For the Future of B2B Social Media Look East

Whenever I speak on a panel or talk among peers about social media and its effect on B2B communications there seems to be one question on everyone’s mind: “What’s next?” While it’s always difficult to make predictions — and I try to avoid them — my strong belief and experience tells me that for now it can be summed up in one word: Weibo. In short, Weibo is China’s hybrid combination of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook with more than 300 million users and growing. With activity on the site now surpassing 100 million messages each day it is a resource that B2B companies cannot ignore.

If your business is not planning any growth initiatives in China in the near term or long term then you can stop reading now — this post won’t pertain to you. However, if you or your clients are serious about China as a growth market you should continue reading.

Do you Weibo?

Do you Weibo?

I have long been an advocate that social media needs to reflect the business strategy and integrate with all of your communication efforts. Social media is not a silver bullet and won’t solve or fix any of your business needs, but it can enhance and greatly assist you in your efforts to communicate and engage with your stakeholders. A great resource to help give you a better idea as to what is happening with social media in China is this McKinsey report.

So what’s stopping you from using Weibo? The biggest obstacle seems to be language and translation (I don’t speak Chinese). This should be a low barrier to entry if China represents a key part of your business strategy; more than likely your team already employs some translation service and you should figure out how to use them. Another challenge may be content, but if your goal is to educate the Chinese market on your products and services than you should have all the material you need at your disposal.

If you’re not on Weibo where should you start? First, have a discussion with your employees who do business with Chinese customers. If you can understand their needs, how they are trying to reach customers and the tools they use to communicate with customers you will build a good foundation. You may also discover who at your company already is using Weibo. Second, do your research on Weibo and social networking in Asia. I have a list of resources below and the McKinsey report also is a good start. Finally, join Weibo. You can follow me on Weibo and CME Group as we are excited about the growth opportunities in the region and how social media gives us a business advantage. If you are not yet on Weibo now is a good time to start planning to budget for and integrate it next year, that is, if China is part of your company’s growth plans. You can also follow @ChineseWeibo and @WeiboMarketing on Twitter, as well as @WeiboToday

 

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

Around the world in social media

What drives your b2b strategy?

B2B Social Media: A View from Asia

Still pitching to use social media?

 

Blogging isn’t Supposed to be Easy

Just over three years ago Arik Hanson had this crazy idea to start a B2B communications blog and asked me to contribute (this is now my 82nd post). I agreed, but didn’t realize at the time how much hard work it takes to blog, but that’s the point; it’s supposed to be challenging. My first post wasn’t exactly rocket science about the profession (So you want to be a B2B communicator?), but I’ve gotten better at it over the years. Since Arik’s proposal to me I have also started a personal blog and now contribute content and ideas to our company blog.

What motivates you to blog?

What motivates you to blog?

If you are still thinking about blogging professionally one of the best posts I’ve ever read about the topic is from Josh Brown, who answered the questioned, “How do you have so much time to blog?” The answer is easy — we don’t. Like Josh, it’s become an important habit that I enjoy. In addition, this post from Boing Boing this week on how to blog is a must read for both the novice and expert. In addition, many thanks to Francine McKenna who was a great mentor at getting me started on this blog and offered many valuable tips. From my experience with B2B Voices, I’ve become a better writer and more importantly a better thinker.

From all of us who contribute to this blog, thank you for reading, thank you for commenting and if you have been thinking about blogging for your B2B company, your clients or yourself, I hope this post was helpful.

Our most popular posts since we launched in April 2009 include:

Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

What’s your “I” in Social Media?

Case study: Can accounting firms really be social?

Has Social Media in Financial Services Arrived?

Getting Your Degree in “Business Acumen”

What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

B2B Case Study: ShipServ

Integrating Social Media With Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?

Using video as a B2B marketing tool

Avoiding the One Cup Approach to B2B Content

One of the main issues being discussed this year among B2B communicators is the concept around content. From curation our own content to fighting social spam, we are trying to figure not only how do we provide the best resources for our stakeholders, but also how to sift through the growing amount of data coming our way. One trend that worries me when it comes to content is the growing amount of brands who use social media as a one cup approach; meaning, they are simply filling their own cup with their own content. There’s no conversation. There’s no sharing of other data. There’s nothing separating it from a a newswire service. While that may fulfil the needs of legal and compliance, that’s really not a very exciting, fulfilling or strategic way of communicating.

