B2B companies — the ones you would expect to be more timid when it comes to losing control of the message on social media platforms — are doing some pretty interesting things with community-building platforms online. But they face their own set of challenges as they become more involved in this brave new world.
The MarketingProfs SocialTech conference in San Jose in October was a fascinating peek inside the complexities of trying to evangelize, implement, and capitalize from social media at large B2B companies. Attendees at the conference were mostly from Silicon Valley tech companies — many of them “doing” social media either as one of their job responsibilities or as their primary responsibility.
The problem with silos
“We’re stuck today in rigid, internally focused, process- and technology-focused companies,” said speaker Michael Fauscette of IDC. “We have siloed structures because of the way our technology was implemented.” This is preventing a lot of B2B companies from maximizing value from social media — because the nature of it is collaborative, cross-functional and open.
When he begins working with a new company, the first thing Fauscette says he asks is: can marketing talk to sales? “If they can’t, you can’t have a conversation, online or offline, that’s going to be effective. You’re going to have 10 conversations with customers and not even know about it.”
A paradigm shift for marketing
“Most of marketing was not engineered to create conversational content,” said Brian Ellefritz: senior director of social media marketing for SAP. “Our customer was the end point in our marketing, our ‘victim’ … not someone for whom we had to add value.” Now that marketing and communications are called upon to think about two way interaction and value-added content, it’s rocking their world. Only now that SAP has advanced in its social media journey and has a true strategy and resources in place to support the company’s efforts is content beginning to become less problematic. “If anything has solved the content thing, let me know,” Ellefritz said.
Quantity vs. relevance
“Social media is not a new way of doing marketing,” said Gurmeet Dhaliwal of CA Technologies. “We have always wanted to talk to like-minded people — but now we can connect with someone in Russia and talk about what you have in common, instead of just in your own small town.”
The truth is that your followers don’t hang on your every word. They follow you because a small percentage of what you have to say is relevant to them, Dhaliwal says. “Instead of reaching 15,000 people, you’re reaching 2% of that. But if they got the right message, from a credible source, in real time, and it’s relevant to them, those 300 people are converts.”
Setting boundaries and sticking to strategy
Introducing social media in a complex, traditional B2B company requires strategy, policy and education, said Laura Ramos of Xerox, who asserts that if her company can use social media, any company can. Figure out the 5 or 10 things you want people to remember and learn, and stick to them — in your external and your internal communications. Establish a policy, train people on it, set boundaries, and then let them go, Ramos said. “People want to do the right thing. You won’t have a problem with control.”
The challenge of engagement
“There are more people who are looking at social media than doing anything on social media,” said René Bonvanie of Palo Alto Networks. On the other hand, there are a lot of people looking. “Companies are fooling themselves if they think there’s a divide between work email and personal email and social media: 93% of people at work are sitting on Google mail.” The challenge is getting those people who are lurking all day long to step forward and start interacting. “Facebook is basically wallpaper. How do you get people engaged?”
When people start to get the value of social media, it’s like “the caveman telling the other caveman where to find food,” said LaSandra Brill, who manages digital and social media marketing for Cisco. There are hundreds of communities that have sprung up among Cisco customers. “Communities have their own lifecycles,” she said. There is a lot of work that goes into communities, to figure out what works, how to engage people, and what is the common bond that keeps them coming back. Over time, they start to take on a life of their own. And because the use of communities has exploded, keeping them under control becomes a huge job. “I spend a lot of time consolidating and closing down communities,” Brill said.