We see a lot of gurus sharing recipes to transform social media (in particular LinkedIn) into a highly efficient B2B revenue generating machine. Some of them share good pieces of advice, I am certainly not questioning this. The real question here, for any company whose revenue model stems from complex sales, is: what should I expect from B2B social networking?
I use social media a lot, to learn about on any B2B marketing & sales trends which could help me reach my objectives, as a marketer. My main clients are sales, pre-sales and business developers, so my success as a marketer mostly depends on my ability to contribute to their objectives. I believe we will all agree on the fact that the best KPIs to evaluate this is potential revenue, opportunities, whatever we call them.
This being said, the next question is: can B2B social media marketing help me achieve my company’s goals, in terms of revenue. Probably, yes. But at what cost?
It is all about alignment between B2B sales & marketing
As explained by Sales For Life, “Social media marketing and social selling operate as parts of a single mechanism for driving revenue, but only when sales and marketing work together effectively”.
B2B social media marketing, simply put, is a branch of content marketing, consisting of delivering the right content you created at the right place, under the right format, with the right timing, to influence clients or potential clients on moving to the next business stage. Employee advocacy is the exponential lever which can transform social media marketing into a powerful communicative machine. Employee advocacy allows you to reach a much larger audience and have your message be seen by an exceptionally larger audience.
B2B social selling is a way for your sellers (most sales, pre-sales and business developers) to use social media for engaging with potential customers, with the clear objective to accelerate the revenue generation process. In comparison to social media marketing, it goes much further than employee advocacy, it is clearly online prospection. This approach certainly needs to be properly orchestrated for the following key reasons: territory management, no overlap between different salesmen targets, tone of voice, what level of aggressiveness the sellers can adopt and making sure everyone is following the rules of ethic social selling, and so on.
For a B2B company, I believe that (1) social media marketing, (2) employee advocacy and (3) social selling should be three steps to reach, one at a time, but which are completely interdependent to each other. Step 2 cannot be achieved without step 1. Though step 3 can be run in parallel of step 1 and 2, as social selling targets a population which is complementary to the one targeted social media marketing and employee advocacy. Some will disagree, but what I have already observed in the B2B industries since 2009, makes me think this way.
As a decider focused on revenue generation, you must be interested in social selling, besides the brand awareness and indirect business acceleration hidden behind B2B social media marketing. If you call a specialized company tomorrow to help you implement a strong social selling approach, if you are ready to invest a significant amount of resources, money, time and a lot of energy, yes, you will increase your revenue. That is for sure. You will also understand that this type of approach will require you to re-think, re-consider and re-build the whole way you have been communicating since the initial existence of your organization. This is heavy. I’ve contributed to such projects in the past. And most importantly, you will need the help of marketing to make it in such a way that will not damage the reputation of the company. Many companies dived into social selling too fast and are now biting their fingers about it.
B2B social media marketing + B2B employee advocacy + B2B social selling = B2B social networking
Whatever approach you want to implement in your company (pure social media marketing, pure employee advocacy, pure social selling), it will be efficient if the strategy establishment and implementation comes from the top business managers of the company, and not essentially (as is often the case) from digital marketing highly-educated stakeholders CMOs and CDOs. Every business unit director, every sales and pre-sales director (indirect and direct business) should be globally involved and locally in charge of a long-term approach, tracking the efficiency of the strategy.
I find “B2B social networking” a more comprehensive word, and generic enough to include any type of approach using social media to accelerate a business. I will be using this terminology from now on, as I don’t mean to be too specific about each of the 3 pillars I described above.
Management should incarnate the brand on social media
Highest managers should be active on social media, at least LinkedIn (regular posts and Pulse micro-blogging posts too). Sporadic posting does not work; we know this for sure. Those stakeholders are busy people. Putting some writers at their disposal is a good thing, but it is not enough. To really impact business, social media marketing should be fueled by employees incarnating the brand, or it will become not more than random push-marketing. Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, is a good example of brand incarnation. Be reinsured: we surely don’t expect you to duplicate what Richard Branson does on social media, nor to adopt the same hair-style.
The CEO of your company should post on social media on a regular basis, as well as its executives, at least. Ideally using news jacking for a stronger impact. E.g. Your CEO should share his opinion on the main challenges of sustainable innovation, two days before the COP 24 taking place in Poland. Simple but efficient.
Efficient B2B social networking requires significant investment
You need to be ready to invest significant money, time, energy and resources in B2B social networking. Of course organic (non-paying) posting on social media is “free”. Building such a strategy and educating your people accordingly is not.
The biggest poles of your investment will be:
- Pay an expert to help you build your B2B social networking strategy,
- Accordingly educate your employees to B2B social networking,
- Acquisition and set up of a cloud-based social networking monitoring tool (there are plenty of good ones).
What are the risks hidden behind B2B social networking?
As a CEO, executive, director or manager, you surely realize that B2B social networking can be risky for a company. Bad buzz can happen very fast, we all know that. Encouraging employees to advocate for the company involves a certain loss of control in terms of communication. You should accept and embrace this risk. You cannot fight it off, I strongly confirm you this. Why?
Authenticity is a precondition for B2B social networking success. You cannot impose what your employees have to post on social media, or they just won’t follow you. Pre-written tweets and LinkedIn posts do not work, for many reasons:
- By essence, employees own their social media accounts. It is their property. You can guide them, teach them good practice, but you have no legitimacy nor power to impose them on what they should post,
- The success of your B2B social networking strategy 100% relies on their willingness to use their personal account to push the content related to your company, or their good faith and judgment,
- There are still a lot of grey zones in this area. Can you fire an employee if he says bad things (or even just stupid) about the company? Of course some aspects can be mentioned in their contracts, but do not make the mistake to be too inquisitive about this, or people will just feel haunted and scared to share to wrong information.
B2B social networking: time to adjust your expectations
To conclude: it is all about what you expect as an executive for your company. Do you want this? Does your company need this? Is it the priority at the moment? Does it fit with your company’s history?
I would invite you to start small but efficient. You need to make sure you raise the average employees’ knowledge and know-how application to an impressive level. They will be grateful for this. Yes, they might be more visible to head hunters, but this should not stop you. Head hunters always find their way through, social media or not.
My answer to your questions: as a B2B company you need a proper social media marketing strategy (step 1), because it is now part of the standards. You need to seriously consider step 2 (employee advocacy). Because organic reach on social media is decreasing day after day and most potential of social media is crystallized in your own employees and partners. Once you get significant results on step 1 and 2, you have built the foundations of B2B social networking, raised the knowledge of your employees at an interesting level, step into a strong social selling strategy, get help and just go for it. To increase your pipeline of 25% per year, will not be a delusional goal, it will be a realistic goal with this configuration.
And if you need to be put in touch with reliable experts of ethic B2B social networking, just ping me on LinkedIn, Twitter or by email!
Happy new year all, enjoy the precious time with your families and friends!