Social media is great for Coke, but what about JSR Micro? One has billions of thirsty customers worldwide, the other makes customized chemicals for a small cadre of high performance chip manufacturers. How much online socializing do you need when you can shake the hand of every one of your key customers during a two-day trade show?
Statistics gathered by Social Media B2B show that B2B firms have been slower to adopt social media and online marketing, with 36 percent of executives saying they had low interest in social media, and 46 percent believing social media is irrelevant to their company. "Nobody talks business on Facebook," they say.
Aaron Strout, interactive group director at WCG, begs to differ. "It is actually easier to have one-to-one relationships with B2B customers, where you might know by name the 100 buyers who matter the most to your company," he asserts.
In his view, social media need not be a high-numbers game, but can effectively be used to enable relevant interaction between a customer and the people within the organization who have value to offer to that customer.
Business is Personal
"If you're a smart marketer, you should know each of your customers and prospects by name, follow them on Twitter (if they are there), connect on LinkedIn, and work hard to deliver value to them on a weekly basis," Strout affirms. "The bottom line, think relationship first, tools second."
As to Facebook, Strout points out that no one questions the wisdom of getting to know a customer more personally through a golf game or a few drinks after work. So why not share your personal side through social media, using the same level of discretion you exercise in other social settings?
JSR Micro Marketing Director Missy Bindseil reports this is exactly how the B2B manufacturer is currently using social media.
"We've spent years nurturing close relationships with a handful of key contacts, and as those relationships have developed into friendships there is casual interaction via social media between our representatives and our customers," she explains.
While JSR Micro is yet to establish an "official" social media presence, it is common practice at many other firms to have employees with personal/professional Twitter accounts, speaking as individuals on behalf of the organization (@RichardatDell, for example).
New Customers, New Conversations
Bindseil reports that JSR is looking closer at introducing official social media channels as the company enters new markets where its brand is less known.
"We see an opportunity to develop an online presence, both to keep current with influencers and thought leaders, and to begin contributing to the discussion," she said.
Such information sharing must be done wisely, of course. "Slideshare can be a great way to see what your competition is pitching to your customers," a B2B marketer recently boasted. (I'll leave it up to you to decide how Machiavellian to be with that technique.)
Learning and Sharing
Even if you're convinced social media isn't the right tool for your company, don't forget to consider your customer's customers. Mike Langford, senior social media strategist at Socialware, suggests B2B marketers lend a hand to help their customers do a better job with online and social media marketing.
"Give your customers high-quality content to be shared, because they likely suck at social media," he says with a smile.
Another "customer" for your social media editorial content may be specialized bloggers and online journalists covering your industry. They are equally interested in engaging with your prospects, and are often more than willing to re-post, like and retweet insights from your organization and employees.
While social media does not replace direct customer service, Chris Brogan points out in 50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business that it can bring great minds together, and give marketers of any sort daily opportunities to learn (if you look for it).