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B2B marketing and social media have a difficult relationship, as it’s tricky for businesses to strike the right tone and actually draw value from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

But unfortunately social is too big to be ignored, despite the inherent difficulties for B2B companies.

In a talk at Econsultancy’s Funnel B2B marketing conference Standard Life’s Craig Johnston looked at how social has disrupted the traditional sales funnel and which channels have proved most effective for his company’s marketing activities.

Johnston said that in the old model companies were solely focused on achieving a sale and that’s where customer interaction used to end, “retention and advocacy were by-products rather than an aim”.

The funnel has now changed so we are always trying to drive advocacy. Companies have to offer customers free stuff, such as information and advice, to add value and help encourage a purchase.

The community then feeds back through social channels to evangelise about your brand, thereby become virtual sales people. Johnston said that customer relationships are now built on a value exchange rather than a traditional push marketing method.

Businesses need to dial down push methods and dial up value. There has to be a reason for the audience to engage as customers want to know what’s in it for them?

Which channels work for Standard Life?

While Standard Life has achieved some success on Facebook and YouTube, Johnston said the company has found LinkedIn and Twitter to be the most useful social channels for B2B.

It created a Twitter account to offer support to financial advisors after receiving customer feedback that suggested its aftersales support was somewhat lacking.

The company had lots of advice on its website so decided to use Twitter to promote that content and engage with advisors.

Initially the account was used to listen to conversations and work out who were the top influencers within their target audience.

Standard Life also looked at which of its top 200 clients were on Twitter, and used its analysis as the basis for who to follow and engage with.

Over the past 18 months we’ve managed to grow our number of followers organically, engaging in conversations only where appropriate.

Johnston said that:

  • 19 out of 30 influencers the company targeted are now followers.
  • 72% of its followers are financial advisors, which is the community is wanted to be part of.
  • It has managed to reach out to and engage with previously hostile advisors.
  • Twitter has become a valuable traffic driver to the main site.

Standard Life has achieved similar success with a private LinkedIn group that targeted financial advisors based in Ireland. 

Using Salesforce it discovered that the top 100 advisors in Ireland used the social network and invited them to join the group. The draw of exclusivity helped it to achieve full take-up and word-of-mouth meant other advisors soon began to ask if they could join.

Johnston said that when Standard Life posts in the group other users are likely to share the content, but when advisors post something it's normal for up to 10 other users to comment or offer their opinion.

The group is therefore a great way for Standard Life to monitor what’s going on within its target community and tailor its own content and advice accordingly.

Additionally, the group is now the second highest referrer to its advisor site and has become a template for similar initiatives in other countries.

David Moth

Published 13 November, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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