Social Media in the Business - To - Business Environment

Purpose of this article:

Social networking has been around a while. Now, social media is the hot topic for marketers. Yet, it's a confusing area for many marketing managers, CEOs and CMOs. In this article I attempt to de-mystify social media, especially for b-to-b marketers.

This article addresses:

The Emergence of Social Media
The Landscape
Embracing Social Media
The Process
What to look for in a social media partner

The pay off? You've experienced it.
You've already experienced the pay-off of a "social" connection. You meet someone socially or in business or in your neighborhood, and you uncover a common interest: kids, gardening, books, biking, golf, whatever. You ask what they do for a living. Later, a business connection happens, or, a referral which leads to business. Social media is simply the explosion of this type of interaction, thanks to tools that have - and will - make socialMedia more prevalent.

We (you) can't stop it
Social media is exploding because it affords people new ways to connect in the online world to form relationships in both their personal and their business lives. It's Web 2.0 at its finest: user-generated content, growing exponentially, without a lot of push from companies selling product.

Social media defined
People (who typically don't know each other) finding a common interest, then connecting and talking about that interest. It's the fastest-growing segment of communications today. SocialMedia is a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialog (many to many). Social media represents a shift in how people research, discover, read and share news and information and content.

A cultural transformation
Culture changes. Usually slowly. But not today, as "networking" transforms the information / communications world. Social media, which is exploding exponentially, is both a result of, and an mirror of, our new information world. It's not a fad or "the latest thing" - it's here to stay.

Today, people get information from people, not just from enterprise
Fact: 67% of consumers rely on information from other consumers, not from companies. This trend may not be as strong in the business environment as it is in the consumer world, but truly people have uncovered "social" venues for getting and giving information.

The buzz about your products, services
People are talking about your products and services - and those conversations are going on without you. Wouldn't you rather be there to listen, participate, and promote and protect your brand?

Today's social media landscape: consumer brands
Consumer brands are figuring it out: using Twitter, for example, to have customers and prospects "follow" them - and preparing to communicate socially on a mass basis in case of a PR emergency.

Today's social media landscape: b-to-b brands
Business to business brands are watching more than acting right now, trying to understand the payoff. Both consumer brands and b-to-b marketers are seeking to develop a "social media strategy" - defining and maneuvering around the landscape. Since social media is here to stay, almost all marketers are at least paying attention to socialMedia and social marketing.

Interesting statistics!

o 68% of best-in-class companies have a process in place for monitoring social media.
o 21% of best-of-class companies plan to boost their social-media marketing budgets by more than 25% in 2009.
o Those companies that are investing in socialMedia as part of their marketing strategy say they are getting good preliminary results.
o There are over 9 million blogs on the internet. 40,000 new blogs pop up everyday
o 1 in 20 Americans are on Twitter
Source: Aberdeen Group (BtoB Magazine), Newsweek

YouTube stats!
o You think people (even b-to-b people) don't view online videos? According to data published by market research company comScore, YouTube had more than six billion videos viewed in January 2009. It is estimated that 15 hours of new videos are uploaded to the site every minute, and that in 2007 YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000. In March 2008, YouTube's bandwidth costs were estimated at approximately US$1 million a day. Alexa ranks YouTube as the third most visited website on the Internet, behind Yahoo! and Google.
Source: Wikipedia

"But the payoff seems slow."
Be patient. Your "social-connections-then-business" mentioned above didn't happen overnight. Twitter has crazily turned the term social-media into a household phrase. But social-media is much more than Twitter, an done tool such as Twitter does not make a socialMedia strategy (see page __ ). People are probably talking about your company. You need to monitor, mine (defined later) engage, and in some cases be ready with a reactive strategy.

On being human
The biggest tip that experts give socialMedia students is this: be human. Listen, observe, understand, and when you're ready to engage, do so in a social (not business) mode. When you meet someone socially, if you preach about your product right away, you turn people off. Again, be patient. Build relationships. The business connections will come.

Making it work: the B2B Inc. social media process
Here's a basic process flow as to how B2B Inc. goes about developing and implementing your social media strategy

Assess: the social landscape as it pertains to sites and social networks which talk about your product category, your brand, your competitors

Monitor: a "watch strategy" to view and document the buzz

Mine: uncover the actual sentiment of your brand that is held in the minds of social visitors

Vernacular: study the language people are using; adapt your language to theirs
Presence: where are the "water coolers"; where do you need to be in order to be part of the conversation

Oligarchy: People follow experts; you need to find the "elders" who are talking about your industry, your brand - and connect with them

Don't preach: be human; talk and socialize; don't sell as much as you converse, help, connect, have some fun

Team: create a social media team within your organization; each person has a roll in terms of their social media participation (the outbound effort); determine also who handles what inbound topics and issues as they arise - so, roles must be established for your team... customer service, legal, sales, executives, etc.

Online videos: yes, YouTube! (See stats below!) Don't dismiss the power of online videos - they have tremendous reach and SEO (search engine optimization) potential, and they're often at the epicenter of today's social networking - you can "sell" without selling, by informing and entertaining your audience

Measure: what does a spike in conversations about your brand mean in terms of web visits, downloads, sales? Social media measurement is developing, and at its basic level, you can chart conversations about you and plot them against metrics such as site visits, downloads, refer-a-friend, YouTube views, contact-us activity, etc.

Create the "water cooler": If there is not a water cooler for discussion about your brand, create one!

What to look for in a social media partner
If you are seeking help in the social media front, make sure that the firm you choose will cover at least the following topics when they talk to you or present solutions for you:

o Finding your online "water coolers"
o Collecting and documenting the sentiment surrounding your brand
o Monitoring and mining
o Creating and maintaining content
o Production of online videos
o Analytics and regular reporting
o Developing your social media "team" in house and training them in how to engage in online conversations and respond to issues
o Actually developing a written social media strategy
o Also, ensure that your socialMedia partner participates actively in "continuing education"; this is new stuff!

Social media as a discipline will continue to be a moving target for some time; something that will have to be nurtured. But it is here, and here to stay; you can't stop it - it's driven by your customers and prospects. Strategies and tactics will need to be re-visited and tweaked on a continual basis.

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