Social Media: A Crucial Component for Success

Steve Nicholls HeadshotThis is a guest post by Steve Nicholls, author of the best-selling Social Media in Business

Thinking of a business strategy without social media has become antiquated, unless you travel at least 20 years back in time. Today, a business is no longer sustainable without an effective social media agenda. Even giant organizations like Starbucks, Groupon, Reuters or British Airways have all started to incorporate social media; this is because businesses simply cannot do without it any longer.

Social media can be defined as the experience of sharing content online, whether music, videos, pictures, comments, reviews and news among other forms. Once, the ‘brochure site’ ruled over the Internet, static and imposing, allowing Internet users to simply view content passively. Today, anyone, anywhere and at anytime can generate and share content on the Internet: this is social media.

Social media is materialized through its many applications. The differences between each one are very wide, which means a range of activities can be done through social media. To give just a very few examples, Twitter can be used to send short messages instantly to a group of followers, Yahoo! Answers gives the chance to ask questions to the entire web community and receive a plethora of answers, Wikinews allows people to work jointly in order to write objective news articles and GoToWebinar is a conferencing tool that makes long-distance training possible.

Furthermore, each application is a world of small applications. LinkedIn, for instance, is very useful for the creation of a professional hub of current and past co-workers, who become connections. These in turn can link you to their own connections so that you become at the center of a web of professional connections – generating a lot of opportunities for network-building. Next to that, LinkedIn Answers allows users to ask business-related questions to their network as well as the bigger LinkedIn hub. Also, LinkedIn’s reference check helps users search for references on a potential employee or employer. These options are only a very few examples of what LinkedIn offers but shows how social media is extensive in both breadth and depth.

In a business context, interchange via all these applications can take place between the company and its customers, between customers themselves but also within a company and finally, within a business-to-business environment as well. Steve Nicholls, author of the book Social Media in Business, explores these avenues in depth. He explains that “this sharing allowed by social media translates into invaluable opportunities for businesses,” which he divides into five main categories.

First and foremost, social media gives access to the largest marketplace on the planet. In a matter of a few seconds, companies can transcend traditional boundaries to reach more people or create a presence beyond geographical limits. This gives rise to the second opportunity: communication. Social media improves communication between any two or more parts of a business: between employees, between staff and customers or between upper and lower staff. Blogs, for example, are a very good way for a company to communicate with its customers and having a Facebook Page can be useful to create an internal online community amongst employees, especially the bigger the organization is.

Third, social media allows managers to tap into communities where prospects – such as customers, freelancers, business connections, etc. – can be found or created. Every time this happens, it is not one individual that is found but an entire pool of prospects. For example, a Facebook Fan Page is great to nurture a community of customers and keep them updated with product news while Elance is a community of freelancers with all sorts of skills where the ‘right person for the job’ can be found.

Fourth, social media allows businesses to get information from collective intelligence, i.e. the ‘global brain’ of the web community, as Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, defines it. Exploiting this facet of social media means that companies can obtain competitor intelligence, customer insights or find cost-effective business solutions. For example, through Brainrack, companies can crowdsource business-related issues to students and get a diversity of solutions and the student with the best solution wins a prize. Rating systems are another way to use collective intelligence to find out how much consumers like a certain product for instance.

Finally, social media allows collaboration, i.e. co-working on a certain project, or participating in its development. A very simple application is Skype, through which colleagues living in different countries can form an online conferencing room. DropBox is an excellent tool to create files which can be accessed by colleagues online, from anywhere in the world.

By adopting a good social media strategy, a company can thus leverage its competitive advantage substantially. Nicholls however stresses the use of social media within a company must be clearly fitted to its general business goals to avoid going enthusiastically in the wrong direction. Nicholls also warns that social media does have a ‘dark side’ and that managers should be aware of its pitfalls, but that these, if properly prepared for, are just a small obstacle in comparison to social media’s great potential. Adopting a successful strategy is one that will take advantage of social media in the context of a company’s business goals, while at the same time mitigating its risks.

Steve Nicholls Bio

Book Cover ImageSteve Nicholls is the author of the best-selling Social Media in Business, international speaker, and social media strategist who helps business executives implement a winning social media strategy into their organization. After beginning his career as a project manager in skyscraper construction, Steve earned his MBA at Henley Business School in 1992 and his Masters of Science in Organizational Development from the University of Portsmouth in 2008.  His background as a project manager, combined with his extensive experience in the business and technology industries, has given him the unique ability to help companies lay their own blueprint for social media success.


