I picked up on a conversation a couple months ago about the role of social media in B2B companies. I noted that most B2B companies don’t feel like they have the resources to do justice to “the basics”, let alone start experiments in social media. These companies, I suggested, should be reevaluating what they do today, and rethink the what they are getting for their communications investment…or, as Amber Naslund asked on her Altitude Branding blog, “Should the Basics Evolve?”
This topic seems to be popping up again in my conversations. The answer clearly is yes, the basic “blocking and tackling” of PR and marketing communications — news releases, sales sheets, brochures, newsletters and the website — are evolving rapidly. But perhaps not as fast as some would think.
For example, based on one inquiry, I did set up Twitter, blog and general web searches to see where conversations were happening around their issues. The return was minimal. The online, social media-type conversations just weren’t happening. In other words, some industries just aren’t there yet.
Now this is certainly an opportunity — fertile ground to be a leader that gets people talking — because the B2B audience is certainly online (they’re just not always talking about work). But in a world of limited resources, it doesn’t have to be. And as any responsible consultant will tell you, social media is different — you don’t dive in headfirst without testing the waters. This isn’t one-to-many mass communications — this is community and conversation. Communities take on a life of their own and conversations can take surprising turns … truths that can take some time to absorb.
But, the basics are evolving … as they have to accommodate the web and as they will again to accommodate the way people consume social media. If I were inside a B2B company today re-assessing the basics today, I wouldn’t dive in headfirst. I’d start by looking at the following; tarting here will get your organization headed in the right direction, and gets your building blocks in place so that you can make smart choices — will I lead my market into social media or follow them? Or, will I be there when they get there?
1. Is my website a brochure, or a destination? Our web presence should be more than our products artfully presented. It should include a place where customers find insight on the kind of work they do with you. For example, you can feature articles about the the company or industry trends on the home page. You can create a regular space for featured news that goes beyond news releases toward and toward opinions, tech or how-t0 insights and audio or video features.
This approach offers multiple benefits. First, new and relevant content will improve search engine rankings, so more of the right people find you. Additonally, it positions your company as a part of conversations going on across the web — engaging potential customers and keeping you top of mind with current ones.
2. Am I meeting my market where they are? For example, are our customers reading the email newsletter? Are we tracking this? Many business buyers and influencers are finding — and appreciating — new ways to follow companies and brands — from RSS feeds to mobile phones to Facebook. When you start regularly adding new feature content to the site, get it to the customers in ways they want, and in ways they they can react by contacting you or sharing what they like.
At minimum, give visitors the chance to a) subscribe to updates via RSS or email; and b) share what they like with others. This allows you to interact with a larger audience in ways you haven’t before. And it gives potential customers the control they want over their relationship with the company–there’s no cost to you, and they can enter the sale cycle when they’re ready. These features are extremely simple to implement.
4. How are people using the website? Where does the traffic go on the website? What’s most popular? What should be popular but isn’t? Are visitors being tracked and channeled appropriately and effectively to sales lead capture? If this information isn’t easy to obtain today, it should be.
3. Do I know what people are saying ‘out there’? Every B2B marketer needs to find out what conversations are going on about their company and industry issues online. This can be involve setting up Google News alerts, or aggregating news sources and searches in an RSS reader like Google Reader or My Yahoo, or investing in free/pay tools from a simple Filtrbox to a comprehensive Radian6 dashboard. You can track Twitter on search.twitter.com or enter searches on the free TweetDeck.
You don’t have to participate right away, and if there’s not much happening, it won’t take much of your time. But you’ll know. And as GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”