Social media key tool for B2B firms

Social media marketing offers business-to-business marketers many benefits

Many business-to-business chief executives still believe that social media isn't right for them. And it's no surprise.

The attention being paid to social media today mostly focuses on reaching out to consumers. But social media marketing can offer business-to-business (B2B) marketers a range of benefits if they take advantage of it, from increasing engagement and influencing decision making before the sales call to customising sales messages and enhancing their company’s reputation.

The Content Marketing Institute reports that social media marketing can help business-to-business brands build awareness and showcase their expertise. McKinsey points out that social media is a great place for business-to-business marketers to uncover early intelligence on competitor developments and on customer problems, needs and beliefs. They can also respond to questions and influence the emotional reaction to their brand.

In addition, the number of people likely to seek and share a business-to-business experience is increasing. In a Demand Gen Reports survey, almost all respondents (97 per cent) gave more credence to content that included peer reviews and user-generated content during the business-to-business purchasing decision process – higher than what was found for business-to-consumer products.

Most importantly, business-to-business companies are proving that social media builds sales and profits for brands. For example, Maersk Line, one of the world's biggest container and bulk shipping companies, has made social media an integral part of its marketing mix by leveraging more than 30 local and global social media accounts. The company uses everything from Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter and Instagram, where, interestingly, it got a sales lead from a Russian company off one of its posts.

Business-to-business companies need to take this to heart. Instead of ignoring social efforts, they need to engage. Here are a few steps to get started:

1 Sell in by connecting the benefits of social media marketing to the concerns and objectives of your organisation. Since senior management tends to discount the value of social media marketing, stay away from using terms like "followers" and "engagement". Rather, show how social media will help the organisation achieve objectives such as generating leads and facilitating conversions.

2 Identify your key audience and goals to achieve. What do you want your social media programme to do? Identify who you should reach and what your aims are. It's important to note that the social media channels and the content that's consumed and shared will be very different in the business-to-business world, so assumptions should not be drawn from business-to-consumer case studies.

To ensure success, find out where current and potential customers are talking and what subjects they are discussing before creating strategies to influence brand perceptions and identify sales leads.

3 Don't rush out with a sales pitch. Business-to-business brands need to concentrate on engaging core audiences and providing valuable information. When the time is right, and with enough cultivation, the sales will happen.

4 Determine analytics and how best to track them. Rather than merely adopting the typical key performance indicators and tracking tools for business-to-consumer brands, business-to-business marketers need to find the most appropriate metrics for the unique category. In developing metrics, remember that influencing a business-to-business purchase with social content is much more valuable than a business-to-consumer purchase, since a single purchase could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

– Copyright Harvard Business School 2016

Laurence Minsky is associate professor in the department of communication and media innovation at Columbia College Chicago. Keith Quesenberry is assistant professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania