There is little denying that social media has become a fundamental channel for B2B companies.  Social media now represents a prevalent source of information for decision makers and has transformed the purchasing process. This new shift in online marketing showcases all the more that information control now lies with the customer. Yet, so many companies are still struggling to use social media efficiently.

In this article, HBR’s Keith A. Quesenberry provides a comprehensive list of the most common errors companies commit online through social media, but there is one that stands above all the others: using social media like any other communication channel.

Let me put it simply: social media is not a press release engine!

Using Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to release corporate news is not social media marketing. If you post that your company has just opened a new office, you’re not marketing on social media. If you post your company will exhibit at an event or has been awarded with a prestigious prize, good for you, but it’s not a piece of information that helps a buyer in his purchase process.

So, why is social different from other media channels? Because, unlike traditional ones which rely on one-to-many broadcasting, social media allows companies to have more interaction with their customers. This is a huge opportunity for marketers, however, it does require a change in mind-set that many marketers are still struggling to make.

To capture opportunities through social media, companies need to alter their approach away from more traditional means. As someone perfectly summed up, it’s time marketers put down the megaphones and joined the conversation with their customers.

Social media marketing is all about Conversations. It’s a two-way communication channel that can be more efficient and cost-effective than your standard advertising.

social media mktg

As Kotler notes in Marketing 4.0, more and more companies continue to invest in content marketing, and release it on their social media. However, the content has been created for advertising purposes (not specific for the two-way communication of social media) and social media remains another form of broadcast media. Some marketers are simply shifting their content from advertising to social media without significantly reinventing it for the appropriate audience.

Advertising and social media contents are different with both serving to accomplish different objectives. Advertising helps brands present the information in a way that helps sell a product or service. Content marketing , on the other hand, must contain information buyers need to achieve their own personal or professional objectives.

Failing to understand this difference is the main reason why most the B2B companies struggle to efficiently use social media.

Marketers are used to having control over their marketing communication, but to embrace this transformation, they need to leave their comfort zone and their one-way communication channels (PR, advertising, etc.) for a two-way communication.

B2B marketers are not used to dealing directly with clients unlike Sales or CRM teams. Therefore, they fear negative comments or complaints that could happen in the user-generated content communities, where they have no control over the conversation. It’s improvising on the spot which is the real talent.

Some years ago, I used to work for a large mobile phone manufacture. My team and I created a company page on Facebook to promote our new smartphones. Since social media was fairly new at that time, our approach was the same to any other traditional media channel. We populated the page with great pictures of our products, videos and other compelling content that we originally created for advertising. What happened next is a good example of how to transform potential backlash into a great opportunity.

We expected hundreds of fans to simply enjoy our content. In reality, the first people to interact with our company page were techies (not our average customer) and complained  about a locked feature in the software that stopped them from modifying the operating system to their liking. This locked feature was standard in the mobile industry and we, the marketing team, had no idea why they were complaining. However, the realisation that quickly came to us was that we were completely unprepared to manage a conversation with our customers.

We wanted to communicate to our customers in a one-way direction, like we did for advertising, and quickly realised this was grossly ineffective. Plus, the potential repercussions for our brand couldn’t be ignored because although the average customer wouldn’t care about that locked feature, they might have perceived that something was wrong with our product. All they saw was people complaining on the page and nobody was being taken care of – there wasn’t anyone responding to each individual message and providing a solution or starting a dialogue.

We quickly learned our lesson and made two important changes: first, we set up a conversation management process to ensure a response for any comment or question within 24 hours. This process was the marketing team’s responsibility, but also had to involve the technical team as they were the only ones capable of responding to the more technical questions or issues. Second, we organised an online event for our more technically-minded customers so they could ask questions directly to our technical team. That was highly appreciated and mitigated their frustration for the locked feature and turned some of them into customers.

Unfortunately, after so many years, I’m still seeing the same mistake I made a while ago, and that’s a worrying sign in the closing months of 2018.

As B2B marketer, I notice this is a general problem across industries but it is emphasised in the channel. In IT B2B business, for example, most big vendors have embraced this mind-set shift required for social media marketing. But, most of their business partners (resellers) are still moving in the wrong direction. They might be active on social media, but as mentioned earlier, they mainly use it as a press release engine.

In a saturated market as IT, where companies are struggling to grow, social media represent a great opportunity to find new potential customers and generate leads. But to do so a new approach is necessary that focuses more on establishing a relationship than promoting a brand.

If you want to know more about how to leverage social media and generate leads, please read this article or contact me at marco.ottonello@expandigroup.com