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"Navigating Social Media"

Christina Wilcox, Director

From Facebook and Foursquare to YouTube and Yelp!, the number of existing social media options seems to be expanding exponentially.  While social media can be an effective component in a comprehensive public relations plan, if not utilized properly, it can also be an unnecessary drain on valuable time and resources.  How do B-to-B companies choose which social media outlets to use, and then how do they use them? 

As social media evolves, it is important to stay abreast of current technologies while also remaining focused to ensure that marketing efforts reach targeted audiences.  Key specifiers are spending more time online, and social media is fast becoming a key tool to generate and maintain relationships that drive business.  However, certain social media outlets are more effective than others in engaging these audiences.  Two areas that have seen recent growth in B-to-B use are blogs and social media sites.

The Blogosphere

Short for web log, a blog is website or part of a website that is composed of regular entries or updates – arranged in reverse chronological order – including news and commentary.  So how is this different from conventional online media?  Blogs are interactive – meaning they allow the reader to comment and participate in a less formal online discussion, typically taking place in real-time.

Blogs have recently made considerable gains in credibility and influence.  Bloggers have become trusted news sources in their own right – reflected in the readerships of more popular blogs.  So what changed?  The common perception appears to be that blogs are more open and honest than traditional news outlets, with no hidden agenda, allowing the reader to participate in an ongoing real-time discussion.  In addition, blogs are thought to have fewer corporate “layers” between the company and external audiences, increasing the impression of integrity and candor.

B-to-B companies can utilize blogs in a number of ways.  For example, in issues/crisis management, a company can utilize blogs to monitor any ongoing discussion and effectively “take the pulse” of a broad audience (from fringe to more moderate groups) to help determine appropriate response.   A potentially daunting task, there are services and software available that collect and analyze social media chatter.

With similar reach to some mainstream online media outlets, select industry blogs  can also be included as part of a company’s regular distribution of news, increasing the range of external business communications.   

Finally, some B-to-B companies choose to create their own blogs, either as part of their corporate website, or as stand-alone sites. This can be an effective relationship management tool, allowing for direct, cost-effective, and more personal contact point with existing and potential customers.  However, keep in mind that blogs need to be constantly maintained, monitored, and updated in order to be taken seriously.

Social Media Sites

Social media sites are fast becoming a popular way to network, and share business content and news with targeted audiences.  However, it is important to maintain a presence on the right sites in order to be effective. For example, while MySpace reaches approximately 95 million users, this might not include the typical B-to-B audience.  Some of the more commonly used social media sites for B-to-B communications are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

Facebook

While Facebook boasts more than 500 million monthly visitors, for B-to-B purposes, the audience is much smaller than that.  Because participants opt-in, B-to-B companies are able to reach out to users who are actively seeking specific information.  This can be as effective as networking in a room full of qualified leads.

Like most online forums, a Facebook page can allow a B-to-B company to post news, photos, and other company information.  More than a static repository for news, however, users can participate in ongoing discussion with the company and with eachother, reacting to shared news and making new business connections. 

Twitter

As more people – including existing and potential customers – begin to use social media tools, Twitter has emerged as an effective relationship-builder and lead-generator.  Twitter can allow you to “listen” to discussions that industry players having, providing key insight and maybe even an opportunity to establish contact.  Twitter is also a good way to share compelling content with individuals and industry-based communities, eliciting feedback.  At short bursts of 140 characters or less, Twitter should be used in conjunction with other outlets.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn, an online professional network, can be a powerful networking tool, as well as an information-sharing site, helping to establish business connections with potential customers or partners through existing contacts.  LinkedIn (including LinkedIn Companies and LinkedIn Groups) can be used to gather useful insight on key prospects, in many cases providing executive bios with valuable background information.     

LinkedIn Companies can be used to promote a company and its offerings, highlighting key areas of expertise with personnel bios and new hire announcements.  It can also call attention to company blog posts and disseminate product or other company news.  Further expanding its reach, this information appears in online searches using search engines, such as Google.

LinkedIn Groups lets you to join special interest groups, providing unique access to industry-specific networks of potential customers and partners.  For example, the LinkedIn Group, “Green & Sustainability Innovators” is made up of over 13,000 professionals involved in developing sustainable green products and services.  While these might not all be solid leads, it is certainly an informed start.   

As technology spreads into all areas of our lives, and select social media tools have made their way across the divide from social to business use, companies that understand which tools to use and how best to use them will differentiate themselves.

Social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can serve a unique purpose, allowing B-to-B companies to listen in on, interact with, and provide content to target audiences – existing and potential customers.  Select blogs and social media sites can provide a surprisingly personal connection, strengthening relationships, generating qualified leads, and ultimately driving business.

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