Many 2011 social media predictions include the emergence of Business to Business (B2B). Some predictions have gone beyond just B2B to focus on corporate B2B social media. I agree this is a huge growth area, but there are several significant barriers that may push the realization of this prediction to 2012 or beyond.
Social media’s most powerful use is the ability to converse. I don’t see many conversations happening on corporate or even mid-sized business Twitter accounts, and that spells big issues with making B2B a growth area.
Three problem areas to consider:
- Fear that brands are too valuable to link them to a social media account.
- Conversations aren’t happening (pretty much the death of any value to social media).
- Any connections made, aren’t between decision makers.
These are three considerable barriers to corporate and mid-size B2B growth, so let’s consider each issue.
They are scared.
When a company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (or in many cases millions depending on scale) building up a brand, they don’t want any missteps. They don’t want the wrong wording used. They don’t want the wrong affiliation made. All of those things can happen in social media. Just like in real life, mistakes are made in conversations. Something as small as calling another company a partner instead of a strategic alliance is worthy of a week of back-and-forth with legal. To boil it down: there are too many perceived risk to their company speaking. To get over this fear . . .
They don’t converse.
If a corporate brand is brave enough to speak, they likely are just Tweeting about something they have already posted or got approved via another venue. They might link to a new white paper or blog post, but they don’t comment on or post something that is unique to Twitter.
It is just another channel to push content that the corporation would be creating otherwise. Treating social media as just another channel to promote your own products and services can be valuable, but with a pure push mentality, these accounts are only achieving 10-20% of what makes social media effective.
If you are lucky enough to get some conversation going . . .
The people running the accounts aren’t decision makers.
Many B2B Twitter accounts are now run by marketing, PR and media relations people. If you put all those people in a room for a discussion, what is going to happen? The first thing is that they are going to tell you about their company and its product. But they are telling other marketers and PR people, not decision makers. The second thing is that any connections that are made are largely going to be between marketing and PR departments. How do those connections help your brand? They don’t.
I love marketers, PR people and those in media relations; after all, I wear all of those same hats at times. But if I want to converse with them, I follow their personal and agency accounts. Putting someone in charge of your Twitter account who doesn’t have deep subject matter or product knowledge and/or the ability to interact with other people on the subject matter, is a disservice to the brand. These individuals and agencies do their best, but they aren’t tasked or empowered to interact on behalf of the brand.
If your organization is looking for a quick solution it makes intuitive sense to rely on already existing departments or use an agency. But what makes sense in terms of dollars and effort spent, doesn’t always prove to be the right solution long term.
Meaningful connections happen when decision makers converse. If the majority of account holders are in departments that are only about company promotion, then meaningful conversations don’t happen. This will likely be the largest barrier to rapid use and success with B2B social media.
My perspective is not entirely negative.
Each of these barriers also point to huge opportunities.
Many corporate B2B brands have social media accounts. Some are dormant, some just push press releases, and others have started to try to interact, but the first mover advantage is open for those who are actually willing to converse. If you start now on a real engagement approach, your company will stand out. If you are the first to engage and converse, you will set yourself apart from competitors and establish real value with your social media efforts. Your company’s account will become the center of your industry’s network, and what you promote and discuss (including your own content) will set the tone for industry discussions. That tone will not only lead to a powerful social media channel, but will also help establish the agenda for what print and other traditional media choose to write about.
The barrier to entry is significant. It goes beyond just having a PR or marketing person on your account. It requires real commitment from your decisions makers (at least one or two) to get active in social media and understand its advantages. You need subject matter specialists who also can act on connections that are made.
If you aren’t ready to put your whole brand on the line, consider encouraging select decision makers, who are good conversationalists, to start Twitter accounts. Provide adequate training and basic guidelines. This takes the voice away from a company focus, but allows for connections to be made. As a company becomes more comfortable with what they see, have the corporate account re-tweet some of the more interesting tweets from these individuals. To take even more pressure off the brand . . .
Let (almost) everyone speak.
IBM has famously allowed almost everyone in their organization to have Twitter accounts and blogs that have an affiliation with the company. It naturally follows that every individual is not the brand, but is part of the process. The more individuals in your company that are using social media, the more interactions occur and less pressure is put on small mistakes or affiliations. The future is bringing the power of an entire organization to social media. It doesn’t have to be every person, but it has to start somewhere. Setting up the right people and practices early in a company’s social media progression will allow for meaningful engagement, quick successes and lay the ground work for powerful integration of social media into the organization.
One of my biggest fears for B2B in the coming year is that because everyone says social media is important, money will be thrown at it. Looking at budgets, it is clear that money is being put behind social media efforts. Accounts will be created, but conversation won’t happen. The value of social media won’t be seen and that will lead to some backlash. I have no doubt that at all levels, including corporate, social media is going to be important. If you have some input into the process, make your voice heard now, or expect many setbacks before meaningful B2B social media happens.
Do you have examples of industries or companies were B2B conversations are happening? Or do you have comments on B2B or effective conversation in general? I would love to hear about them.