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washerRecently I’ve been looking a lot more closely at the B2B field, and I’ve noticed that a lot of businesses in the sector are still at the ‘testing the waters’ stage as far as social media goes.

This isn’t true across the board of course, there’s plenty of large B2Bs doing some wonderful stuff, but it struck me that there wasn’t a lot of beginner-level knowledge out there for B2B’s starting out in social media. 

The reason I’ve avoided writing about the topic for a while is that most of this has probably been covered in articles we’ve published previously, but it’s always handy to have a quick glance at the principles of what we do and why we do it, and every week more people decide to take the plunge, so hopefully this will help them out as well. 

Everything you always wanted to know about social media and actually probably already did

I’ve also noticed that the dreaded social media gurus are beginning to hove back into view, usually offering the same pat advice. “Engage your audience with relevant content” is my pet hate.

It seems pretty astounding to me that this kind of advice has an audience, but then, when you’re just starting out, you’ll generally read anything and everything. It takes a while before the snake oil filters get up to speed. 

In addition, there's still plenty of people who are scared of making a mistake, or who blunder in with an old fashioned sales mentality; there are definitely a few companies out there still creating fake profiles on Facebook and mass “Liking” their own posts.

It sounds ridiculous but it’s true, and without an experienced social media manager in place, these businesses will continue to make these mistakes. 

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll use a very simple metaphor to explain pretty much everything you really need to know about social media marketing. 

Let’s say you own a small business. One that sells, for the sake of argument, tap washers. 

You need to sell them to make a living (I know, this is pretty deep stuff, but bear with me). 

You have a phone and a limited budget. What do you do? 

Do you: 

  1. Look in the phonebook for people who might want to buy tap washers: Hardware stores and local plumbers would be a good start. Call them up and try to get them to buy your washers? 
  2. Call up your existing customers and ask if they need help, advice or possibly want to buy a few spare washers? 
  3. Answer incoming calls to deal with inquiries, problems and possible partnership and retail opportunities? 

I’m guessing you do all three. As word of mouth gets around about your washers, you might have to answer more incoming calls, maybe even take on some extra staff and get a dedicated number for them, right? 

Right.  

Any questions? 

Of course there are: 

1: “Hey, but how do I track all that stuff?” 

At the most basic level, put some custom URLs in your tweets, Facebook updates, Pins, Check-ins or whatever. Now it all shows up nice and clearly in your analytics (Not being one to let a good metaphor go to waste, you can also do this with phone calls).

Use custom bit.ly’s to get more info on CTRs and share rates. 

Same goes for feedback. Run some searches. We have plenty of posts right here that can help you with these.  

If you have multiple products or brand names you might need to invest in something that can keep track of all of them at once, and once again, you’ll need to hire enough people to keep an eye on things and respond in a timely manner. It’s honestly not that difficult. 

2:“What about influencers?”

In our imaginary washer company’s case, it’s probably hardware store owners. They buy from the wholesaler, they recommend to customers.

Who are yours? Popular fashionistas? Celebs? The president of the washer fancier’s union? They’re out there, and it doesn’t take too much thought to decide who they are (assuming you have more than a vague clue about your business) and track down a few hundred of them online.

Hey, you might even have more than one group of people.  So give them some love. Give them some discounts. Easy. 

3: Why am I chasing “Likes” and “Follows” when I want sales

Because then you’ll have more opportunities to sell to those people.

A Facebook “Like” is a billboard that pops up in front of your target customer again and again and again. If it’s interesting, they might even look at it more than once (and yes, that’s a big hint about the importance of regular, relevant content. Make sure you have plenty)

4: “What about screwing up? I’m worried about making a big mistake.”

Here’s a simple questionnaire: 

  • Do you answer the phone to customers, without knowing who they are, and say “P**s off, I’m busy”, before slamming the phone down? 
  • Do you ignore the phone entirely? 
  • Do you talk crap about people behind their back (or to their face)? 
  • Do you tell racist, homophobic, sexist or other offensive jokes in public? 
  • Are you, to coin a phrase, an asshole? 

If not, welcome aboard. If you are, stop it. If nothing else, you'll have more friends. 

Problem solved. 

Not everyone will agree with everything you say, so make sure you have a valid reason to say it. Have the courage and dignity to rise above the cheap laugh, and to actually care about what you are doing, and about your customers. Do unto others etc. 

Something outside of your control gone wrong? Well, it happens, just make sure you let people know. People are usually pretty understanding as long as they have a bit of information.

My train was late earlier, but there was an announcement – something on the line – so it’s all fine, I didn’t burn the station down or anything. 

Oh and hey, if it’s going well, feel free to stick an ad or two in ‘Washer Buyer’s Monthly’, it can’t hurt after all, but it’s not the answer to everything. 

Congratulations, you’ve just figured out everything you actually, really, really need to know about social media. The rest will come with practice and a little thought (and love). 

Of course, there’s also a mass of products out there to help, and as data gets more complicated you can use it in more interesting ways.

You can learn more about your customers and cater to what they want more effectively (Blue washers are suddenly all the rage? OK, better stock some then), and you can invest in all sorts of flashy ads and apps to help spread the word.

