The Five Rules of B2B Social Media Marketing


The edited transcript of a speech I gave to the PRMoment (www.prmoment.com) conference on “Social Media in B2B Communications” on 11 September 2014 in London…

So here we are again.

Another day, another social media conference.

Social media has been the favourite topic of PR, communications, and marketing conferences for at least five years now.  Occasionally as a topic it gets rivalled by other fads like “content marketing” and the up and coming “emotional marketing”, but it never goes away for very long.

In this month alone, Google tells me there are thirteen other social media conferences in London.

Then there’s the many views expressed on social media that you can find in books.  A quick glance at Amazon shows me that 237 books with “social media marketing” in the title have been published in 2014 alone thus far.

Or you could be reading one of the links put up on Twitter on “social media marketing” at a rate of one every five seconds.

Or you could be reading one of the 47 articles on social media marketing that were put online in the last hour and that Google can find for you right now.

There continues to be this feeding frenzy in our profession then for discussion of social media.

And this must reflect a real concern in our industry.  A March 2014 study from IBM noted that social media worries were a CMO’s second biggest concern – just behind mobile marketing.  66% of CMOs feel unprepared for the growth of social media, said that study.

Which is a surprise to me.  As a CMO and Marketing Director of some seven years’ standing.

Don’t get me wrong, the social media landscape is changing dramatically.  In May, KPCB reported that the amount of global digital information being created and shared from pictures to tweets has grown by nine times in five years to 2TN gigabytes.  There has been an explosive growth in photos:  500MM are uploaded and shared each day with growth accelerating by two times in one year.  Videos are ramping up fast with 100 hours of footage per minute being uploaded to YouTube (from nothing just six years ago).  Sound is emerging as a sharing medium:  SoundCloud has 11 hours of sound uploaded to it per minute.  And data sharing is emerging too – Yelp for example now has 100MM users and 39MM user-generated reviews.

Sharing of smart, user-centric technology is especially something that people want to be associated with in Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia – with the West lagging a little behind.

And people are using digital sharing to browse and review before they engage formally with a salesperson.  CEB’s research for Google tells us that the average B2B buyer is now 57% of the way through the purchase decision process before engaging a supplier sales representative.

But while the social media landscape is changing dramatically, the basic tool-kit for deploying social media in B2B has not changed at all.  The methodology for managing stakeholder complexity through social is the same now as I would have prescribed last year and the year before and the year before that.  The most fundamental marketing approaches for managing social media have not altered.

That’s why I’m surprised at the frenzy in our profession around social media.  Because the basic building blocks of what we need to do really haven’t changed.

There are five rules of B2B social media marketing that have stayed true for years now.

RULE ONE: You don’t use a radio to communicate to the deaf.

You tailor the channels you use to suit your audience, but also to suit your message and your brand.  One approach does not fit all.

Some of your stakeholders may not want any communication via social media at all.  This will be particularly true of a C-suite and Board-level audience who in many occasions don’t use social media.  One in six FTSE100 board members is aged 65 or over with an average age of 57,  according to July 2013 findings from Ortus.  In May, Robert Half UK found that the average FTSE 100 CEO is aged 53.  Social media is hardly a keen interest for the pre-millennials who sit on the Board:-  an audit from global PR firm Weber Shandwick last year found just 2 per cent of CEOs from the top 50 companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Global 500 rankings have a visible presence on Twitter, and that proportion is actually declining – it was 8% three years ago!  This group will look to others to précis them of social media conversations.  Here, canny marketers will therefore position themselves as information processors to aid clients.  In professional services,  it is not uncommon for consultants to position themselves as the trusted human interface between information and the client, literally printing out interesting pieces of thought leadership and so on for their audience.  And I gathered lots of evidence as UK Marketing Director at EY to suggest clients appreciated this.  My experience as CMO at PA Consulting Group showed me too that many in this group treated social media overall with not just suspicion but hostility.

Some of your stakeholders may want communication via a mix of online and offline channels according to the time of day.  In the social media world Facebook tends to be a first port of call in the morning, followed by LinkedIn. Pinterest and Twitter tend to be a focus more in an afternoon.  This timing is particularly important for social media channels like Twitter that use recency to prioritise content.

Many stakeholders will be on multiple sites and expect your presence on the same.  Pew research has shown that women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users,  and LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households.  Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.  And there is substantial overlap between Twitter and Instagram user bases.

Your choice of channel should also be defined by the type of content you are looking to share.  Twitter is a perfect channel to share news, infographics and video; but LinkedIn is better for sharing research and reports.

And your brand will help suggest what type of social media interventions you make too.  In Australia in January, domestic-care brand Ajax released an online tool designed to help consumers clean-up their social media feeds.  After connecting to a user’s Twitter account, the Social Wipes tool scans all followers to detect spam bots, while on Facebook it aggregates all page likes so that they can be easily unfollower.  That’s a great bit of brand fit between a cleaning brand and social media.

