The Marketing Strategist:

Seven Prerequisites for Social Media Success—That Have Nothing to Do with Social Media

December 20, 2011

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in researching B2B social media is that most of the success factors in social media have nothing to do with social media. Success doesn’t even have that much to do with the marketing group. For social media to get anywhere in B2B, companies must undergo a culture change in which they become as good at creating ideas as they are at creating products and services and at servicing customers. Here’s what I mean:
  1. Establish a base of content. I attended a panel discussion at a conference a while ago with LaSandra Brill, who is a very experienced social media marketing manager for Cisco. She was asked what she looks for in a social media marketing person. I expected her to say something like, “An ability to handle difficult conversations online.” But instead, her quick reply was, “I look for someone who can manage an editorial calendar.” She knows from long experience that very few social media participants contribute anything to the conversation. I’ve highlighted research from the Online Community Research Network (now sadly no longer around) showing that fewer than 10% of people in online communities ever say anything. And fewer than 2% take a leadership role in starting conversations. If you’re going to be successful in social media, you’d better have a base of content first.
  2. Most C-level executives are not in social media—they’re in search. ITSMA research shows that 66% of buyers seek information themselves rather than waiting to hear from providers. They seek that information through search: 79% of C-level executives do at least three searches per day. They are more likely to encounter our content through search than through the social media channels themselves. We must ensure that our content is targeted to our audiences and can be found easily before we shift resources over to social media.
  3. Social media doesn’t happen in B2B without setting expectations. When we surveyed B2B marketers last year, 50% said they do not have a social media policy. It would be easy to say that B2B companies don’t have social media policies because they just don’t get it or they’re slow and lack resources. But I talk to them all the time and I know that’s not the case for most of them. They hold back because they know that they need the full support, commitment, and participation of the business in social media. Without those things in place, there’s no reason to get into it, because you will fail.
  4. Before social media can happen, companies need an idea culture. A lot of B2C social media marketing can come out of the marketing group because consumers are looking for deals, product information, and peer reviews. Marketers can handle all that stuff. But you can’t tweet a 50%-off coupon in B2B. You have to tweet ideas for solving customers’ problems. Marketing can’t do that on its own. Social media is the easy part; thought leadership is the hard part. Top executives and subject matter experts must commit to making ideas part of employees’ individual expectations. One of the reasons I know that B2B marketers get this is because the number one goal of marketers in our survey was to integrate social media into the larger marketing strategy—to link social media to their thought leadership marketing process and their events—the channels that are proven and where the business has committed to contributing content.
  5. The business case doesn’t exist for social media, but it does for thought leadership. When we asked buyers last year how important good ideas are to the buying decision, 58% of executive-level buyers (people buying more than $500,000 worth of IT services at a pop) said that they are important or critical for making it onto the short list of providers (that percentage was even higher in 2011—see this month’s Featured Research). We then asked: If a provider brings you a good idea, would you be more likely to buy from them? Thirty percent said yes. Of that 30%, 54% said they’d consider sole sourcing the project. Social media are great for developing those ideas and for making them available to many more people. But first you have to have an engine for creating the ideas.
  6. Many B2B companies have already said no to social media. I’ve spoken to marketers who have dipped a toe into social media and pulled it back because they saw that their companies simply weren’t ready. They’ve started blogs where SMEs posted three or four times and then got busy with other things or got bored, and the blog went dark. Someone somewhere latched onto that and declared that blogs don’t work. They blame the channel rather than blaming their company’s lack of commitment. Then that gets translated into “social media don’t work for us.” Thus, many companies need to create a new case for social media before jumping in again.
  7. Marketing needs a system of record before it can succeed in social media. Businesspeople don’t care how many Twitter followers you have. They care about the size, speed, and quality of the sales pipeline. We need a lead management process into which we can feed the people who come to us via social media. In our recent lead management survey, just 53% report consistent definitions of lead tracking that are adopted globally. Only 65% have defined the lead flow process. Without a process for integrating social media into lead management, the ROI of social media in B2B will never move beyond brand awareness and website traffic.
To learn more about social media for B2B, check out the ITSMA Special Report: How to Fit Social Media into your Overall Marketing Strategy and Make it Stick.

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