B2B social media marketing is particularly well suited for business-to-business lead generation. Business purchasing decisions are made by stakeholder committees with diverse priorities and a voracious appetite for details. Social media is the most efficient channel for committees of engineers, product developers, purchasing managers and marketers to self-educate, and a way for marketers to abbreviate sales cycles.
B2B social media makes it possible for marketers to inform communities with greater fidelity and less friction. And for most B2B marketers, snapping a blog, a Twitter feed and a SlideShare account onto the marketing department has been the logical first step. But as B2B social marketing matures, it is becoming clear that this is only one option. In this blog post, we’ll explain the three different approaches that are currently gaining traction with B2B marketers.
DIY Social Marketing – Up to know, savvy marketers have risen to the occasion by creating content themselves. They optimize, upload and fill the vacuum with details customers seek to make informed purchasing decision. Indium Corporation, a company we profiled in Social Marketing to the Business Customer — the first book devoted exclusively to B2B social media — maintains an arsenal of 17 corporate blogs to turn content into contacts into cash.
Indium’s blog posts feature buyer oriented keywords likely to be searched. Headlines like “Wave Solder Flux Deactivation Temperatures Explained” and “Using Integrated Preforms for Solder Fortification” may not be interesting to most people, but if you’re on the market for solder, these are the details you need to know to specify the right solder. In the six months after Indium started blogging, lead generation surged 600%. The do it yourself approach is manual. These corporate blogs are maintained by 17 company employees, many of whom are engineers.
In a market like Indium’s, where there’s a dearth of this type of data available online, the strategy has been extremely effective. But in more competitive markets where stakeholders have even heftier appetites for details, informing the marketplace on your own is kind of like accepting responsibility for nation building a war torn country without a the help of an international coalition. Which leads us to the next approach.
Managed Social Marketing – The SAP Community Network, also profiled in our book, is a branded B2B social network with nearly 2 million members — less than 10 percent of whom are company employees. The community generate 6,000 posts per day in 200+ discussion forums. “If we can make our customers more successful than our competitor’s customers, than our competitor’s customers are going to come to us. Or our customers are going to buy more, upgrade faster, extend their capabilities and so forth,” says Mark Yolton, SVP, SAP Community Network, Global Ecosystem & Partner Group, who oversees the social network.
System integrators share best practices with customers as a way of increasing their own visibility. Customers ask questions, prospects educate themselves and, as a natural byproduct of all that sharing, tire kickers are converted into leads. Jeremiah Owyang calls them unpaid, peer-to-peer armies. Unlike the DIY approach, this one is a more scalable, and more self-sustaining, because instead of accepting responsibility for sustaining the momentum on your own, you manage a community with its own inertia.
The SAP Community Network helps engineers share details with other engineers, and the by-product of all that sharing makes a market for SAPs products much more efficiently than the company could do exclusively through its own sales and marketing channels. Intangible benefits like easier networking, industry recognition and professional development drive community engagement. But the networks must be actively monitored by community managers, who serve as farmers, weeding out the off-topic conversations and fertilizing healthy ones. So while it may be less resource intensive than the DIY approach, it still requires ample resources.
Automated Social Marketing – A third approach is also emerging. It’s embryonic at this point, but it relies not on sharing details or managing others but rather, on data integration itself. It’s the latest iteration of social marketing, and it’s automated. By allowing visitors to a destination website to login with their Google, Facebook or Linkedin credentials, marketers can exchange access for the right to aggregate profile information, get individuals to recommend their products to their online social network and establish a persistent connection with the prospect, all in a single click.
Between July 2010 and January 2011, B2B sites saw a 20 percent increase in logins using Linkedin user names and passwords, showing that more websites are integrating social sign-in, and that more users are choosing to segment their business activities from their personal ones by using Facebook for logging into non-business websites, and Linkedin for sites they’re comfortable aligning with their professional profile But regardless of the particular social network a user signs in with, this approach was the first iteration of automated social marketing.
Last March, Hoover’s, the most popular sales prospecting B2B database, released a mobile app to help marketers find prospective customers based on the GPS in their smart phones. Now you can search based not only on industry sector and annual sales, but also location.
In January, Hoover’s announced a deal with LinkedIn to integrate elements of the B2B network’s functionality in the Hoover’s online business information database. Tomorrow, your Hoover’s iPhone app will probably also show you which of your Linkedin contacts has a contact at those nearby businesses. Armed with spatial and social networking intelligence, the world’s largest professional database becomes an even better lead generation tool.
In contrast to the DIY and managed approaches, the automated approach leverages the actual the data created from online sharing, rather the act of sharing itself. As APIs become easier to integrate, and social sign-in providers like Janrain and Gigya release low cost solutions, the automated approach is likely to continue gaining steam, as marketers look to the data to get better insight into the demographic and psychographic make-up of their prospective and existing customers.
Eric Schwartzman is coauthor of Social Marketing to the Business Customer, the first book devoted exclusively to B2B social media through social media, producer of the award-wining PR podcast On the Record…Online.
Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications. Gillin is the author of The New Influencers, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, the Joy of Geocaching and along with Schwartman, co-wrote Social Marketing to the Business Customer.