The key to navigate all of this complexity is a marketing plan with a contact strategy that integrates offline and online channels.  Any social media plan should be developed only in association with this integrated plan and linked into the same objectives.  That’s the key to having really measurable social media activity too by the way – link the goals of your social media to your marketing goals.  Measure the number of people that social media has driven to your website not the number of likes you’ve accumulated and you’re on the right lines.

So that’s rule one: You don’t use a radio to communicate to the deaf.  One approach does not fit all.  Stakeholder needs are multi-layered and therefore your social media strategy and your wider contact strategy should be multi-layered too.

RULE TWO: You get to the Prime Minister through SamCam.

We listen more to the opinions of our families than our friends, more to the opinions of our friends than our work colleagues, more to the opinions of our work colleagues than our suppliers, and more to our suppliers than our prospective suppliers, and overall more to people than machines.

And so to get a message to Mr Cameron that he will listen to, we are better off having an advocate in the form of one of his work colleagues like George Osborn, or better still one of his friends like Rebekah Brooks, or best of all family like Samantha Cameron rather than trying to network with him direct.

As Marketing Director of British Land, how do I get the UK HQ of a well-known TMT business to be based out of one of British Land’s buildings?

I know that the decision maker is the FD.  And I know from social media research that the FD is best buddies with the HRD.  I get the HRD to tweet about how desirable the area is.  And note that all of that is about people relationships.  I work in real estate but my social media focus is more about people networking as people than about buildings or face-less organisations doing so.  Bricks don’t tweet.

Looking to internal comms in mid-sized and corporate businesses, employees listen to other employees before they listen to the corporate centre … so have your local advocates.  At PA Consulting Group, we introduced Yammer for our internal comms and ensured that we had local advocates briefed on and supportive of different comms initiatives before we yammed them more widely.

The introduction of promoted posts on social networks doesn’t appeal to me for this reason.  Social media is more impactful where you can work at building targeted and meaningful relationships.  Instead get scale and reach by broadening the number of people who use social media on your behalf.

In all of the marketing roles I’ve had, I’ve encouraged employees to act as online brand ambassadors.  Research from VentureBeat shows that this practice is increasing:  27 per cent of employees are encouraged to use personal social media accounts for work purposes, while 17 per cent said it is a requirement.

So that’s point two: the best person to network with the Prime Minister is SamCam.  Because she will be able to relate to him better than we can every time.

RULE THREE: You don’t get anything in life for free.

Including social media.  Social media is not a cheap activity to engage in.

Pay for your analytics so that they are meaningful and you can act upon them.  Use tools to analyse what your stakeholders are saying about you and to react.  When I re-branded PA Consulting Group a couple of years ago, I started with a brilliant social media analytics tool called Sysomos which allowed me to explore how PA’s stakeholders talked about PA relative to the competition.  This wasn’t the only input to our re-brand but it played a key role.

Pay to schedule some (but not all) of your posts so that you get your content out there at the times audiences are most likely to see and engage with it – as mentioned earlier.  This is about as scalable as mass automation gets in this space though.  So don’t spend your monies on mass automation of social media.  Social media does not sit as comfortably with automation as many other marketing channels.  It’s all about the personal nature of social media interactions.

So, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – even with social media.  Pay for your measurement and some scheduling.

Which brings us to… RULE FOUR: You need to tweet, not bark.

Never forget that social media is not a broadcast medium.  You’re having a conversation.  So you need people ready to interact with your audiences.  This is about a personal one-to-one relationship with your stakeholders.   And this can be a big challenge for large organisations like EY which operate a centralized social media strategy so as to reduce costs.

RULE FIVE: You don’t learn to bake by watching Bake-Off.

You learn to bake by practising baking.  It’s the same with social media.

There is no such thing as best practice that you can pick up from a conference or a book or online – only practice.  So rather than reading the blog of some bloke – who let’s face it you’ve never heard of – sounding off about his experience,  get your own experience.  Because what is relevant to me may not be relevant to you.  I developed my approach to social media by literally taking time out from my day to try things out.   Quite a lot of time at first.  Now it’s more like an hour or two per week.  Block out time in your calendar if it helps.  But doing this is as important as any other meeting you may have in your diary.  This is the way to find out how your stakeholders use social media and how to respond.

So that’s point five: you don’t learn to bake by watching Bake-Off. You bake for yourself.

In summary then, the social media world is changing.

But the way to manage it rather than let it manage you has not changed.  You need to practice it yourself.  You need to treat this activity at an individual not a mass level.  You need to get close to your target audience.  You need to invest in the right level of automation.  And you need to interact rather than broadcast.

Best get on with it then.  Good luck!

About DaveStevensNow

Dave is an experienced global B2B Chief Marketing Officer / Marketing Director with an established reputation for delivering commercial results in start-up, mid-tier, and blue-chip businesses across professional and financial services, telecoms, and technology sectors. Dave has worked for major brands such as Telefonica O2, EY, and Barclays and held posts from Chief Marketing Officer to Director of Online, has run his own business, and managed a P&L for a major corporate. He is a graduate of Cambridge University, a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Chartered Marketer and holds a MBA with Imperial College, London. Dave is a keen cyclist and adventure traveller, is married, and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can read his blogs at www.DaveStevensNow.com.
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