This post is a follow up to our earlier post titled Frequently Asked Questions about B2B Social Media. It is based on one of our most successful webinars to date, titled Social Media for Business Marketers – the real ways B2B marketers can use social media to drive success. It featured Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman, co-authors of the new B2B social media marketing book, Social Marketing to the Business Customer.
Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to get to all of the questions in the webinar itself. In this second in a series of posts, Paul addresses some more of your top questions about B2B social media marketing.
Q. In the past Facebook was personal and LinkedIn was professional. The line is blurring with the new Facebook app called BranchOut, which is a career networking tool. Can you speak to this?
BranchOut is a third-party application that runs on Facebook. Facebook’s ability to accommodate these kinds of extensions is one of its great strengths, but Facebook does not itself provide BranchOut’s networking and job referral service.
Facebook would certainly like to take advantage of some of LinkedIn’s success, particularly since LinkedIn is able to command premium rates for its advertising because of its professional demographic. However, it isn’t bad to be Facebook either, and I expect the company will be careful not to sacrifice its core franchise in order to appeal to a much narrower audience.
I believe Facebook will have a difficult time succeeding as both a personal and professional social network. The two audiences are seeking very different things and Facebook can’t hope to be all things to all people. Just as Microsoft has struggled to make Windows a successful platform on any device other than the personal computer, I believe Facebook will find that its model works best in the niche it has created for itself. And again, that is not a bad place to be at all.
Q. How important do you think email marketing campaigns are to building your company database?
They are of modest value for building a database but of enormous value in maintaining one. Email is a form of permission based communication, and many people, particularly over the age of 35, live in their e-mail inboxes. Once you have their permission to place a message in that hallowed space, you have a great tool for maintaining a relationship.
However, email is not particularly effective for customer acquisition, since anti-spam regulations make it difficult to send messages to people who haven’t specifically agreed to receive them.
One of the key steps to building a prospect database is to obtain an email address because that gives you permission to continue the discussion. Email marketing is a great vehicle for customer retention and simply reminding people that you exist. It is an essential part of any good social media campaign.
Q. Do these B2B Social Media practices hold true for a company with distribution channels?
It depends upon how many channels there are and how important those channels are to customer communications. In some cases, the producer controls the message to customers and the channel partners are primarily distribution conduits. Coca-Cola is an example of that. In that case, the value of social media as a way to reach distribution partners may be minimal. Chances are, however, that there are great opportunities to use social media to reach customers directly.
In other cases, the distribution channels have much more influence over the brands they distribute or may even rebrand those products as its own. For example, Dell Computer has significant influence over the way customers perceive the components it uses in its computers. In that scenario, communications between supplier and channel partner need to be of the highest quality. Social media is one way to achieve that, although by no means the only way.
For a company with a very small number of distribution channels, social media may have only limited value because much of the contact is facilitated through conventional channels like face-to-face and the telephone. Remember that social media is never an answer; it is only a tool.
Q. What would be a couple of examples of B2B membership sites that small and medium sized firms can emulate?
I’ll give you two that I really like. The Ridgid Forum is a community for plumbers, electricians and other contracting professionals. It is a simple, discussion-group metaphor that has a very rich database of problems and solutions that have been collected over nearly a decade. The database is searchable, so anyone with a septic or HVAC problem can potentially find an answer there. The real value comes, however, when you become a member, create your profile and start forming professional connections with other members. Contractors like to work with others whom they trust, of course, and this is one way they can generate new business. Ridgid, which makes tools for contractors, benefits both from branding it enjoys as host of the community and its role as matchmaker.
In the high-tech realm, I like TopCoder. This Connecticut-based software developer has built a community of nearly 300,000 professional programmers who compete for prestige and cash prizes in a series of ongoing contests that the vendor sponsors. Competitors get visibility that leads to business opportunities, while TopCoder gets access to their innovations for use in its professional engagements. It’s essentially crowdsourcing solutions to its toughest programming problems. Talk about a win-win arrangement!
Q. A friend of mine just joined a group “Social Media for Law Firms.” Is it becoming more common for industry-specific social media sites to appeal to defined audiences?
While I’m not familiar with the group you mention, I think you can expect that the market will specialize as it matures. This is common for any technology or practice that moves out of early adoption into mainstream acceptance. Special interest communities are already forming around social media on LinkedIn, and I’m sure you can expect to see that trend play out elsewhere as well.
Q. Do you think Social Media pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is advantageous for B2B? For example Facebook offers micro-targeting for PPC ad delivery, based on user profiles (not sure if Linkedin offers this).
LinkedIn recently began offering a pay per click model that targets members with very specific professional profiles and interests. The costs are higher, but the audience is better qualified and the amount of waste on the sales and can be considerably lower.
In our B2B social media book, we tell of the experience of the IEEE, a professional association for engineers. The organization tested a PPC campaign on several online platforms and found that the results from LinkedIn were significantly higher than those achieved elsewhere. “The conversion rate was very, very high [on LinkedIn] compared to other areas,” said Danielle Leitch, Executive Vice President of Client Strategy at Peter Nasca Associates, which coordinated the campaign. “The quality of the lead was also orders of magnitude better.”
PPC campaigns perform best when the audience is highly targeted. After all, that’s what search marketing is all about. When you can target your campaigns to people with specific job titles and industries, you should expect better response and higher conversion rates than when you target a general population. Of course, your cost per click will be higher as well, but it shouldn’t cost much to test different venues.