Treating B2B Social Like an Online Trade Show

Posted on by Joe Nieckarz

Think back to the last trade show you attended.  You were communicating just by being there.  Your presence alone said your company is alive and well and that you were ready to do business with new customers.  As you attended breakout sessions or panel discussions you began to form relationships with other participants.  You were building your community.  Did you make any immediate sales?  No. And yet the time out of the office, not to mention travel costs, were a well-spent investment in your company and future growth.

This is exactly how social media works.  Except that you don’t have to take two days out of the office and pony up for a hotel room, airfare and entry fees.  And because it’s online, you have access to an unlimited number of potential community members — not just those that attend the same events.

As with offline professional communities, online communities should be comprised of the same mix of industry professionals you’d find at the show:  vendors, customers, prospects, subcontractors, parts and materials providers, R&D people — anyone and everyone that somehow touches your realm of the industry.

How and where do you find an online community? 
Actually, your online community finds you, via LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging and other social activities.  You get it started by seeding the clouds.  Join related LinkedIn communities and set up one for your company to cross pollinate members.  Use tools like followerwonk to target potential participants.  Go through your emails, even that old Rolodex, make a list and then go to LinkedIn and look them up.  Send them an invite and then get ready to join the conversation.  Once you get connected, you’ll be amazed how quickly it takes off.

Now let’s go back to that trade show and think about what really ties you all together.  Beyond the industry itself, remember the catalog of events: panel discussions, presentations, forums.  Each promises a fascinating dialogue of insight, information and opinions on an important and topical subject.

In other words, content. It’s what glues online communities together, too.  What are burning industry topics that will get people thinking and responding? What’s on your mind today that impacts your audiences?  A spike in the cost of copper? The latest coating technology?  An interesting news item in an industry publication that you want to share?  Post a comment on your company LinkedIn page.  Send out a tweet.  Go desktop to desktop with an RSS feed.

Think like an editor.
The idea is to put yourself in the role of editor; not marketer. In doing so, you’ll become the facilitator of engagement among your community members as well as its leading voice.  Keep it up and you’ll be a thought leader before you know it.

That’s not to say you can’t use LinkedIn and Twitter to share the launch of a new product or service, or the purchase of a brand new piece of equipment.  Are you heading to a trade show?  Guest speaking at a local industry event?  Post it.  Tweet it.  You’re not just telling people what you’re doing, you’re sending the message that you’re busy, building your business and in demand.

I know what you’re thinking.  Easy for you to say.  I don’t have time to gather my thoughts much less share them.  An online marketing partner with experience in custom coil manufacturing can quickly develop a strategy, set up social media accounts, start building your community for you, monitor the daily conversation across highly relevant industry publications like this one and respond with timely and insightful commentary.

Marketing’s most valuable currency is a shared passion and by engaging your professional brethren through social media you can network and make important connections and contacts all year long – no airfare or hotel room necessary.   Instead of being a keynote speaker for 20 minutes every six months or so, you can be a keynote speaker on an ongoing basis.

And just as with a trade event, you will eventually get an email or a call or a referral that does lead to business.  So get on LinkedIn, start a blog or begin following and tweeting on Twitter.  Not only will it pay off, here’s another insider’s secret.  Once you get into it, it’s really fun.

Joseph Nieckarz is the product manager of ThomasNet.

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