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B2B social media needs to grow up

Over the past year, Clear B2B has won four international awards for its social media (SoMe) work, and our clients have seen success in their social media activity. However, we know that a lot of B2B brands struggle to leverage the potential of this important channel.

For a long time, B2B brands avoided social media. It was perceived as ‘pictures of dogs’ (Instagram) ‘pictures of crafts’ (Pinterest), ‘cat videos’ (YouTube), ‘the place for arguments’ (Twitter) and more recently, ‘fake news’ (Facebook). The general thinking was that social media was best for consumer campaigns. 

Of course, today social media in business is much more commonly used. But there is a problem with B2B social media. It needs to grow up.

Growing up – aka effective B2B social media
There are lots of different ways that B2B brands approach social media – and many of them are still quite naïve.

These are four common styles:

  • Not recognising it as a serious B2B contender (“Social media is consumer-land activity. It’s irrelevant to my B2B audience.”)
  • Taking a scattergun approach, swapping from platform to platform as new functionality launches, or the platform makes the press (“Let’s do Snapchat!”)
  • The longing to ‘go viral’ but without proper investment in a real creative idea
  • Lack of professional management

The truth is, social media is not an easy channel to manage. However, a lot of the challenges stem from point one: not seeing SoMe as a real channel in B2B. 

Consumer-land only?
The difficulty that marketers have with social media buy-in is often due to lack of understanding further up the chain, and if it is being run solely by a new intern or graduate, it can be hard for those less experienced members of the team to effectively champion social to the rest of the business. 

Social media must be considered a ‘real’ channel – one that brings true value to B2B brands – and is every bit as valuable as more traditional channels such as trade press or a company website. It’s a common adage that ‘people buy from people’ and this means that presenting your brand with a bit of personality across a range of channels is just as important in B2B as it is in B2C. 

With the trend of ‘always on’ it’s not uncommon for the C-Suite and B2B decision makers to be on Facebook when grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime and on emails during their evenings. The boundaries of work and play are blurred, the result of which means that your business audience is just as likely to be reading the latest Twitter storm as they are reading industry journals, at any time of day, and their feed probably includes a mix of content that covers both personal and professional interests. It’s not a channel to ignore.

Of course, as with most B2B activity, getting results is often the best way to demonstrate value to senior management. Figures such as reach and engagement can help to prove worth, but management needs to understand that social media in B2B is generally not a direct sales channel. Instead, engagement and positive brand experiences can be achieved very effectively through social media. So how is this done? It takes a bit of perseverance, a bit of creativity, and clever management.

The scattergun
It’s tempting to consider social media as the answer to all marcomms challenges, and many businesses have ‘had a go’ with all sorts of platforms in a bid to raise awareness, launch a new product, target a new audience segment, or just because everyone else is doing it, only to find that it isn’t bringing results and abandon ship to hunt down an audience somewhere else.

Whatever the reason for arriving on a social media platform, it does take commitment. Rather than jumping from platform to platform or chucking it all in if the results aren’t what you’ve hoped for, it’s better to choose a single platform initially, focus in on a particular region and get that working effectively before expanding your activity to the next platform or region.

Getting results on social media takes perseverance. Keeping momentum through regular posting helps but growing and maintaining an audience is best achieved by creating quality, useful content that has been created specifically for each platform and region’s audience that gets engagement and shares. And this requires investment.

Proper investment
Social media shouldn’t be perceived as a ‘cheap option’. How much would you spend on placing a print ad? Would you invest the same in developing a social media post? And which can you measure most easily? The attitude of social media being an ‘add on’ to the main activity is very common in B2B space, and it is a good start. But if you only ever repurpose content for social media rather than designing it specifically for social, you cannot expect to get good results.

Feeding the social media machine is harder than feeding a teenager during the summer holidays – its insatiable. And it’s not just the time and budget required to develop the copy: social media is a visual medium, meaning that a video, animation or at the very least, a good looking image, is an absolute must for all posts, even if it costs more. Sometimes, stock imagery will do. But stock imagery will not always stand out and may not feel authentic – and as for reaching the holy grail of a viral campaign – that needs serious creative thought, water-tight planning… and investment to match. 

Professional management
All too often, B2B social media activity stops once the post has been published and this needs to change. The more success that is achieved through engagement, the more activity is required in responding to comments, likes, retweets, and so on. It might seem like a simple ‘thanks’ or thumbs up in response to a comment will do, but ultimately, engagement with the brand is what social is all about. If a customer takes the trouble to get in touch via social media or comments on a post, don’t leave them hanging. Remember, this is precious brand equity – would you ignore the phone ringing in your sales office? Hope not.

Established B2B SoMe brands may use influencers to help promote a product or service, which can be a great way of increasing exposure and building an audience, as well as helping to generate content. However, social media influencers won’t just present your product. It’s a business relationship that necessitates planning, contracts, review and budget discussions, as well as ensuring that your brand is attractive to target influencers.

Social media is complex, and keeping track of multiple platforms, developing creative, valuable content regularly, managing relationships with influencers, and reporting back on efficacy to ensure budgets continue to be allocated for social in the future, is a tough ask. Many B2B brands use an agency for this purpose, but it can certainly be done in-house by a social media professional. 

Growing up 
The good news is, a lot of B2B brands are waking up to social media and are investing appropriately, realise its value and weight it accordingly, and design content that is visually appealing, textually interesting and exactly right for their social media audience. For those brands, fantastic – they will be seeing the results they deserve and need to reach their objectives. For others, it’s time for a fresh start and time to treat social media with the respect it deserves.

We’re lucky. Our clients do understand the potential of social media, and so do many other brands. But it’s not a time to get complacent. The social media landscape is constantly shifting and continuing to adapt is critical for success. 

Learning from the best
So, who are the grown up brands in B2B SoMe?

If you’ve not come across the work we’ve done with Bosch Professional Power Tools, it’s certainly worth a look. Smashing targets left, right and centre, this campaign had the likeability, shareability and humour to get it noticed not just by awards judges – it was hugely popular with our client’s target audience.

Mailchimp is well known as a B2B brand overachieving on social media. A focus on bright colours, bold visuals and a touch of humour combine to make their feed enjoyable to follow – and 100,000 other people agree with us! This really shows the power of producing quality, visual content, consistently across platforms.  

Ultimately, there aren’t simple shortcuts. The most important thing with B2B social media is ensuring that the posts you share are either valuable or enjoyable, and a creative, social-first approach to content can make a big difference to the success of your activity.

 

Looking for support with your social media? Get in touch with Rachel Arquati to find out more about our award-winning approach to SoMe.

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