As I thought more about this, I kept coming back to three reasons why brands take this singular cup approach and waste the opportunity at hand.

  1. Resources: Managing social media channels takes time and effort, and as the amount of channels continue to grow this becomes more daunting. If this is the case, brands should either cut their losses from the channels they don’t use and focus on doing one or two really well. In addition, there should be some discussion as to how to add more people internal to help manage content and listen to what’s being discussed online. Four years ago it may have been easy for one person to manage all things social, but those days are

    Is your content only serving yourself?

    gone.

  2. Compliance: Legal has likely put a lid on what can and cannot be done in social media, making the job all that more difficult. I’ve written a few times here that it’s imperative to earn and have the trust of legal, compliance and InfoSec in order to be successful. If you’ve spoken with them in the past don’t let those meetings deter you. Meet with them again and bring case study examples of your competition and other brands you emulate.
  3. Lack of Content: I hear often from B2B communicators that their brand is too niche and finding new content on their site is difficult. This can be compared to the digital challenge of a blank sheet of paper. If you only look at your own content then yes, this will be a challenge. The reward of doing social media is expanding beyond what you see on your own site and finding content from other trusted sources that relate to your products and services.

Instead of one cup, how do you get to fulfilling multiple stakeholders and with multiple opportunities to engage with you? Here are some guidelines to consider as you look to have your content shared in a network effect.

  1. Have a strategy. What are you trying to accomplish using social media? Is it to educate? Persuade? Change opinions? B2B brands that succeed using social media think about how they use the resources to their advantage and have a strategy in place. There is no way to win against your competition using these tools if you simply think about them as a way to publish news releases. The bottom line is you can’t do anything well — social or non-social media — without a strategy.
  2. Expand your content: If you are only wanting to talk about your brand and share “legal approved” content you are missing the point and the chance to learn from a vast audience. There are numerous places to share and repurpose content that matters to your efforts and you should take the time to find them. In fact, you probably already share this information internally, so why not repurpose it for a broader audience.
  3. Expand your resources: Everyone has internal champions for content and ideas. If you’re serious about using these channels than find the right people to help you. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy this can be. You don’t necessarily need to find people passionate about social media, but you should know the people who are excited about content

    How can you serve your many stakeholders?

    and specialized topics who can help.

  4. Share your wins…even the small ones. Letting people know throughout the company what you are doing successfully goes a long way to educate them about the advantages of using social resources.

There are now three rules we practice when it comes to content: Work hard to have a supply of good content; have a constant presence on the sites that matter; and, share content from other trusted sources.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read:

Navigating the Legal Road Map of Social Media

What’s your “I” in social media?

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

Do we need a social index for businesses?

Do most online communities fail?

A Look at 2012: Financial Journalists on the State of Financial Journalism

The 2012 Gorkana survey of finanical journalists in the US is now available and I wouuld encourage you to browse the results. Here are a three excerpts I found interesting:

  • Almost four out of five journalists (78%) have a neutral or positive outlook on the health of financial journalism over the next year. And of the 79% only 34% have a positive view on the future. I found that number to be low, especially given all of the financial news being generate in the past few years.

    Financial caffeine

  • The top ten most influential financial news outlets as rated by journalists are: WSJ (72%); Bloomberg News (60%); NY Times (33%); Reuters (26%); FT (20%); CNBC (16%); Dow Jones (6%); The Economist (4%).
  • How do they develop stories: reading newspapers or other publications (59.5%); personal interest or that of someone on staff (45.1%); readers/viewers/listeners emails or phone calls (32.4%); U.S. government news releases (31.9%); corporate news releases (29.4%). Corporate social media ranks last (5%) in this category, and based on the results this emphasizes that relationships do matter. I was hoping the survey would have looked more closely at social media as I think there are a number of ways journalists digest news and information — it’s not just all from a corporate account.

What did you think? Post your thoughts on the report in our comments section below.

