Unlike Grandma's old-fashioned mashed potato recipe, a hearty social media presence does not come with step-by-step instructions tested over time. All the same, it's becoming harder for B2B companies to entirely avoid social media as an ingredient in their marketing mix.
Social media success lies in carefully selecting the proper tools to help a company reach specific goals—direct interaction with customers or prospects, for instance, or driving Web traffic. A company's criteria for success will help it decide which of today's tools make the most sense for them.
The biggest mistake companies make is sampling social media tools simply based on the latest craze. Even if a company isn't ready to commit to and define a social media strategy, it still stands to learn a great deal from listening to conversations occurring online.
By understanding how individual social media tools work and what users are saying, a company can begin to determine which ones work best with its resources and goals.
Because content is archived, it's easy for anyone to tune into current or past discussions online. Members of sales, marketing, and public relations departments can learn about the perception of their company and competitors by searching blogs, social networks, YouTube, and industry forums.
Beyond that, they can identify useful information through social networks, including upcoming industry events prospects plan on attending and the trends of greatest interest to key influencers.
Hearty Helping of Thought Leadership
Perhaps the greatest benefit social media can bring to B2B companies is the opportunity to cultivate thought leadership in the industries they serve. Two viable mediums for doing so are blogs and microblogs.
A CEO offering insights through a corporate blog not only humanizes a brand, but demonstrates a company's expertise and understanding of the industry as a whole. Blogs can also have multiple contributors. Engineers can suggest solutions to common questions, consultants can share success stories, and R&D staff can discuss products as they make their way through the development stage.
Some companies see maintaining a blog as a bandwidth issue. But today's social media space offers other options. Perhaps it's more convenient for a company to microblog through a site like Twitter.
Tweets can contain helpful links, industry announcements, or even present questions for the online community to consider. The time commitment for each post on these sites is minimal, but as a result, conversation moves quickly.
Bringing More Guests to the Table
Social media can help increasing traffic to a corporate Website or landing page. While blogs can also improve a site's search engine rankings, B2B companies can take advantage of social bookmarking and sharing sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and others to increase the exposure of articles, news and other content to a wider audience and lead them back to their Website.
Posting videos on YouTube can allow them to reach a larger pool of prospects or customers because helpful videos are often passed from peer to peer. Twitter also proves to be a useful tool for pushing videos, articles, and other resources out to more Internet users.
Even if upper-level management can't commit to a steadfast social media regiment, it can still prove to be a useful sales tool for business developers. Prospects are connected to LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and many of them are sharing information about current projects, their struggles, and even experiences with competitor's products.
This information can be powerful, and these sites present an opportunity to engage in conversations, offer solutions to problems, and form relationships without making a sales pitch.
While having a presence on multiple social media sites is challenging for a busy company, social media has its greatest impact when multiple sites work together.
For instance, one of the best ways to reach potential viewers of an interesting video is by sharing it with followers on Twitter. Depending on the content of the video, it could be a good resource for someone you are networking with on LinkedIn. You can feed it right into a Facebook group, too.
Just as with any initiative, being involved in social media should serve a greater purpose and have solid objectives—whether it's branding, lead generation, or nurturing relationships.
It's important to remember succeeding in social media means far more then just presenting content. Starting a blog and having two posts doesn't mean that it will gain a following overnight. Posting a video on YouTube won't make it a viral hit.
It takes time to build a network of followers, but with persistence and the right social media sites, companies can see increased Web traffic, improved brand recognition, and new networking opportunities.
Allen Silveri is president of the Philadelphia-based B2B marketing agency Schubert Communications.