Essential social media advice for B2B companies

Sometimes it seems business-to-consumer companies get all the attention. Not this time. Here’s one for the business-to-business communicators.

In my column last week, I addressed some of the characteristics that make those brands with several million Facebook fans so successful. Though my piece focused on business-to-consumer interaction, several commenters astutely pointed out a dearth of business-to-business best practices in social media.

My work now deals mainly with B2C clients, but I’ve had plenty of experience working with B2B companies, and I’ve seen their challenges in trying to be consistent and relevant in the social space.

Here are four things the B2B world can learn from B2C social media best practices:

1. Devise a clear strategy before you dive in (and update yours if you’re already in the water).

It’s not enough for a business to just “be there” when it comes to social media, and that applies to consumer brands and B2B companies. There have to be good reasons for you to engage in the media you’re using.

Ask yourself these questions, and perhaps even poll your customers or members to get clear answers:

  • Is my intended audience already on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn? This question will become especially relevant when you’re deciding which social media channels your company should use. Chances are your customer base is using LinkedIn, so that should be a no-brainer. It gets a little trickier with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. It’s even trickier to determine whether your customer base will want to find you in emerging social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram.
  • How is my audience using different social media channels? This takes the previous question a step further. Your customer base may be using Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends and family, but are they also using it for networking or professional reasons? If your customers are on Facebook, but most are not using it to connect with companies for business purposes, that social media avenue may not be a priority. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be there; it’s only to say that you should prioritize the spaces your customers are using for professional reasons.
  • What are my benchmarks for success in social media? We establish our benchmarks by taking a look first at how like-minded organizations are succeeding in social media. If we’re trailblazing, our goals will be less number-based and more anecdotally focused. We’ll want to listen first and make adjustments as we go. Eventually, our benchmark may be that our Facebook page is the first point of contact for the majority of our consumers—whether they’re inquiring about products or reaching out for customer-service purposes.
  • Do we have the ability to effectively measure our success in the social space? If you don’t have the metrics to tell you how you’re performing against the benchmarks you’ve set for success, it will be difficult to justify increased spending on social media. You should measure more than just “likes” and “follows” month over month; you should be measuring engagement.
  • What are the potential negatives to using social media? If your company is a magnet for controversy and backlash because of the industry you’re in or some other reason (maybe your CEO made a fool of himself on “Undercover Boss”) then you will want to seriously weigh the implications of playing in the social space. You can potentially set yourself up to become a sounding board for the disgruntled. Keep in mind that by adding a social media channel to the mix, you’re adding a layer of complexity to your crisis-response plan.

2. Don’t sound so corporate.

It’s easy to tell social media managers to develop a distinctive voice in social media, but it’s tough to make it happen—especially when you’re writing for B2B. Inherently, these companies are less likely to have an overarching voice to rely on.

If you’re managing the social media presence for, say, Frosted Flakes, you have a built-in voice: Everything’s “grrrrrreat!” There are also layers of legal approval that you have to maneuver before a post goes up, so it’s likely that any semblance of voice could be lost in that process.

Don’t let it discourage you. If your company doesn’t have an agreed-upon voice, make it your own. Be conversational, but most of all be brief.

I’ve seen so many B2B organizations that feel every post needs to be a paragraph long. In my experience working with B2C brands, I consistently see that the more concise posts consistently garner higher engagement rates.

It sounds basic, but always respond to anyone who posts on your wall. We make this a point with our B2C brands, and B2Bs should be doing the same—even if it’s just to say “thanks for posting.”

3. Posting often to Facebook doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job.

Take a look at the frequency with which B2B companies generally post on their Facebook page, and check that against the number of “likes”/comments/shares they receive. Chances are, the companies that post most often are seeing the lowest engagement.

With my B2C brands, we find that whenever we post more than once a day, there’s a noticeable spike in hides and “unlikes.” If you’re posting two or three times per day to Facebook, you’re doing your company a disservice by chasing away your audience.

At least one B2C company that I’ve worked with had 20,000 Facebook fans but rarely saw a “like” or a comment on anything they posted. The company was posting three posts per day, six days a week. If I’m one of their members and the primary reason I use Facebook is for personal use, the last thing I want is for my feed to be bombarded with posts from a vendor/client. I’m definitely going to unsubscribe from that feed.

Twitter is a different story. I’ve had success posting consistently to Twitter for B2B companies—especially when they’re producing relevant content. Twitter is a great space for B2B companies to establish themselves as industry thought leaders. But don’t just point to your own content. As with B2C brands, that starts to sound promotional and inauthentic after a while.

4. Vary your content

I wrote in a previous post about how we plan and create content. This can also be a valuable approach for B2B social media managers. B2B companies with a strong social media presence vary their content between blog posts, external articles, employee spotlights, open-ended questions, and the occasional promotion.

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