A Brave B2B Social Media Book

A couple weeks ago I published here a Q&A with Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen on their new book, The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads With Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email and More. Here’s my review of the book itself:

Kipp and Jeffrey have chosen to bravely go right to the heart of the matter: how to apply social media for B2B lead generation. While there’s more to social business than lead generation, it’s refreshing to read a book that says it’s okay for social media to bring you more leads. It will help us earn the budgets from senior executives to further develop social channels. As they said in the book, “Social media marketing isn’t about hugs, kisses, rainbows, or any other fluffy happy words.” Engagement, in a marketing sense, needs to lead either to new sales or repeat sales.

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen, Authors of The B2B Social Media Book

The authors correctly note that compelling content is essentially the fuel that makes social media marketing work. They explain how to leverage blogs as central hubs of content to move prospective customers to the all-important Call to Action that leads to positive ROI for social media investments (“Tweeting a landing page doesn’t kill a puppy.”) They also correctly note that reach is underappreciated in B2B. In most B2B segments, we do need online advertising, media relations and other reach-generating tools to introduce new audiences to our content and value propositions.

That said, there are certainly creative alternatives to corporate blogs. Facebook can be used in similar fashion.  Sophisticated social hubs like Cisco’s The Network also work, though they are much more expensive to maintain. A blog is a great way to start. And of course, ideally, you’d use all these things.

I would also argue that the chapter on calculating ROI is overly simplistic, especially if your business model is built on long-term customer relationships.

Finally, it’s also important for readers to understand there are realms of social media program management that are just as important and that are beyond the scope of this book, including customer service and customer relations, employee communications, and corporate reputation management to name a few (think topics like social media crisis management or online customer communities for ideation). In practice, a marketer must collaborate effectively with these parties to thrive in this interconnected world.

But that’s not what this book is trying to cover (and in fact, Kipp hinted that perhaps B2B customer communities could be their next book). From tradeshows to Twitter to the mobile Web, Kipp and Jeffrey have given you a crisp tome on bringing real accountability to B2B marketing to generate tangible results in social media. Remember that engagement is a means to an end for a marketer, not an end in itself. This book is a very good guide.

Do Most Online Communities Fail?

This is an interesting question. Fortune magazine seems to think they are failing. But the answer is never as easy as the question.

For instance, if you build a community targeting CFOs from the Fortune 100 companies what would determine your success?

  • Would it be 100 percent participation? Probably not since we know most people watch and listen online and getting 100 percent is unrealistic.
  • Would it be an increase in sales from the companies respresented in your online community during the year? Maybe, but they may do that regardless of your online community.
  • How about if you focused on just three CFOs in the group whom you know would receive value from doing more business with you? Bringing in increased sales from two of them could potentially be linked to your efforts.

So determining what you want to get out of a community from the start may not be what you actually get out of it in the end, but that depends on what your objectives are for your community. Adjusting your strategy along the way may help you achieve the results you want, but you may also need to adjust your strategy because the results you desired have changed (You are getting results just not the ones you expected). Yes, communities are complicated, ever changing and complex.

The trading floor community in Chicago

I’ve been lucky that even before the rapid growth in social media I was part of working with a large community — the trading floors.  To get a feel for that you can read some of Jeff Carter’s posts on social media and trading and why he likes Twitter better than Facebook for building his social media trading community.

So what can you do to be successful? One key part of building a good community is letting the community run it. As PR20/20 reminds us, it’s the conversations that make good communities function.  And running a community takes a number of skills – from adaptability to empathy — as the Business 2 Community points out.  Whether you are an experienced community manager or new to it, I would definitely recommend you read Community Spark from Martin Reed.

Having the right resources in place can make a difference in a number of ways for you and your team. Here are some thoughts on what you need to build your success:

  • My suggestion to you is not to spend an overwhelming amount of time choosing what you need. You should have a list of important criteria (e.g., does it have mobile capability, what are the metrics you will receive, etc.) and focus on those. In addition, there are numerous blog posting and online reviews of platforms that can help you speed up your decision process.
  • Not only should you focus on your own content to share, which should be unique, interesting and offer helpful insight, but you should also be a resource to find and distribute third party content that your community may find useful. A good mix of content is challenging but will make you more trustworthy; it also can spark conversations around the topic of choice and should lead you to develop more of your own content. Here were some thoughts on content curation and dealing with social clutter.
  • Have a vision. It’s easy to get bogged down in what you are doing today — posting stories, answering questions, finding new members, etc, but don’t forget to keep thinking forward. Not only will you need to understand changes to social platforms, but you will also need to understand the trends and issues of your business.
  • While not something you can create or build, you will need to enlist the people who believe in what you are doing. I wrote about this concept and motivation as a driver of success earlier. For instance, we’ve found that some people really understand and enjoy LinkedIn vs using another social platform. In this case, we are cultivating the “believers” and getting them to best utilize the platform to meet their needs. Here’s some help about how we use LinkedIn: Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

Community management is not simple nor is it easy. It takes a lot of hard work, making personal sacrifices and a constant flow of ideas and conversations. In fact the worst thing a community manager can receive is silence. But if done right, a community will grow, network and provide you with valuable insights and relationships.

