How are b-2-b marketers exploiting social media opportunities?
Many of our b-2-b clients were late adopters of web sites. Now of course the web site is probably their most important marketing tool. But at the time they saw no need for a web site, not that is until they realised that suddenly their competitors had them and what we had been telling them for years was indeed happening. It is a familiar story of the reluctance, even hostility to embrace new technology. Back in the 19th century it was the Luddites who challenged the industrial revolution as machinery took over the work of artisans. But early adopters are not always right either. Some technologies do not fulfill their promise and in hindsight were expensive mistakes. The technology opportunity that b-2-b companies are faced with for marketing communications is the second era of the Internet, web 2.0. Web 2.0 allows interaction and has made its mark most tellingly in social media - Twitter, YouTube, Blogging and Facebook, plus several hundred less familiar names. Once again b-2-b companies have been slow to become involved because social media brings new challenges to the status quo, it takes businesses and the individual out side their comfort zone.
Previously the only communication by businesses to their customers has been controlled by the company through advertising, mail shots and press releases - all checked and approved before issue. In fact a lot of smaller companies don't even do that much, rarely if ever issuing a press release. But a key feature of social media is the so called 'conversation' that provides for comment, feedback, opinions. If not properly managed, there is an opportunity for disenchanted customers to not only complain, but to do so in a public forum where other customers and prospects can be exposed to a hitherto secret process. The challenge here is what to do about it. Failing to monitor what is being said about your company, if anything, is one issue and becomes a problem once a subject gains traction. This sort of thing has already caught some out due to their ignorance of the original problem. At the very least 'alerts' should be set up to monitor what is being said about your business on the Internet, so you are immediately aware of problems and can respond rapidly before a small irritation becomes a crisis. There needs to be an agreed process already in place to respond quickly, effectively and positively to nip the problem in the bud. Customers are realistic enough to know that things go wrong, what interests them most is how well the supplier fixes the problem.
The next matter to address is how businesses proactively use social media. Setting up a blog or Facebook page needs to be carefully thought about. In particular how to share information, what to share and who to authorise to do this. Some high profile CEOs write blogs for example, something that will probably shock many SME business owners particularly where they have traditionally played their cards close to their chest and barely communicated with their own employees let alone their customers. Actually more enlightened businesses work closely with their PR agencies and it is they who actually contribute much of the input.
Finally despite all the hype about the millions of people signed up for Facebook or followers on Twitter - are your customers and prospects at these places. In the next few blogs we will look at this in more detail and talk about specific social media channels.