B2B Companies Embrace Social Media in 2011

In 2011, the use of social media platforms for business-to-business companies became more important in the marketing mix than it has in previous years. For many B2B companies, social media can seem to be a daunting endeavor, but with knowledge of how to enter the world of social media,  social media can bring success. In this past year, many B2B companies have started to engage in social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and have found that these sites are generating success for their companies.

“Leveraging social media for branding and awareness-building can help humanize B2B companies, establish them as thought leaders, and offer new touchpoints for connecting with customers and prospects,” said Kimberly Maul, eMarketer writer/analyst and author of the new report, “B2B Social Media: A Growing Focus for Marketers.”

Knowing which social media sites to use and which ones will bring more success for your company can be understood by knowing who you want to reach via social media. Social networking site, LinkedIn, is used more as a professional networking site for B2B companies and is seen as a way to generate more effective leads and other sites Twitter and Facebook are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are helping B2B firms reach customers in new ways. In a web survey conducted by iTracks, survey respondents often site Linked In as the top social media site for B2B marketers while putting Facebok and Twitter above as the business minded social network. According to Sagefrog Marketing Group, by the summer of 2011, 58% of US B2B marketers that were engaging in social media used LinkedIn, compared to 50% for Facebook and 43% for Twitter.

There is no doubt that social media is an effective tool for any B2B company and that the use and understanding of social networking sites will remain important for B2B companies in their marketing mix in 2012.

Source: eMarketer.com

The Social Media Platform

Social media has encompassed our world and lifestyles. Not only is social media used for personal reasons, but now businesses have put their mark on social media. Marketing via social media is a great way for businesses to get connected with a vast amount of people at the same time. It creates communication among consumers and has the potential to attract new ones. One of the main benefits of using social media is that it is free and easy to use. All you basically have to do is create a profile and let the marketing begin! Keep in mind that content is key to having a successful social media campaign. If your content is not interesting or useful, you will have no luck with social media.

Social media allows you to share, network, publish, and discuss. Although social media has these benefits for businesses, it is hard to decide which ones to use. There are so many social media outlets to choose from that it can get confusing. Let’s take a look at the most popular social media networks and what benefits they provide.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn sets the stage for networking with business professionals. It allows you to personally brand your business and market yourself to others within your industry. It is also a great outlet for providing knowledgeable content that informs and educates users. Lead generation is the most valuable outcome of using LinkedIn.

Facebook: Facebook has more than half a billion users, making it a great way to share a message and reach a large amount of people simultaneously. It opens up a communication portal and creates social interaction. Facebook works great as a promotional tool. You can promote your products, services, and events to a mass audience, giving your business the opportunity to expand. Frequent and interesting posts will help to keep users attracted to your business.

Twitter: Twitter is your outbound messaging tool. It consists of tweeting 140 characters or less messages to users. These tweets are short and concise, creating a social buzz. This buzz creates interaction with users. While you are tweeting it exposes your business and brand, and then you get to hear who is talking about you and what they are saying. Twitter is all about listening to others through feedback.

YouTube: Known as the largest video sharing community, YouTube is also a marketing and advertising tool. It gets an informative and positive message right in front of existing and/or potential customers. Creating and sharing a video on YouTube provides the opportunity to share knowledge, market products, show off expertise, and connect with users. Videos that are compelling and entertaining will catch the attention of users, also creating interaction for your business.

Why You Should Use Twitter for Your Business

Social media is defined as media for social interaction. It uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues. Businesses have been using a variety of social media techniques including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to catch the attention of people in the hope to gain customers. The goal is to intrigue potential customers and get them interested in your business. Twitter, one of the many social media tools, has become a very important mode of communication for businesses. Why use Twitter you ask? Here are the top 10 reasons why businesses should use Twitter:

1. It’s free to sign up and use. No need to spend money to subscribe or maintain.
2. It can help grow your email list. Email marketing is becoming very popular and by gaining email addresses, more contacts are being made.
3. It will expand the reach of your email campaigns.
4. Networking is possible by following people and asking them to follow you. Networking is a very important factor in growing a business. The ability to network without having to go anywhere is very convenient.
5. Can stay current on industry trends. This gives a business the ability to see what others are doing and saying.
6. Monitor what customers are saying about you. This allows to hear feedback about your business, whether positive or negative, it is still beneficial to hear input.
7. Can host a Twitter chat to engage followers. This allows to be able to talk to certain people to gain more insight and feedback.
8. Customer support related issues can be handled easily. Questions and problems can be addressed quickly and easily using Twitter. These can also reach other who may have had to same question or problem.
9. Advocates for your business can be found and heard. People who are really interested in your company are out there and can be heard if you find them or if they find you.
10. Can promote your business to new and existing customers. Promotion is a major part of marketing a business. Since Twitter has many users, promoting a business becomes a easier by having a big reach of people to promote to.

