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Friday, 24 July 2015

Beyond kittens and Aunty Acid - 5 social media tips for B2B Marketers

If you are a B2B marketer, you are probably on the horns of a dilemma, where social media is concerned. 

You are not out to win a popularity contest, hence metrics like number of fans and likes may not matter much to you. You do want your content to reach out to the right audiences. But are they even there?

You have nothing to sell at the click of a button, but you do need to drive traffic to your website so people can get an idea of the (often complex) nature of the work that you do. After that, you hope that they will keep you in their consideration set, for the long decision making cycle that exists in the B2B sector. And you wonder if social media is upto the job, or whether you should put your faith in good old SEM and SEO.

You see that clients, media and prospects are active in social media and you would like to garner some benefit of visibility for yourself. But sometimes you wonder if more kittens, koalas and Aunty Acid are all that people are looking for. Do people seriously expect to get information from social media, or are they looking for more jokes to share in Whatsapp groups?

You have been told that spending is beneficial, spends are highly trackable through detailed analytics and you will get a complete picture of the ROI. But you are not yet even sure, if anything concrete is achieved through this medium. You do not have gigantic media budgets, and there are always bigger priorities than social media spends.

If your thoughts are along these lines, welcome to the club! All the B2B clients that I have worked with deal with these questions on a daily basis. I do not pretend to have definitive answers, but here are some areas that you can look at

1) Connect with the right people
Are their specific individuals, decision makers, influencers and institutions that you want to connect with through social media? Then connect with them - not just by following them or asking them to like your page. Interact with them. That's what social media is made for - one on one interactions. Of course, interactions needs to be at a reasonable time interval, so that you are not bothering them. And they need to be relevant. Maybe you are sharing a news story that is of interest to them. Maybe its a report or paper that you think they would like to read. Reach out individually, and thoughtfully with tailored content. Ask for their opinion on a topical issue related to business eg. taxation, laws, technology etc. You will start building 'engagement' (that beautiful social media term!) rather than just tweet/post counts. Keep the 'social' in the media.

2) Get employees involved
Employees have product knowledge and experience, which cannot be substituted by an external creative agency or copywriter lacking the technical background. It makes sense to motivate, and even incentivise employees to write blogs, tweet, post photos or share articles for social media. Young team members can be given charge of this activity, if you do not want to appoint a dedicated social media manager. Remember, the most interesting thing about social media, is people. If people are hands-on with your social media, it will make your presence interesting and 'alive'.

3) Find what interesting content you can share
Social media need not be only about product information. Companies like Oracle and Microsoft showcase their employee profiles and company culture through their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Maersk has a Captain's blog, and recounts information about life at sea. Every organisation has interesting stories, or the founders have interesting insights and perspectives. Decide what mix of content you want to showcase, and have a plan for generating and collating it. You do not need to post everyday, but 2-3 times a week will keep the account alive.

3) Get Visual
Visual content need not involve hiring expensive designers or freelancers. It can just consist of awesome photos, including ones shared by employees and users. Maersk and GE both operate hugely popular Instagram accounts, considering that neither directly touches consumers' lives through their core business. Maersk posts some amazing pictures of ships, and GE, of products that are powered by its technology including aeroplanes, wind turbines etc. The ever-evolving phone camera technology has made it simpler to click and edit high quality snaps on the fly, and this can definitely be used to boost your social media.

4) Give away generously
You cannot run contests and promotions as a B2B company, but you can share your knowledge and insights, and this is what will build brand image, and create respect for your company. Share interesting news, write white papers, compile statistics - whatever you can do, which is above and beyond pure promotion, will be appreciated. This is not a short term, but long term activity. Knowledge capital is invaluable and content based on knowledge will always find traction. Companies in the development sector like MicroSave and the Helix Foundation, regularly publish white papers, case studies and notes on ongoing projects, which help to increase the knowledge of the community as a whole, while also demonstrating their work and skill. Marketing software experts HubSpot and Moz, write fantastic blogs and freely share content that drives prospective clients and new business.

5) Have fun, and a sense of humor
No one ever said that B2B companies need to be boring and staid in their imagery, but often that seems to be treated as the unspoken rule! Humor works especially well on Twitter, where people are at their wittiest best. There are not too many examples of B2B brands that do well at humor, but HootSuite, the social media management platform, is a great example. So is supply chain management company Kinaxis. Both brand subtly use humor in social media, through visuals and choice of words (Hootsuite famously launched its new dashboard with the copy 'Hootsuite's UI looks like crap!", spoofing Jimmy Kimmel's mean Tweet series. Office humor would work just as well too.

There is a huge opportunity waiting for B2B brands in social media, because  it's a space where not too many have cracked a formula for success. Your brand could be the one to forge a path for itself.