B2B marketers who want to use social media as an engagement tool should first take a step back and listen to what their customers and prospects are doing online, says Ashish Vazirani, principal at consulting firm ZS Associates.
“Social isn’t just about generating content and following buzz—that’s a trap,” says Vazirani. “The first use of social should be to listen—find the communities where your customers and the influencers in your industry are, join in and listen and observe.”
If a customer is on the path to purchase, they want to learn. “Where are they getting their information?” he says. “Where are they asking questions? Once you understand how a community engages with each other, then you can do something relevant.”
B2B marketers should not immediately rush into a community and offer up their product as a solution to a user’s woes. Rather, they should think about how they can position themselves as a thought leader.
“People who are particularly successful at using social channels don’t necessarily lead with [offering] a solution,” says Vazirani. “They aren’t trying necessarily to sell something, they’re adding insight.”
Marketers don’t necessarily have to create their own original content to respond to a customer or prospect’s question. B2B marketers can position themselves as thought leaders by curating or aggregating content that is of use to a discussion. “If a marketer or seller brings the right information, at the right time, they earn the opportunity to engage in a dialogue,” he says. “ See the kind of things that get shared and you’ll see the standards [for this audience]. Once you establish yourself, people are more likely to engage you directly.”
The best LinkedIn communities are closed and have very strict rules about being non-promotional, Vazirani notes. To break in and become a useful member, the best strategy is to establish your individual brand as a representative of your company.
Are there risks? Sure—to a certain degree by being active on such forums opens you up to others criticizing you or taking a counterpoint. “You’re taking some intellectual risk in a very public environment,” he says.
It also makes sense to separate your personal social life from your professional. For some people for example, Facebook is a very personal space only for friends and family, while LinkedIn is reserved for professional interactions. The things you post on each site are likely very different. And if you use a network, say Twitter, for both professional and personal purposes, have two different handles.
A calendar of social content can also be helpful—the more frequently you publish, the more likely you’ll get picked up on search engines and the more likely you’ll get followers. “We try to hold our teams to a high bar on the content, so having a schedule with assignments means the burden isn’t on only one person,” Vazirani says.
Just take care to make sure that publishing on social channels too frequently. “People will discount you if you’re retweeting things every hour,” he warns. “There’s a risk—if you’re just randomly curating content that you haven’t even read, you’ll lose credibility.”
Who’s doing this well? Vazirani points to IBM, which is creating personality on their rep pages using Twitter accounts and videos to allow reps to showcase their interests and experience. In a social selling pilot, this approach helped the reps grow their LinkedIn connections by a factor of six and their networks by a factor of 24.
4 Quick Tips:
1. Be a trusted advisor. People buy from people. Use social channels to identify customers’ needs, challenges and pain points.
2. Join the conversation. Discover where your prospects are engaging online and going to learn. This will give you an opportunity to connect with people you might never interact with face-to-face.
3. Don’t create noise. Pushy salespitches will get immediately tuned out. Treat social as a learning platform to build authentic relationships.
4. Train your sales team appropriately. Makes sure your sales and marketing team members know how to leverage social channels to create growth.