Many B2B marketers are still avoiding social media, wondering, "When business customers do participate in social media, how can we tell whether it works?" OK, let's put that excuse to rest once and for all.
Social media is for socializing—just as when you go to a tradeshow and strike up a conversation with a prospect or attend a seminar or interact with any professional group in-person.
So how do you know those channels produce business? Just because you didn't instantly chalk up a sale, or you merely distributed some company literature or got a business card, doesn't mean you didn't make an impression that will pay off at some point. Yet you do it. Why? Because dialogue with peers and potential buyers is important.
LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, blogs... they're dialogues—just like the conversations you have at industry events. They're an opportunity for you to influence thinking and perspective and bring new ideas and new solutions to the table.
Which is why social media has just as much a place in a B2B marketing plan and budget as tradeshows. Maybe more, since—unlike tradeshows—social media is an ongoing opportunity that continually attracts "e-attendees."
The numbers back up that contention, according to a recent Thomas Industrial Purchasing Barometer (IPB) study:
- Exactly one-fourth (25%) of industrial buyers turn to the professional networking site LinkedIn when sourcing industrial products and services.
- In addition, 11.8% find market-specific forums to be useful resources.
- Nearly half (46%) of buyers would advise potential suppliers looking to gain new business to use LinkedIn, while 39% would recommend using forums.
"Social media has made it easier to see more about the services and tools available and helps us make our purchases," one buyer participating in the study said.
Matt Eggemeyer, VP and COO for Keats Manufacturing—which produces precision metal parts—put it this way, "This is where new generations are going; if you're not there, you won't be seen."
In short, social media is nothing more than another marketing tool that, when used efficiently and thoughtfully, has the power to build brand awareness and reputations.
Just as with that tradeshow or panel discussion, social media's effectiveness depends on having a strategy—one that (oddly enough) looks and sounds much like a strategy for any other marketing channel in that it has to answer three basic questions:
- What's the business challenge or opportunity I need to solve?
- Who are the primary audiences I want to reach?
- What is the messaging platform/value proposition/positioning statement I want to reinforce?
A Mini Case Study
Consider, for example, an environmental management company that makes huge dehydration systems. Its products use evaporative cooling to control the temperature and amount of moisture in the air throughout large environments—from giant chicken farms to semiconductor manufacturing facilities.
One whiz kid in the sales department realized that big financial corporations with vast information storage depots could save significant amounts of money by using evaporative cooling to maintain proper temperature and humidity levels. Here was a huge, new market, but most financial firms weren't aware of evaporative cooling, much less of its efficiency and financial benefits as an alternative technology to conventional cooling systems.
Getting some traction within this new market was the whiz kid's business challenge. To prove the potential of the new market and to start building a case internally for a more formal marketing effort, he drafted a social media strategy.
- First he identified whom he wanted to engage: IT managers at financial institutions.
- He then wrote down his product's benefit statement targeting this market: Maintain your system's performance and availability while significantly lowering your operational costs by switching to less expensive, more efficient evaporative cooling technology.
- Then he created a divisional LinkedIn company page, started visiting social groups, searching out financial IT managers and joining in the conversations.
- At the same time, he started a blog and dangled it off the company website, posted a case story to it every month, and began building his street cred within financial IT circles as the thought leader on evaporative cooling.
Strategic? Yes. Smart? Very. Rocket science. Well, not exactly.
What It Takes
What an effective social media program does take, however, is commitment—especially in the manufacturing space, where you'll face some unique challenges. Namely, you're engaging intelligent engineers and technologists who respect only those who deliver useful expertise.
That's why whoever creates your content and becomes your social media representative has to be someone who is deep into your industry and products and can contribute to the conversation with specific, knowledgeable information.
In addition to qualified content, the other must-have is frequency. You must have a social media calendar—just as you would develop a media calendar for paid media or an editorial calendar for public relations.
Companies that may not have the in-house expert prepared to commit the time necessary to actively participate in social media conversations can tap outside resources to get the job done professionally and effectively.
In fact, manufacturers that don't have the internal bandwidth and expertise to give their social media the care and feeding it needs are turning to marketing partners to develop their social media strategy, set up the appropriate social media accounts and company pages, and provide expert commentators to participate in conversations and regularly create blog posts.
The investment is worth it, and the expense is relatively affordable—especially compared with big-ticket marketing initiatives such as tradeshows.