Effectiveness of B2B Social Media Marketing

Social media in a business setting has begged the question…how does this whole thing translate into sales? It’s a great yet complex question.

Now that social media has been around for a short while, marketers are beginning to understand how to use the medium to its full effectiveness. And hard selling via Facebook, Twitter, etc. is not the way to go. In fact, it’s a definite no-no to over-saturate your company’s blog, Twitter, & Facebook feed with advertisements and overt sales propositions. Using these social networks tastefully for business requires one to “know their audience”. It’s ok to inform your social networks about your company and engage in conversation- that’s the point. Show your personality.

Social media for business gets even more tricky in a B2B arena. Businesses are especially less patient with other businesses blatantly selling on social networks. B2B companies need to look at their social media strategies as branding devices rather than a virtual member of the sales team.

A recent social media marketing survey shows what B2B companies are identifying as the most effective uses of social media. The sample size was approx. 1,800 people.

Most Effective Uses of Social Media for B2B Companies

Influence brand reputation- 39%
Improve search engine rankings- 38%
Increase brand awareness- 37%
Increase website traffic- 33%
Generate leads- 17%
Improve internal communications- 17%
Increase online sales- 13%

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Keeping Pace with Social Media

The social media world is not new however, it is constantly changing. Just a few years ago, Myspace was the largest social network in the world before the older age groups began flocking to Facebook. By then, Twitter hit the scene as well and exploded in 2009 putting itself on every marketer’s radar. As an individual who’s constantly monitoring social media in a business setting, even I find it difficult to stay on top of. Bigger corporations are filling positions in their marketing department to do just that and that only. Stay on top of social media.

A recent survey by The Creative Group found that 65% of US Marketers considered it a least somewhat challenging to keep up. The other 35%? Maybe they’re lying to themselves. Marketing has always been a field with a constant learning curve and to sprinkle social media into the mix makes it all the more challenging to keep pace. Most companies with a social media strategy are relying on in-house staff to handle the management of social media especially because of the personalization that is required. Adequate training and time to keep up is the investment that a company must commit to in order to have a strong presensce in social networking circles.

So what are marketers relying on to stay current with social media? Here’s a breakdown:

Conferences or seminars- 23%
Networking events or industry association meetings- 18%
Webinars or online training- 17%
Trade publications- 15%
Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin posts- 14%
Blogs- 7%

In another survey, 72% of the companies said they have a social media strategy and the vast majority of those who didn’t will be implementing one in the next year. Here are some other social media highlights taken from that survey:

*85% say that original content is key to their social media success.
*85% are handling social media internally.
*9% have full-time positions dedicated to managing social media responsibilities.
*67% focus social media efforts on their company as a whole.
*24% focus social media on a specific brand within the company.
*43% revealed that they do not need to show positive ROI to get social media funding from their organization.

That last statistic is powerful. Because social networking for business is so new, yet such a huge market, businesses are proactively rolling the dice that there will someday be a payout.

Social Media and B2B Lead Generation

A new study by Leadforce1 shows that social media right now might not be the best way to garner leads for B2B companies. In fact, very seldom are visitors from top social sites looking at product or contact pages. This suggests that they’re not in the market for the company’s products or services rather, they’re most likely to be interested in a company’s blog or ‘About us’ page.

This ranked list reveals the site pages of interest for visitors coming from Facebook to visit B2B websites (#1 being the most visited page):

1. About Us
2. Blog
3. Management Team
4. Contact Us
5. Careers
6. Products

Another list shows the rankings of site pages of interest for Twitter users visiting B2B websites:

1. Blog
2. About Us
3. Products
4. Contact Us
5. Management Team

These lists may not seem too promising for sales however, the visitors seem to have an interest in learning about the company which is a common behavior and usually the first step in B2B relationship building.

In addition, most B2B site visitors from Facebook and Twitter are not sticking around for very long. This data reflects the percentage of visitors referred from social media sites to B2B sites who only visited a single page before leaving:

1. Facebook- 63%
2. Twitter- 63%
3. LinkedIn- 39%
4. Wikipedia- 39%

LinkedIn and Wikipedia referrals generally were more likely to browse around on a company’s website before moving on. Further, LinkedIn visitors were most interested in “Careers” pages suggesting that the network refers many job seekers.

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Ways to Use Social Media

  1. Buy Ad space on social media sites.
  2. Build a base of customer/client connections on LinkedIn. Request introductions to other potential customers/clients through these original connections to continue to expand your base.
  3. Start a company blog.  Many companies blog to keep in touch with their customers.  For example Toyota has an” Open Road Blog.”
  4. Start actively blogging on related blogs or on the blogs of interested individuals in our target market.
  5. Build an interactive Webpage as an offshoot to your main page to further explain a new product service and to generate interest.
  6. Join Facebook and create an interesting profile.
  7. Provide links to dig, reddit and RSS feeds.
  8. Connect through twitter
  9. Build a MySpace page and use it to blog and post videos.