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Big B2C firms can weather the loss of a few customers. But for B2B, every potential customer counts.

"Coca-Cola doesn't care if it loses a few customers to a rival," said Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications. "However, a company that makes engines for commercial auto fleets cares deeply about each and every customer. The nature of the relationship is different and the social media tools the company uses are different as well."

B2B Catching Up to B2C?

The unique nature of the industry is a key message for B2B marketers from Gillin, who catches up with CMSWire in the third and final part of our series on B2B social marketing challenges.

Naturally, spending by consumers exceeds spending by businesses, so the consumer market is larger by definition, Gillin told CMSWire. The term "big," he added, is open to interpretation.

customer exeperience, B2B Social Media Marketing: Blogs Top Route, Online Communities Work
"Remember that B2B companies were some of the first to adopt social media on a broad scale," Gillin said.

"Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Sun and HP were blogging back in 2005 before any consumer companies were onboard. SAP has more than two million members of its online communities, but you don't hear much about that because there's nothing flashy going on there."

Old Spice Man. Bud Bowl. America Runs on Dunkin. You're just not going to see B2B jumping into this national arena.

"If you look at the markets proportionally, however, I think social media will be every bit as important in B2B as in B2C," Gillin said. "Major B2B companies like Dell and National Instruments have overhauled their approaches to product development, support and marketing by involving customers every step along the way."

Lead Generation, Community Building

Lead generation success in B2B circles comes from listening to and participating in discussions and forums like LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn's profiles are useful for lead qualification. 

While many studies support LinkedIn as the top B2B dog, other studies have shown sites emerging ahead of LinkedIn and are worth a look.

But there's no denying B2B marketers presence on LinkedIn, whose groups have become popular gathering places for professionals in nearly every discipline.

"They are good places to go to find out what's on the minds of everyone from architects to microbiologists," Gillin said. "LinkedIn doesn't permit members to participate in discussion groups as brands, but only as individuals. Those individual conversations are tied back to the famously robust LinkedIn profiles, which permit you to discover connections in common. It's a good place for prospecting."

customer exeperience, B2B Social Media Marketing: Blogs Top Route, Online Communities Work

Source: Accenture, Making Social Media Pay, November 2011

Communities, Gillin said, are another good way to bring together professionals with similar interests around specific products or disciplines.

"Companies that have large user populations use communities primarily for support, but they're also effective for marketing products and generating repeat business," he added.

Get Invested in Social Program

Only those who actually commit to social media B2B marketing thrive.

"The most common mistake I see is that companies build presences on multiple social networks and then use them to deliver occasional marketing messages but make no effort to answer questions or interact," Gillin said. "Success with any form of social media requires sharing expertise and helping people. It's what I call 'give to get.' Companies that aren't ready to share, respond and accept feedback invariably have little success."

Blogs Rule

B2B marketers are probably finding how important blogs are if they haven't yet. Gillin cited a blog's "search stickiness and capacity to support long-form content."'

A weakness of social networks? Activity tends to dry up within a few days — whereas traffic to a blog post may be brisk for a year or more, Gillin added.

What's Next?

In the past 12 months, everyone has jumped into the social pool, Gillin said. Smaller B2B companies that have ignored social media for the past five years are now frantically trying to get educated, he added.

"Their awareness of how to use social media for practical purposes like sales and customer support," Gillin said, "is still quite limited compared to B2C companies, but I expect that will equalize overtime."

Photo in opening paragraph courtesy of cherezoff (Shutterstock).

Check out Part 1 of our series with analyst Michele Linn of the Content Marketing Institute.

Check out Part 2 of our series with Principal Carla Johnson of Type A Communications