Businesses that want to create long-term sustainable growth will be increasingly moving towards connected company status. That is the place where being social benefits the business by providing insights, strengthening relationships with partners and customers, and building and connecting a community with common grounds and needs.
In many organizations, the listening post resides within the marketing group. As we discussed yesterday here and on Twitter, customer service should co-own the space and collaborate to develop big ears during customer conversations and interactions. In many B2B organizations, the customer support role is much expanded and works hand in hand with operations.
Why are there so few B2B social media case studies?
Because for B2B companies to succeed in becoming social and gaining benefits from doing so, it is imperative for the whole business to join in. It's not about selling more widgets, it's about making an organizations that delivers services the customer wants and needs. Product development, alongside operations - how a solution is born and how it's delivered - and what we learn in between need to be part of it.
In today's competitive environment, the best way to stay ahead is to adapt and evolve, using your experience and processes to serve customers better, more efficiently, and where it fits them like a glove.
If your audience is made of engineers who grew up building systems for the Army, your content needs to match their needs. The only way to do that is for engineers and development professionals to author and socialize it. B2B organizations also have a longer sales cycle and usually a bigger decision-making team. You'll be well served by involving their peers in your company.
Thus, in addition to knowing why, which we touched upon, your B2B content strategy starts with who.
What's the role of marketing?
As a B2B marketer you get to focus on what makes sense for your brand, the context that you should be looking to build, find, and curate for the organization. In thinking again about new media equity only two days ago, I cannot help but agree with what Ben Malbon puts forth in his post on adaptive brand marketing.
- put customer intelligence at the center - this needs to be holistic learning, not just quantitative research. That's the beauty of interaction.
- be the catalyst for change in the organization - this is where marketing understands what creates demand from community building, and what engagement results from editorial impact to have the right calls to action - internally and externally. We'll expand on this concept in another post.
- become a connected company - it's not just a difference in semantics, Malbon/Andersen call it networked, Forrester in its new report cited calls it federated. To me it's about being connected. Maybe this is a place where HR wants to join the conversation. Connected is at all levels, in different ways. We'll take a look at what that means internally in another post.
- think of brand leaders as creators, facilitators, and curators - call me biased, or maybe I just love my work so much that I see the role as expanded. Planning, integrating and building upon participation are also content. The key here will be sustaining the online presence over time. By online I mean active on whichever platform evolves.
- reframe investment time lines - I like this thought a lot. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes given the fluidity of business and the fact that not all opportunities have equal weight. If brand is the infrastructure upon which you build applications like sales and product development, then conversations around a specific solution can be investment in one stock. Think with me about agile measurement with Tim Malbon.
- learn by doing and fail fast - practical person that I am, I crack a book open and I'm already looking at how the idea tests in my work. This point will make many perfectionists bristle. Engineers will not like it one bit. That's why it's the privilege of the marketing team to experience it first hand. Personally, I think we can learn more from failure than from success.
This means that in order to develop a B2B content strategy, the marketer also becomes coach and counselor within the business.
There are plenty of reason why this won't work for a long time - hence the lack of B2B (real) social case studies. Edward Boches nails the obvious ones and I'll let the agency side make the comment for me - politics, budgets, questions about who gets credit abound, he writes. As he continues, he lists a few thoughts that make a lot of sense to me, so much so that I inserted why:
1. Bake the brand story into the product - we buy on the basis of emotional connection. Yes, even in B2B and with large budgets. We rationalize later with fact. The decision is from connection.
2. Embrace the consumer’s desire to participate and allow them to co-create - this can be very simple, listen for the second answer. If you're working on a testimonial or case history, find their story and tell it so they can share it with their teams and peers.
3. Forget about one size fits all: watch Gladwell on Ted.com re
spaghetti sauce and realize that customization and versions are the way
to go - service is all about custom attention. You're not redoing stuff, you're doing it so it wires with the person/company.
4. Understand that one of your most important products is your content that lives in the social media space - real engagement in fact often begins when you're gone, when you let it go.
5. Build more UX into everything, not just websites, but every encounter with the brand - not just Company online properties, or even sites for that matter, but every single intraction with someone or something representing your brand.
6. Understand your consumer’s relationship not only with you and your category but with media and content and let that inform how you engage - context is very important to understand when thinking about the value your deliver.
There's a role for the Conversation Agent in all this. Agencies will also need to come to the table as marketing partners when they've learned to understand the client's business. Partners and not proxies. The connected company is involved and evolved with the marketplace directly - it intends to create with it.
Are you developing a B2B content strategy? What's working and what can use a tune up? How are you going about identifying and enrolling a cross functional team?
[image by Pieter Musterd]
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