One of the most common questions I am asked in business-to-business marketing is how to get started in social media and if social media is really effective for b-to-b.
An easy way to answer the second question is to look at one of the major choices of social media for b-to-b marketers, LinkedIn. It has been reported that LinkedIn, while clearly not the size of other, larger social media channels, is growing at a faster rate and produces high quality visit-to-lead conversion rates.
So, how can you get started using social media?
Commit the necessary time and budget
Like any other effective marketing program, you cannot start and then not return when you get busy elsewhere. Business customers and prospects, especially those with serious concerns, expect and deserve an answer. The maintenance can be time consuming, so calculate that cost into your plan and staffing.
I have had success with using trained student interns to do social media, as long as you have established policies and monitor it. They like putting the experience on their resumes, so they will often do the work for free.
Do not assume social media is out of your price reach
Many b-to-b marketers are small. Josh Moritz, senior vice president of interactive, ecommerce and social media at Creative Partners, says there are great social media management software programs you can download for a few dollars a month to make the postings easier and the tracking a snap. So don’t accept the common myth that the impact of social media cannot be measured.
If your resources are limited, start with LinkedIn
There are lots of classes and online webinars that will show you how to get started with LinkedIn. Your sales folks can even use LinkedIn to find prospects that are most like the profile of your best customers.
Then you can expand into other social media channels. Often, you are just facilitating social media by offering your customers an opportunity to communicate with each other and discuss the b-to-b challenges they face every day. Customers and prospects gain valuable content and you gain better organic search results because of that content. I have found blogs to be excellent for this.
Remember, it’s a conversation
No matter where you start, make sure to use social media to create a dialogue with customers and/or prospects. Not only will this dialogue improve customer retention, it will give you a chance to introduce new products and services and perhaps most importantly, to know when something is going wrong.
Moritz points out that it can be used as an online reputation management tool. Observe the basics of excellent customer service: Listen and respond, especially to negative comments.
Apply the proven basics of traditional direct marketing
For example, have a call to action, target messages based on segments of customers and prospects and their particular needs and offer special landing pages and microsites that address those needs. Busy business people do not have time to wade through a website with thousands of products and pages of content to find the single product they need.
Perhaps Moritz sums it up best: Social media is a combination of measurably improving your search results, direct response awareness advertising, offer delivery, listening to the positive comments and responding to the negative ones, information resources and sales support program all rolled into one.
Mary Ann Kleinfelter is president and owner of marketing consultancy Marketing Solutions Today.