So what do you think? Are more communities failing? Or are we measuring them wrong? What do you think makes a community successful that I missed?

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

Content Curation: What Does it Take To Be Successful?

Social Clutter or Social Clarity?

Is Motivation the Key to Success?


Around the World in Social Media

A lot has been happening in the world of social media, and I do mean the world. As many B2B companies move into using more social and digital tools we continue to read about case studies involving the big three — LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. But what abo0ut Sina Weibo? Orkut? Hi5? Renren? Are these networks a part of your strategy? Do you know who they reach and what they do? Do you need to expand your reach by using them?

Is your digital strategy stranded at home or are you on a journey to expand your work around the world?

As our business expands and we look to reach our customers around the world I’ve been reading more about the growth of social media globally. Here’s a breakdown of some of the research I’ve found interesting and helpful:

Asia

Europe

Latin America

But if you’re pressed for time and want a global view of what is happening online, I strongly suggest you download this Slideshare presentation from InSite Consulting and their total view social media around the world in 2011 (NOTE: you will need to request a copy from them).

Is there a presentation you liked that I missed pointing out above? Is there an example of what you’ve learned from your experiences? Is there a fact that surprised you from the information you viewed from the above links? Please share them in the comments.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

World-Class social practices for B2B companies

What drives your social media strategy?

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Are you ready for these five trends?

The most important question you can ask

Using social networking sites in B2B businesses?

What Drives Your B2B Social Strategy?

A new year and another opportunity to get under the hood and check your social engine. One of the keys to success in the social B2B space is having a strategy. The team here at B2B Voices have posted often on this topic of strategy from using social networking sites in B2B to looking at what makes a  world-Class social practice for B2B companies to asking the right question.

We all agree here that if you want to succeed you need to start with a strategy. Jeremiah Owyang from Altimeter now has a must read paper titled “A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation.” The paper is a great way for the experienced and novice B2B communicator to step back and think about what you are trying to accomplish.

The social vehicle you choose should help drive your conversations and evaluation

The key takeaways for me were as follows:

Businesses struggle with strategy: On page six of the report it’s clear that companies are struggling to get handle on what they want to accomplish and how they will get there. One thing we always focus on here at B2B Voices is making sure your social media strategy aligns with your business and other communication initiatives. It should rarely be a silo. If you need help understanding what your strategy should be you can reference the graphic on page 13 of the study.

Vendors need to catch up: The rapid growth of free tools with premium tools is creating an overload of resources that in the end create more confusion. Page 10 and 11 detail the issues and in my opinion we will see an ongoing consolidation of these tools. There is a good review of many of the platforms in the report and we at B2B Voices would encourage anyone looking at tools to take your time in choosing where you spend your resources.

The one point to remember in this discussion is that strategy takes time and effort. Not only do you need to have the right tools to work with, but you need to understand your business goals as well as what drives your brand strategy. While it’s easy to “do” social it’s much more difficult to “do social well” and measure the results.

UPDATE (JANUARY 17): Apparently, Tac Anderson and I are on the same page when we think about social media. Here is his post (Can’t Find a Good Social Media Management Tool? Get a Strategy First) on the same study by Jeremiah Owyang.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read:

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Still pitching to use social media?

Are you ready for these five trends?

B2B Creativity is Not an Oxymoron

One of the myths around B2B communications is that the industry lacks creativity – or the drive to be creative. I can’t think of anything that’s farther from the truth. And while it’s true that B2B companies don’t buy the flashy Super Bowl ads or use various mascots to win over customers, we are challenged day in and day out to think differently.

Another Lego creation at home.

