I continue to be disturbed by the frequency with which social media is treated as this isolated specialty area, with the result inevitably being that social media messaging and strategy is cut-off from other marketing communications programs, leading to redundancy, mixed messages, wasted money and blown opportunities. I can’t speak for consumer products companies but in B2B I can only implore you to never go this route.
Instead, as I’ve preached before, our point of view is that a B2B purchase decision is an “inline” journey – that prospects using a mix of offline and online sources of information and influence to ultimately become a buyer and hopefully an advocate. As University of Pennsylvania sociologist Keith Hampton said in an article about the myth of urban isolation, “Online and offline life are inherently connected.”
So here are 5 thought starters on just how to do that:
1. Bring Offline Conversations Online. You’ll get more return on your investment in live gatherings of customers, prospects or influencers if you encourage online conversations to run in parallel. They will help engage people in live attendance more intensively, provide important contextual information (such as online videos or collateral that complement live presentations), and pull in a lot of people who otherwise couldn’t attend.
2. Be an Inline Thought Leader. Most B2B public relations campaigns have a strong thought leadershp component because when you’re making an expensive, complex purchase, you’re more likely to do so with a vendor with demonstrated expertise, not just because they’re running a “buy one, get one free” sale. Make sure your online thought leadership efforts are thematically in sync. One of our consulting firm clients targeting banks did this by complementing news releases and bylined articles (traditional PR tools) with online video interviews of subject matter experts and a Twitter presence that linked to both their own and third-party content that was topically consistent.
3. Activate Your Intelligence Network. Leveraging social media doesn’t just mean trying to connect with current and potential customers. It can also include creating an internal network or a partner network designed to facilitate intelligence gathering about competitors, sales trends or sales and marketing best practices. Tools like Yammer, Delicious, iGoogle and Radian6 can help and even more sophisticated ones are coming onto the market.
4. Ignite Advocates. Word of mouth remains the No. 1 source of influence in B2B, according to most of the research I see from Forrester and others. A lot of that is happening through pretty traditional channels – face-to-face, phone and email mostly. You can arm your advocates for those conversations by sharing information specifically designed to help them tell your story, via Twitter perhaps, or even a password-protected online advocacy toolkit.
5. Work With the Media – and Be the Media. We’re still going to be pitching stories and working with media and bloggers, but we can self-publish good content ourselves too and the evidence is that good content will be embraced even if it comes from a vendor. For example, a vice president at one of my former clients covered their industry trade show with video and regular blog posts, and was included in an industry trade round-up story as one of the individuals “covering” the event. It gave a big boost to his blog traffic. As journalist A.J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press is guranteed only to those who own one.” Now you can.