As shown in many of the latest Econsultancy reports, a growing number of B2B companies seem to have caught up with their B2C peers and are investing in social media.

However, when we decided to create a company-wide social media strategy in the summer of 2010 there were very few examples from which to draw inspiration. 

My company Gemalto, a digital security provider listed in Paris, had begun experimenting with social media communications on a project basis and got a taste for it.

However, we realised if we wanted to do it well we needed to look at it strategically. While every company has a different internal culture, target markets and social media maturity, I’ve identified the following five steps that can be applied to creating a B2B social media strategy:

  1. Take time to create a strategy.
  2. Map your audiences’ online media habits and identify your influencers.
  3. Share social media responsibility and train internally.
  4. Focus on the right social networks for you.
  5. Plan campaigns but don’t forget to be reactive.

1. Think before you speak

Think Before you Speak by NightRStarWhile it’s a good idea to lock down your key social properties, don’t start spurting out random stuff.

Spend some time working with the right people in your company to decide what your strategy should be.

We are a 10,000 person company and, while the strategy was led by a core team in the communications department, we involved around 40 people from all of our businesses and the final strategy was validated by our VP Marketing. 

Taking time to plan helps you link social media to your business’ objectives, channelling your actions and securing company-wide support.

The strategy creation process also entailed the creation of guidelines for tone of voice and brand reputation management, which both build coherence across diverse entities and help you work out how to address negative issues and any potential crisis.

If you have the resource, I recommend working with an agency to help develop the strategy; unless you are blessed with a hatful of in-house experts who have bags of time on their hands, an external specialist viewpoint and extra pair of hands can be priceless. 

2. Know your influencers and map your audiences’ online habits

Spend some time to find out who and where your influencers are and engage with them both online and in the real world. The subject of social influence is discussed in this post by Jake Hird.

As with all good web projects this starts with a bit of SEO, creating a keyword list that reflects the real world discussions around your issues, and not necessarily what your marketers think people “should” be searching for. 

We also mapped how our customers buy our products and do their business research. This helped us to choose our social properties and identify priorities.

For example, one market we address is the mobile telco space, whose employees tend to be social media-savvy and are ready to connect, therefore they became priority targets for our strategy.

On the other hand, at the time our banking and government customers didn’t have such ready access to social networks at the office, so these sectors became a secondary target and required a different approach.

This research also helped our social media venue strategy as we saw that most of our customers and prospects were on blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn rather than in Forums or on Facebook.

3. Share the load. Train people, support them and then train again

You’ve heard it many times before but social media cannot be “owned” by one department. We’ve led the process from Corporate Communications but we’re helping to train hundreds of people around the company worldwide.

We’re giving them the skills and freedom to work autonomously within our guidelines. We’ve been surprised at, despite the hype, the fact that social media use is still at an early stage for many employees, and therefore we provide much-valued helpdesk-style support and refresher training programs on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.

A positive by-product of this is that now many employees have been impressed with how powerful many of the networks are for business research and have begun monitoring and using them daily. 

4. Be flexible but not too flexible

You need to be able to jump quickly on to the next Twitter or Google+ bandwagon when it comes along but don’t forget the strategy and the fact that by sticking to it over time will deliver better returns.

We are focusing on a blog as the hub for all of our content and using Twitter and LinkedIn to promote the content and engage with influencers, partners, customers and prospects.

As mentioned earlier, we saw that few of our B2B customers were using Facebook for work. Although we didn’t go as far as Matt Owen’s blog recommended and “Ignore Facebook” but we have a more limited presence there.

Nothing will stop you registering on a new social network to protect your brand– but you don’t need to use it as a platform for engagement unless it’s appropriate to your audiences and overall strategy.

5. Plan campaigns but don’t forget to be reactive

Having a good social media presence might be inexpensive in monetary terms, but costly in time, so therefore it is best to plan campaigns around a theme with multiple types of supporting content (posts, videos, infographics, white papers etc.).

A steady supply of planned content makes your job easier and in the medium to long term, it improves your findability and perceived expertise on specific subjects. What’s more, it gets groups of people from different teams, based in different countries working together towards the same objective.

So far we’ve done this for three of our key offers and we’ve seen good results in traffic and SEO for the related keywords.  

On the other hand you need to be speedy in reacting to the news whether it is good, bad or ugly and therefore we have designated people monitoring the airwaves for brand mentions, industry news and blog stories.

It’s important for our businesses to react quickly to stories that touch our industry, from iCloud and mobile payment to eHealthcare and fraud, and our content around topics in the news often attracts the most visitors.

Well, that’s my two centimes worth, and while I think there are things there that any B2B organisation can re-use, I’m far from being an expert and would be interested to hear your thoughts, disagreements, nuggets of wisdom and top tips.