Just like with B2C companies, creativity can be driven by a company’s culture. We’ve always been focused as an organization on innovation, which is why we’ve been so successful at trying new things, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and mobile devices. Ben Parr over at Mashable posted last year how B2B companies will be using social media as part of their creative campaigns. And Aaron Pearson just posted here on B2B Voices a post on world-class B2B social practices that’s a must read.

But there are some rules and guidelines to follow.

  1. Your ideas should always be in line with the brand you are trying to convey. Don’t be creative just for the sake of being creative. While this can work more in the B2C space, it rarely works with B2B companies. We have fewer opportunities to sell our products and services and every opportunity counts. In addition, B2B purchases are usually long-term investments by companies and they want to trust you. Any creativity — whether its very smart and interesting or immature and insulting — will reflect back on your organization.
  2. Study the competition — and be better — don’t copy or instigate them. Your competitors can always give you new ideas and thoughts, but I’ve seen B2B companies try to take on their competition head to head in ads and direct mail. That’s hard to pull off successfully (it can be done) and I always feel it’s better to focus on your strengths than your competitors weaknesses in paid campaigns. Save your competitive arguments for non-paid mediums such as your website and the media.
  3. Always be thinking about driving sales for the organization — this means being fully integrated. We know in B2B the sales process and cycle is much longer than in most B2C decisions, so you will need to think long-term for your campaign. If you are thinking of a new creative campaign it needs to play out online, at trades shows, through direct mail and in person. “One hit wonders”, like a weekend sale, are simply not the norm for B2B campaigns.
  4. Take risks, but know your limits. Good creativity helps you to stand out, but as you think about how creative you should be and how you will use the ideas read points 1 – 3 above.

Here are some other ideas from Marketo on being creative in B2B communications. It’s worth a read if you are looking to learn more about this topic.

I’ve been lucky to work on both national and international B2B and B2C campaigns in my career and personally I’m glad I’ve gravitated into strictly B2B. The creative challenges are different. They are more demanding. They require more time to succeed. And they need more buy-in from the organization. Not to take anything away from B2C creativity, it’s still demanding, but I’ve always liked that challenges and pressure as a professional of being more creative in B2B communications.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

Finally, a comprehensive B2B social media study

World-Class social practices for B2B companies

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Using social networking sites in B2B businesses?

LinkedIn Becomes More Relevant for B2B Communicators

LinkedIn continues to be enhance its platform for B2B communicators. Last month the company announced that companies could stream news and information from its corporate page. That was a small change and a much needed addition. But a much bigger change has just happened.

When LinkedIn went public I wrote about some new things for the company to invest in and focus on, and one of those was a dashboard. Yesterday, the company announced that an analytics dashboard is now live within groups. This is a game changer for LinkedIn but also for all of us.

LinkedIn Dashboard

It’s no secret that I am a believer in the power of LinkedIn Groups. We use them extensively at our company. But the lack of data and information have made them a guessing game for marketers and human resource managers. LinkedIn says the dashboard for groups will be updated every day — something that would be expected and critical to the success of this tool.  The addition of data points about group members can help in two key ways:

  • Demographics. You can now see by title, demographics, industry and function who is in your group. For highly targeted product groups like we do, if you’re trying to reach senior managers in the Ukraine in the agriculture market you now can get a clear view. For larger groups that are more focused on a topic, the dashboard gives you an accurate display of who is interested in order to help better facilitate conversations and connections.
  • Discussions. Views on comments and discussions posted help show how active the group is and if you are facilitating conversations among the group. While this is a great view, this part of the dashboard still needs work in order to better drill down. I would like to see the dashboard to start to include information on who is most active at posting, commenting and sharing information. It would also be helpful to see which posts are most read by the group in order to focus further content.

One thing I also like is that you can see the data for any group. LinkedIn did not fence this data just for group managers. As a member of several groups on LinkedIn, I like that openness and transparency since I can now better determine which groups are worth my time and effort.

It was only a matter of time before this tool became available and there’s no doubt more changes will be coming. This initial launch was well done by LinkedIn and has already helped me get a better understanding of the groups we manage and how we can further achieve our sales and marketing goals.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

CME Group Builds Impact on LinkedIn Using Exclusive Groups

Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

What the LinkedIn IPO Could Mean for B2B Communicatons

What’s your “I” in social media?

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More