By now, every company has grasped the importance of having a social media presence on the web. Or have they?
In discussions with potential clients and others I am actually amazed how many folks even now still have done little or nothing in the area of social media marketing. In the many cases where they have dipped their toe in the water, their activity level definitely fits into the “not enough” category.
Why do you think this is? Some business executives immediately associate “social media” solely with consumer-oriented activities on social medial sites such as Facebook & Twitter. You know the stereotypes that are popularly characterized by the mainstream media: pictures of wild high school parties, viral invitations to flash mobs, and inane updates about what people are having for breakfast. Others are maybe just paralyzed by lack of experience/knowledge of how to go about utilizing these resources–so they set up profiles and then do little else.
But there is serious business going on in the Social Media world. The fact is that Social Media marketing has definitely become not just a mainstream activity, but a critical one. No longer are at an advantage if you are heavily using social media in your marketing mix; you are falling behind if you aren’t!
Social Media is obviously very important in B2C software and hardware marketing. Because it is less well understood, I will be focusing on B2B tech marketing in this article.
A Blog is the single most important step into Social Media for a B2B tech marketer. In addition to being a great way to bring traffic directly to your site, it provides the content to use as bait for all of your other social media activities. There are almost too many benefits to list here, but let’s try a few:
- New and high quality website content which increases SEO (search engines LOVE fresh, high quality content. This assumes a self-hosted Blog–it’s critical for your Blog to be hosted on your domain to maximize SEO benefits)
- Direct traffic to your website
- Fast & Easy search engine crawling and indexing due to the large number of Blog ping services, Blog indexes and Blog search engines
- High quality backlinks from the Blog services mentioned above, as well as from happy readers who link to your Blog
- Content you can re-purpose in a number of ways such as publishing in newsletters and posting on appropriate social media and community sites
- Positions your company and key employees as “thought leaders” in your category
This is just a taste of what a Blog can do for you; the uses and benefits are limited mostly by your imagination. It’s a bit of work, no doubt, but has a high return if you dedicate reasonable resources to the effort.
After creating your Blog, this is the second most important social media activity for a Business-to-Business technology marketer. Key employees should create a complete profile (for professional development purposes, if no other reason) and a profile for the company should also be created. But that’s just where the fun starts. Here are some additional important activities to consider:
Join and Use Groups: Other than setting up a complete and effective profile for both you and your company, the most important thing you can do is join groups. You’re allowed up to 50, and if you choose the groups well they can be a very effective segment of your online marketing efforts. Become known and respected by participating in discussions. But most importantly, post links to your Blog content, press releases, newsletters, webinars, etc. If you’ve targeted the right groups, this will create a good deal of qualified traffic to your website and other online vehicles. Extreme care must be taken here to not be too “promotional”. If you are, you will be banned from a number of groups and your overall effectiveness will be greatly reduced. It’s best to keep most of your posts in the “educational” category and position your company as a thought leader.
Build your Network: This is the place where you want to go fast, but don’t hurry. The more people in your business segment you know, the easier it will be to market your product over a long period of time. The key is to take a long term perspective. You don’t build a network by being pushy or “all about you”. It’s like any other form of networking. Reach out not only to connect, but to actually assist those in your network. In the long run, you’ll have a stronger position and it will benefit your business. Also, connecting with a lot of folks and then doing nothing serves little purpose (although it will allow your profile to be found easier). The real benefit comes when you really engage and attempt to turn your virtual connections into real, offline connections.
Search for Prospects: People are listed on Linkedin that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. It’s a great place to search for both companies and high level executives that you’d like to connect with. Be very careful in your targeting efforts and try not to be too obviously sale-sy. But if you are respectful and careful, an excellent source of targeted prospects awaits you that you can contact directly (with a premium account) or connect with through your mutual contacts.
Ask and Answer Questions: This Linkedin feature provides a great, low key way to both show off and improve your knowledge. By answering questions posted by others you can demonstrate your knowledge in a forum without having to appear to be bragging. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either; there are a great many resources out there to fill in the blanks in your current knowledge base.
This is a great place to connect with like-minded people. As profiled time and again in the mass media, it’s also a great place to waste time. So unless you find that you can become a productive and efficient Twitter networker, make sure you don’t become addicted to tweeting. Some people love it, some hate it–what’s important is to leverage it optimally for your business. I personally don’t waste a lot of time on Twitter, but there are some folks who have dedicated a lot of time–to great effect for their business. Especially if you have more time than money for marketing, there’s a lot you can do to gain exposure and goodwill for your business here. At a minimum you should post your Blog content, press releases and other important external communications. You should also think about assigning members of key departments (PR, customer service, tech support) to Twitter, giving your users and potential customers an easy, informal way to interact with appropriate parts of your company. But above all, the real payback on Twitter is through real engagement. If you have the time and make the effort to engage your connections there can be a real payoff.
Yes, Youtube! Everyone loves to go to YouTube to view that video of the 6 month old baby surfing in the bathtub while smoking a cigar (Ok, I made that up, but if you do a search you might just find it on YouTube). But it’s also a great place to post short intro videos about your product or service. I’ve also maid video versions of my Blog posts which help build your “thought leadership”. You can even put up training videos to show the depth of your knowledge in a particular area, or the depth of your product or service offering. The videos are hosted on YouTube, but you link to them and feature them on your website. These videos will give you a leg up in search engine ranking as Google, et al love video content and provide it with preferential search result positions.
Yes, use Facebook as well! Facebook is certainly not a core platform for business to business marketers. But 1.2 billion users (and still growing like a radioactive weed) shouldn’t be ignored. So create a personal profile and company page and post your Blog content and other external communications pieces there. If nothing else, you’ll get some quality backlinks to help your SEO efforts with very little effort. Don’t waste too much time here, but it makes no sense to completely ignore this platform, either.
Google’s latest social media effort has been a big disappointment in my mind. They have a lot of users, but in my experience very little real activity. Reviewers early on raved about the elegance of the “Circles” feature, which makes it very easy to segregate those connected to you into logical groups, which was a real problem on Facebook. Of course, Google is aimed far past B2B social media with Google Plus, taking aim squarely at Facebook as a mass-market social media network. I think this platform still has strong potential for the B2B crowd with possible integration with tools like Google Adwords, Analytics, Apps, Docs, etc. but their efforts to date really hasn’t move the needle compared to the other major competitors. There has been a line of thought that Google really didn’t care about people actually using the platform; the conspiracy theorists say that Google just wanted a lot of people filling out profiles so that Google can use the data to serve ads better. Can’t confirm or deny this, but social networking is of enough importance that I don’t believe Google can afford to cede this area to it’s biggest competitors.
Social Bookmarking Sites
This category is of less importance, but can still provide a reasonable ROI on your invested time if you automate your efforts. The main benefit in my opinion is SEO backlinks, as the amount of direct traffic from these sites is generally modest. Examples of bookmark sites are Stumbleupon, Digg, Delicious and reddit.
There’s certainly a great deal more that can be written on this topic. This was just a quick look at what I think about the importance of social media marketing for B2B Software & Hardware companies. For example, there are new vertical social media networks popping up every day–there may be one perfectly aligned with your market. This is a varied and rapidly evolving topic–what are your opinions? Post a comment to share your views on this topic and continue the discussion.