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The State of the B2B Marketer in Social Media: 3 Trends From SocialTech 2010

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SocialTech 2010 wrapped up yesterday. Here are four quick takeaways from the one-day event, which brought 221 B2B high-tech marketers to San Jose, Calif.,  (and another 467 attended virtually, online) to learn social media marketing tips, tactics and strategy specific to the business-to-business marketer.

B2B social media is like sex in high school: Everyone claims they are doing it, but few actually are.

(And most of those who are doing it ... aren’t doing it particularly well.)

B2B marketers are embracing social tools as a way to connect with customers and grow their businesses. Most attendees have some kind of social presence or say they imminently plan to. Most have attempted a blog or Facebook page or have peeked at Twitter. When Guy Kawasaki asked at his closing keynote, How many people think Twitter is stupid?, only two brave souls raised their hands high.

Nonetheless, most B2B marketers have yet to truly embrace the full social tool set for their business, and sometimes for themselves. Only a handful of attendees checked into the event on Foursquare, for example, which I thought was surprising for an event in the heart of Silicon Valley. One attendee I met summed it up nicely. “We have a blog, but it sucks,” she said. “We’re here to learn how to change that.”

[caption id="attachment_24927" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Guy Kawasaki at SocialTech 2010"][/caption]

In other words: B2B marketers + social = lots of room for improvement. But just like post high school, there’s every reason to anticipate a more satisfying relationship down the road.

Content isn’t enough.

Most B2B marketers have embraced the notion that they are also “publishers.” In other words, they understand that in addition to being in the business selling whatever they sell---be it cappuccino machines or consulting services---they also need to be producing content as a cornerstone of their marketing, both to engage and educate their would-be customers.

But at the same time, producing any old content isn’t enough. B2B companies have to produce the right kind of content: web content that is honestly empathetic, seeded with utility for your customers, and that reflects your businesses core values and is inspired by your unique perspective and authentic “voice.” As Robert Scoble pointed out in his luncheon keynote, “When you are trying to sell something, a human voice does it better."

Social objects can set you apart.

Those B2B companies succeeding with social media innately understand that customer engagement doesn’t necessarily take place on their own web pages. Jeremiah Owyang articulated this perfectly in his morning keynote: Your future web strategy isn't based around your website and technology, but around people and connections.

How can B2B capitalize on that trend right now? One way is to create “social objects” that allow your prospects or customers to spread your message for you across the social web. What’s a “social object”? It might be a cool digital tool or other kind of content (an interesting infographic, a compelling SlideShare presentation, a video, etc.) that your customers take and can share on their own blogs, Facebook pages, or other social platforms.

But a social object might also be as something as simple as a real-life stuffed animal: Marti Konstant of OK Labs told a story of how various incarnations of her company’s stuffed mascot, Iggy Wanna, have partied at bars in Barcelona and gone to trade shows in Shanghai, as documented by people who have gotten their hands on one and uploaded their photos with the iguana to Iggy’s Flickr page, among other things.

What’s the value of getting people to take pictures of themselves with your stuffed icon? It raises awareness and interest in your company and builds a sense of community around your business in a humorous, offbeat, very human way.

4. Social media is like baseball.

As I left San Jose, Game 1 of the World Series was set to commence nearby. So it seems apt to include this final point, made brilliantly by Brian Watkins, Social Media Manager of Adobe.

How is social media like baseball? True baseball nuts love to pour over the stats of their favorite franchises and pet players. They love to compare stats like stolen bases, strikeouts, ERAs, RBIs, sacrificed hits, and so on; meanwhile, all the League really counts is two things: Wins and Losses.

Similarly, social media fans love to pour over their own endlessly fascinating (but ultimately meaningless) stats: number of fans or friends or followers, number of retweets, number of views on YouTube, comparative social clout, and on and on; meanwhile, all the C-suite really counts is Sales.

The important thing is to recognize that while it might be interesting and satisfying for aficionados to indulge in their own stats, what really matters is the biggest picture. For business and social media, that means: Are you connecting socially with your customers in a meaningful way, that actually makes them do business with you? Are you keeping your eye on the ball?

By the way, you can access all of SocialTech 2010 sessions On Demand, whether you were there and had to make the hard choice between two compelling tracks, or whether you missed it entirely. Access it here.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a monthly contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules (Wiley, 2012), which has been translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Portuguese. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs

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  • by Lisa Marocco Thu Oct 28, 2010 via blog

    Great points Ann, thank you for sharing! Getting a traditional B2B marketer to effectively engage in social media is akin to an adult learning a new language. We are used to censored, finely tuned messages and controlling the conversations and social media is about candidness and giving and taking (i.e. being human); which doesn't come naturally.

  • by Ajay Mohan Mon Nov 1, 2010 via blog

    This is a really good article. I think a lot of folks are sitting on the fence, waiting for social media noise to turn into some sort of a symphony with which they can work.

  • by Anne Mon Nov 1, 2010 via blog

    Thanks for the thought provoking article, Ann. The analogy rings true, both for high school and for now! Hopefully at Get Back to Me we're more able to address the issues today than we were way back then. Anne

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