direct engagement model, transparency, sincerity and speed are already transforming the relationships between companies and their customers. So what are you waiting for? Get into the social media space!
The writer is the director and CEO of GetIT Comms, a company that develops and implements marketing programmes, campaigns and projects for B2B organisations
(This piece first appeared in Singapore’s The Business Times, on March 15, 2010)