It's that time again, marketers, when our focus shifts to our marketing plans for the new year.
More to the point, it's the time when we need to rally internal support for the "newest" programs in those marketing plans. If yours is a B2B company, 2010 is likely the year that you'll want to start integrating social media into your marketing mix… or have it play a much larger role than it has in the past.
But while your eyes are on your market, you must first get past the Executive Committee members, who will have questions, critiques, and objections aplenty.
Whether the CEO, CFO, COO, or a cadre of EVPs, the executives whom you must win over will need social-media return on investment (ROI) defined in business language, not newfangled lingo. And they'll most certainly require statistics, success stories, and common-sense reasons for integrating such uncommon media into the company's strategies and plans.
That's exactly why this article and Part 2 highlight 10 arguments to help you build a B2B social-media business case for your toughest audience: the one inside the boardroom.
Let's kick off this series with the first five arguments.
1. Drive ROI. "Far from just a consumer channel, social media is a business marketplace brimming with professional activity and profit potential."
Start with the big goal, which is always the revenue benefit to your organization. Clarify that although "social" describes these media, Web 2.0 is not just a fun pastime for consumers, it's also a serious opportunity for businesses.
Like most of us, today's executives are barraged with news stories chronicling wacky video campaigns that have "gone viral," political movements bolstered via Twitter, and brand backlashes promoted through Facebook groups.
So executives will need to start viewing the social Web as a business marketplace—and they'll need to see business-oriented statistics such as these to do so:
- B2B audiences are taking to the social Web in earnest. Far from a being a consumer playground, these media have become gathering places for professional audiences already active there. See an analysis of a recent report, download the full report, and view other B2B findings from February 2009.
- B2Bs of different sizes and industries are banking on social-media successes. See recent B2B social-media case studies covering four very different businesses citing ROI across leads, sales, and awareness; a collection of B2C and B2B social-media award winners and their business results; and a terrific B2B sales story.
2. Maximize current investments. "By integrating social media, we can get more from our recent efforts by extending them to new platforms, and in new ways."
Among whitepapers, websites, and webinars, B2B companies develop thought-leadership and content-marketing initiatives in droves. And with such vast archives of data, B2Bs can repurpose and repackage their content in ways that foster new conversations and spread their ideas to audiences on a broader scale.
Whether through creating a series of blog posts to facilitate two-way conversations, developing a collection of podcasts that professionals can listen to at work or during their daily commute, or providing a forum for professionals to exchange ideas on a specific subject matter or industry challenge, B2Bs can leverage the content they already have as a way to enter the social-media arena and get more mileage from their efforts.
3. Influence purchasing decisions. "B2B buyers now use social media to research and make purchases, and today's professionals are heavily influenced by the information shared and the connections made through those technologies."
The B2B purchasing behavior of performing extensive up-front analysis to limit risk has not changed, but the way that professionals now conduct their research, and who influences their purchasing decisions, has undergone dramatic transformation.
When eyeing product offerings and purchase alternatives, professionals now look to other professionals—online—to get feedback on brands and vendor experiences.
Ready to create a strong social media program? A Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Social Media Program teaches you everything you need to know about building a successful social media strategy, policy, and team.
Moreover, professionals are influenced by the information shared directly with them or through content they retrieve via search-engine queries. The goal for companies, then, is to make a favorable impression with online audiences to encourage positive online word-of-mouth referrals (or "buzz"). Companies can do so by...
- Participating in online communities in ways that help professionals increase knowledge and solve problems, or pain points
- Using social-media tools to educate audiences on products and services to make their B2B offerings more meaningful and less complex
- Developing relationships with professional communities and online influencers to earn trust and build respect
4. Gain competitive advantage. "To gain competitive advantage, we need to leverage these marketing opportunities, and do so in ways that are faster than and far superior to our competitors'."
Competitive advantages can and should extend across a company's offerings, its business strategy, and its marketing programs.
Examples from Web 1.0 days can be helpful. For example, Amazon.com, because it was first to market, grabbed online market share from such formidable competitors as Barnes & Noble and Borders; and B2B behemoth IBM, by branding itself around "e-Business" early on, posted high returns and left competitors in its wake.
For this argument in particular, cite your competitors' social-media programs and participation levels, and show executives how you plan to differentiate from the competition. Conversely, if your competitors aren't active in the social-media space, your company can claim the highly coveted "first-mover advantage."
5. Facilitate cost savings. "Web 2.0 technologies are the most cost-effective set of marketing media—ever."
Although socializing on the Web may be free, social-media marketing requires an investment of time and money. But the costs are significantly lower than those of other media.
Combined with its high adoption rates among professionals and an economic climate mandating cost-cutting as a key priority, social media shines as a viable, valid proposition for marketing plans.
* * *
Part 2 of this article will highlight five more arguments for selling social media internally to B2B executives, including lead generation, customer relationship management, and brand-reputation management—and address the risks of marketing with social media.
If you've already received approval to integrate social media into your marketing plans and need to better understand where to begin (and where to go from there), check out these two resources:
- "Start Smart: A 10-Step Social Media Guide for B2B Marketers," a MarketingProfs article.
- "A Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Social Media Program," a guide covering everything you need to know about building a successful social-media strategy, program, policy, and team.
Take the first step (it's free).
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