The explosion of social media, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Squidoo, Ning, Xing, Neo, Beebo and more, has turned traditional B2B marketing on its ear. That darn Internet is at it again — changing the rules of marketing and challenging our comfort zone.
My advice is to take a deep breath, pause to reflect and then ask, “Who are my customers really?” You may be surprised to find out you’ve been engaged in social media all along. It’s called “relationship selling” or “consultative sales.” Instead of meeting for drinks or on the golf course to talk shop, you now connect online.
That’s why I prefer the term, “social business tools.” Today, we’re clicking to connect. Social media augments our one-on-one business relationships and is where our influence can grow exponentially.
Defining a Social Media Strategy
Before you jump in because you feel “everyone” is doing “it,” and you’re either afraid you’ll be left out or fall hopelessly behind, first define your audience. Where do they gather?
Then, determine the purpose or goal you want to achieve. Develop a strategy that you can measure and refine over time. Measuring so-called “soft metrics” are okay. The goal of any social optimization strategy is to provide the right tools so that people can engage with your brand / people / products / services on site and off site. Then, and only then, should you choose the technology platform.
No, Everyone’s NOT on Facebook
Technology is changing so quickly, that to lead with it first is a recipe for failure. Twitter may be hot today, but so was MySpace just a few years ago. Today, no one over 20 really talks about it anymore.
So the first question to ask is “What are my customers ready for?”
I’ll be the first to tell you that age is a factor. Forrester Research developed a B2B Social Media Profile tool that helps you estimate the social activity of your typical customer based on company size and primary purchase category. You can also survey prospects through your own website or e-blast and ask them what social technologies they use.
This will give you a snapshot of where your customers are gathering and how they consume online content. And if you guessed that 55-year-old men are not on Facebook, you’d be right. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) You just want to be aware of what social technology they may be using. For example, they tend to be “Spectators” who read industry blogs instead.
Developing a Social Media Strategy That Engages
The clarity of your objective will make or break your strategy. You need a reason to enter the conversation because once you do, there’s no turning back. And your boss won’t accept that “everyone’s doing it.”
Forrester Research, who has analyzed hundreds of companies pursuing social media strategies successfully, has identified five primary objectives:
Listening – Use social media tools to research with and better understand your customers.
Talking – Use social media to spread your brand and company goals
Energizing – Find your “unofficial” leaders and brand enthusiasts and use social media to supercharge the power of their ideas and word of mouth.
Supporting – Set up social media tools to help your customers support each other.
Embracing – Integrate your customers into the way you do business and give them an avenue to share product ideas and cost saving tips. This is the most complex strategy and one, when implemented well, can demonstrate the greatest ROI.
If this seems a bit daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Your choice of application is still in your hands based on assessing correctly what your customers are ready for and then labeling the objectives or business goals you want to accomplish.
Just remember, “people first,” then the technology. You do not want to choose the application, or social business tool, without a road map. This is why defining your social media strategy before developing social media marketing tactics is so critical to success.