Education & Thought Leadership Will Drive Most B2B Content Production Plans to Be “Brick Heavy”

Last week, Chris Sietsema wrote a great post on Convince and Convert about creating a content production plan with a combination of “bricks” and “feathers” that makes sense for your company, asking us all “should you be focused more on building substantial content productions or presenting your audience with a steady array of minute snippets that define your brand and message?”

Quick definitions:

Bricks are larger content productions such as research reports, events, white papers, video series, mobile apps, etc. They typically require decent budget and time to produce but have the potential to make a larger splash when executed and promoted correctly.

Feathers are comprised of simple text and photo content published via popular social media tools likeFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc. Less intensive than bricks from a production budget standpoint, feathers are created consistently to maintain an ongoing stream of communication between a brand and its audience.

Many B2B companies focus on providing helpful or educational information for their audience, focusing less on creating social signals than providing enough of a reason to convert (whatever “conversion” may look like for you).  They also often include thought leadership as one of the primary ways to achieve their business and marketing goals.

Additionally, short, consistently valuable pieces of content are often more difficult for a B2B company to sustain, and may not be as compelling for their audience. As Chris says, “Those brands that simply cannot provide entertaining, enlightening and/or educational content on a daily basis (e.g. law firms, insurance companies, some medical facilities, etc.) should focus more on building bricks for the purpose of conveying their value to prospects and influencers.”

Because of this, it’s likely that producing more Brick Content will strategically align your B2B content program with your overall marketing goals.

Larger, more in-depth pieces of content allow a company to support the agenda of a thought leader and information provider.  Blogs, white papers, video series etc are an opportunity to showcase well-formulated, first-party, expert-driven ideas.

This is not to say that Feather Content is not helpful.  Short-form content and third-party content are excellent choices to reinforce Brick Content.

I did a quick and dirty numbers check on Other Side Group‘s portfolio, and about 85% of the Brick Content we write is for B2B companies – with the exception of blogging, which is about 60% to B2C companies vs 40% B2B companies (this probably due to the fact that blogs can come in a variety of formats….more on this later perhaps).  Some of those clients supplement their Brick Content with Feather Content, and some don’t (please note, this isn’t necessarily statistically significant, but certainly directional).

We’d love to hear more about what your Content Marketing Strategy is?

Content Marketing Proves to be a Large Part of B2B Marketing Programs [MarketingProf Data]

Highlights of the findings of a study released last month by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute addressing content marketing for the B2B industry indicate that content production has become and will continue to be a major piece of the marketing mix for B2B marketers.  We’ve seen a huge increase in content marketing – specifically writing (eBooks, blogs, white papers, etc) – from B2B clients (many of them requesting just content) at Other Side Group over the course of the last 12 months, so some of these numbers don’t surprise me, but looking at trends and shifts as a whole is very insightful.

There are several key takeaways from the report.

Content marketing is almost universally used. 90% of B2B marketers used some form of content in their marketing program in 2011, and no individual industry reported lower than a 70% adoption rate.

Content type and its perceived effectiveness is varied.  Marketers are using a mix of content creation and content curation in their programs.  Visual content – in-person events, webinars, video – seem to be the most successful pieces of content, while informational/written pieces – case studies, eNewsletters, white papers and blogs – are also considered very effective as whole.

Creating valuable and consistent content proves challenging. Among B2B marketers largest challenges in content production are creating content that engages prospects (41% of respondents reported this as their largest challenge), and creating enough content (20% stated this as their largest challenge).

More budget is being spent on content marketing, and a lot of that is going to third-parties. While the above stat has changed little from 2010, 60% of respondents said they were going to be increasing spend on content marketing over the course of the next 12 months.  To boot, 62% of B2B marketers use outsourcing for content marketing, a substantial increase from last year’s 55%.

QUICK SUMMARY: B2B marketers are finding content marketing extremely effective, and are willing to put more money behind content marketing programs in order to overcome the challenges they see as most inhibiting.

Top 10 B2B Voices Posts of 2011

There wasn’t a particularly scientific  process to come up with this list, but I’ve put together 10 of our collective posts that have garnered a lot of continual readership over the year.  Enjoy!

  1. What’s Your “I” in Social Media?
  2. HBR: What’s Your Social Media Strategy
  3. Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups
  4. Getting Your Degree in Business Acumen
  5. Public Relations Is….
  6. How Do You Reach the Guy With the Wallet?
  7. B2B Companies Discovering the Value of an Intangible Asset
  8. Case Study: Can Accounting Firms Really be Social?
  9. Visualizing B2B Social Marketing [Infographic]
  10. Still Pitching to Use Social Media? Here are Three Steps to Take
  11. BONUS! Guest Post: How B2B Companies Can Use Video/Photos in Social Media