Should you use social media in your B2B marketing?

Canadians are increasing their online social media activities dramatically - according to a 2009 Ipsos Reid report, the number who had a profile on an online social network increased from 39% to 56% over the previous 18 months. That's a whopping 17% increase. And of those online Canadians who have a social network profile, 85% have one on Facebook (which, incidentally, has over 300 million registered users worldwide).

So, social media is great for consumer marketing, but has nothing to do with B2B (business-to-business), right? Wrong! Social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and SlideShare drive a large portion of the B2B interactions on the web. What's more, because potential customers are more likely to select third-party reviews or blog postings to get recommendations about products or services, search engines rank these sites high.

Here are some ways business owners are using social media for marketing:

  • To build their brand and online community (eg. through creating a Facebook Group to demonstrate knowledge of a topic and engage like-minded individuals)
  • To launch or promote products or services (eg. through creating a page on Facebook, or a video on YouTube)
  • To promote themselves as experts in their fields and build relationships (eg. through hosting and participating in blogs, answering questions on LinkedIn and using Twitter)
  • To share and exchange business information (eg. through using SlideShare or YouTube to share presentations)
  • To find potential partners, investors or distributors or to gain business intelligence about prospects (eg. through connecting on LinkedIn)

So how do small companies get in on the action?
It's important to understand what social media is before you can exploit it to your advantage. It's all about collaborative technologies where people are not merely passive recipients of marketing messages but, rather, participants in the process. Contrast this with traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and TV which are static, typically expensive in which to advertise and usually controlled by big companies. Social media changes everything by allowing users to create their own content, share content and generate conversations about what they like and don't like. Using social media successfully requires a comfort level with a lack of control.

One of the first things you can do to really understand the social media space and get started is to listen in. Search the various sites for keywords and phrases that pertain to your field. You will not only find conversations about what your customers like, dislike and are seeking, but you will see that respected experts tend to emerge. Once you feel comfortable, participate. Reply to a blog, post your opinion, create and share valuable content... and hopefully, cultivate the respect and interest of the influencers in your industry by engaging them in conversations.

Choose the right option
As you explore the various sites, think about which medium would work best for you. Pay special attention to what media your target audience participates in, and consider how much time you can devote to guarantee success vs the amount of time a particular medium would take. Also think about your social networking goals:

  • If you want to manage your professional identity and brand, conduct research by asking questions of experts, share helpful articles you've written and cultivate a network of quality contacts you can trust, then LinkedIn may be for you. 

  • If you have a complicated product that is better seen than described, then posting a video on YouTube is a good option. 

  • If you want to make announcements about events or new products or services to as wide a range of potential customers as possible, then try Facebook or Twitter.

Content is key
All of the media are cost-effective and not too technically difficult to use. No matter which one you choose, or how many different methods, for that matter, it's the content of what you offer that is key. Sharing high-value content will do more for you in the world of social media than anything else.

To rise above all the information out there and get noticed, your offering must be helpful (you're not trying to close a sale, you're trying to engage); visually appealing (no need for dancing bears, we're referring to avoiding dense, unbroken blocks of long text); easily available (if you're offering a white paper or podcast, for example, through social media, remember that, increasingly, people are put off by having to provide data such as email and phone numbers in order to download these); and well-promoted (for example, by alerting your Facebook Group and 'fans' as well as your LinkedIn community and by devoting a blog to the topic).

If the content is worthy, then once it's out there, it will generate a life of its own. Ideally, if enough people share it, search engines will start to pick it up, links to your web site will be developed, quality prospects will start to pay attention, and you will become the go-to company in your industry. All of this can turn into an effective marketing avenue for your business.

Finally, ensure that your website and web services don't crash under all the increased traffic that you'll receive from these new social media activities. Primus Business Services offers a wide-range of Server Colocation, Dedicated Server and Web Hosting solutions that will keep your website up and running so that you can focus on these new marketing strategies and your business at-large.