Just remember, when you call someone, or when they call you, be nice to them and be interested in helping them out:

  • How can you save them time?
  • What’s going on in their life that your product has given them more time to do? 

Writing this down I’m fully aware of how trite it sounds, but it’s true. There’s no massive secret to success, or to failure for that matter.

There’s just using a bit of common sense and putting in a bit of effort, Use basic business and marketing principles and have a bit of fun with it. The key to doing social media right is to focus on relationships, concentrate more on the ‘social’ part of the name.

In the past, small-time travelling salesmen that did well knew their customers, their names, their hobbies, their wants and needs. Now, so do you.

Yes it’s sales focused, but it’s not in your face. Think of it as recommending something to a few million close personal friends. 

Matt Owen

Published 7 March, 2012 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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Comments (12)

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Katy Howell

Katy Howell, Director at immediate future

Awesome 'say it how it is post' Matt. Found myself yelling yes at every paragraph (even the ones with rude words).

The time for dipping your toe in the water has past, the opportunity is here now. Research and proof cases show again and again that conversations in social media can generate sales.

But as you said that doesn't mean you can just leap from social media to the sale. the 'conversation' bit is essential. You need to think a combination of thought leadership, awarness, nurturing and lead harvesting to make it work. Lead nurturing will support your sales generation and the result is impressive. We see it happen every day when social media pays for itself!

Kate

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Thanks Katy, I think overall it's just a case of being straightforward and getting on with it (and ignoring all the wishy-washy advice out there ;)

over 4 years ago

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Stuart Witts

Hear! Hear! :)

over 4 years ago

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Sheena Rajan

Hmm, this was an interesting article. So are you suggesting B2B businesses use cold-calling as a model for their Social Media strategy? I just can't see that as effective. Especially with B2B clients. Usually these folks are very busy and don't have time to waste. So cold calling becomes an annoyance and could hurt your brand.

Besides, the behavior is different on sites like Twitter and Facebook. People are there to get news from brands and friends. A request from a company (and even a Friend) is usually off-putting.

All that said, I think being assertive on Social Media could work - I would just be very careful with it. And realize that you may hurt your brand in doing so.

over 4 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

Many B2Bs aren't used to the transparency that comes with social media. They are worried that they are handing over control to others. While this is partially true, it's not necessarily a bad thing. An open dialogue with consumers can actually be a huge benefit.

over 4 years ago

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Rhys

I loved number 4. It is what I wish I could say to people all the time!

over 4 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Hi Sheena. I'm not suggesting that at all, but you're right to point that out as it may be a case of my metaphors being slightly fuzzy.

I'm suggesting that businesses need to actively seek out those who require their services. It's easy to run searches online for people asking questions, looking for advice and recommendations.

Rather than the cold call, it's a case of locating these people and letting them know that you have a solution that suits their needs.

Whether they decide to act on that information should always be their decision and you shouldn't pressure the potential buyer. By being transparent and offering solid advice you'll gain people's respect and they'll be more likely to purchase. It's a long tail approach and requires a light touch, which can be anathema to B2Bs used to elevator pitches, but if it's relevant advice, it will be appreciated.

At Econsultancy we look actively for people asking questions about subjects we cover and answer these questions,. Our model is to answer the question entirely, but include a link to a relevant report or article as an 'if you want more detail' add-on. We try to solve a pre-existing problem, rather than foist our content on people who aren't interested, and it works fairly well for us, with solid conversions from some of the forums we've been active in. It could possibly be considered 'cold calling' in some senses, but it's timely and relevant.

You're also right about the different behaviour on various platforms. Finding your audience and understanding your community is a big part of the battle.

I agree that requests are off-putting, but if you ask a question and a brand happens to answer usefully, then it's.. well... useful.

over 4 years ago

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Sheena Rajan

@Matt - Now that's a strategy that I could see being effective for the brand AND consumer! Thanks for clarifying!

over 4 years ago

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Suzanne Lewthwaite

Matt that's really useful! Will be following you on twitter and retweeting this link
thanks!

over 4 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Excellent post. You're right: social media is mostly common sense. But it's a foreign landscape for many B2B brands.

We always suggest our clients start by listening. Monitor social activity around their key topics before diving in.

It doesn't take long to get a feel for the way B2B conversations work in a social media context.

over 4 years ago

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Ian Ralph, Director at Creston GroupEnterprise

Great post.

It's amazing how quickly companies forget to focus on the basics of what they should do - i.e. keeping their customers happy - and get lost in the detail of what they can do. B2B social media is a perfect example.

Check out my blog post on this very topic, albeit from a research point-of-view:

http://www.thebreakoutroom.co.uk/?p=394

over 4 years ago

Paul McGarrity

Paul McGarrity, Director at Octave Digital

Great post Matt - some very interesting points.

I've found that many new start businesses and even well-established B2Bs have a sales phobia (or 'sales avoidance'). They invest in and use elements of marketing (and social media marketing) but then don't follow up with core sales activity- upselling to clients and cold-calling. Perhaps this is because marketing is more comfortable than selling. This can be a fatal mistake for B2Bs.

over 4 years ago

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