Monthly Archives: December 2010

Scared, Shy and Misapplied – Three big problems for B2B on Twitter.

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.


What Hedge Funds can teach businesses about social media.

When I try to convince businesses decision makers to start doing ongoing social media monitoring, they nod in agreement.  They understand it makes sense to know what people are saying about their company, products and competitors. It is important.  But lots of things are important.  Budgets are limited and social media costs are high.  

 For example, a terrible made up quote for emphasis:

“Quit asking for more money.  We like the social media results.  Don’t try to up-sell us on something marginally valuable.  My C-Level executive only started asking me about this Twitter thing two months ago.  Hence, why we hired you, and you are here.”

OK, I have never heard that response, but I have heard undercurrents of it.  You understand that the managers, VPs and executives are not dumb, but they also have tons of good ideas coming at them all the time.  What is one more?

 Well I think I have finally found the key metaphor/analogy/example that will finally break through and make them realize how big social media monitoring is.  The New York Times ran a piece about how Wall Street and hedge funds are using social media content to make some of their high speed trades.  They are doing what some of the best in the social media industry have been doing this past year:  figuring out what is being said, who is saying it and whether it is meaningful.  According to this article, some traders have found profitability by monitoring online sentiments.  That is powerful.  Powerful enough for me to tweet about it (thanks to @infoarbitrage for tweeting the link), but yes, so powerful I had to write beyond those 140 characters about it.

Hedge funds have figured out how to use social media monitoring to make money, so what?  Bare with me through one paragraph of background on hedge funds for context.

No matter how far you are up the corporate ladder in business, if you are interested in how money operates, you are interested in hedge funds.  Their secretive nature, exclusivity and the ability to make large amounts of money has made them into an idol of the business world.  Most business people don’t think about them frequently, but when they do, they often look at them with awe.  Taking massive amounts of money and the best minds, ideas and tools to make even more money.  In that last several years hedge fund have taken a hit due to high-profile Ponzi schemes and an economy that often seems on the brink, but they still have a lot of cache.  Try talking to a mid-level stock broker and you will see many of these emotions when discussing hedge funds.

So now take all that excitement and tell the business decision maker this:

Hedge funds have figured out that social media monitoring provides real time metrics that are actionable in the toughest proving grounds: securities and derivative markets.  We can create a similar solution and add tremendous value to your company by providing better information to make decisions.

Too wordy for even the corporate world?  Not really, but how about this:

Hedge funds have figured out that there is gold in that social media content.

Ok, for real:

Hedge Funds have figured out that monitoring social media is important.  So important they can use this information to make significant profits in a highly competitive market.  Would you like to take those same cutting edge ideas and use them to benefit your company?

Here are a couple follow-ups that pinpoint some benefits to the individual decision maker:

  • Do you want to be the go-to person in the company when they are trying to figure out who their customers are or what they want or yes, even how much they are willing to pay?
  • Do you want to be able to immediately provide data that is actionable with almost any project?

I don’t see how they say no.  Some will because they go with what they know until they have to change.  And some will say, “Get out of my office, your tone is not appropriate for the corporate environment.” ;).  But those who do say yes are setting themselves and their company up for opportunities that can truly boggle the mind.

But is monitoring at this level possible?  The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is that sentiment analysis is still very early in its development.  I have had success doing monitoring of one large company that has thousands of mentions a day.  Using automated sentiment analysis and combining spot checking by hand has led to a valuable database of opinions and actionable executive reports. Three products I have found helpful and are a good place to start your research are Sentiment Metrics, Vocus, and ECairn.

So what is the take away?

  • If you are in marketing, get familiar with monitoring, because it is going to be in high demand for the next five years and beyond.  Being part of the conversation is important, but knowing what is said is going to become an equal part of the equation.  If you are already involved in social media, make sure your focus includes monitoring.
  • If you are in PR, get out ahead on this.  You likely already provide “Share of Voice” insight, make sure you combining that with monitoring across all channels including social media.  The future is looking clearer and clearer, get out in front on this.
  • If you are a small business owner, get familiar with many of the free monitoring tools. Google Alerts, Mention Notifier, Twitter searches, and basic @ mentions can be combined to provide you with a good overall view.  You might not be willing to pay for sentiment analysis, but your monitoring is less expansive and can be done using automated alerts through social media tools.  Monitoring doesn’t have to be all about numbers and keywords.  If you read what people are saying about your company, you can use your multi-hat roll as a business owner to figure out how to use that information to improve your business.
  • If you are decision maker in a larger organization, drive the conversation in your PR and marketing departments towards an exploration of social media monitoring.  If you are looking for quicker action bring in a consultant to provide a path to a solution or hire an agency that has a proven record of monitoring and can show you the whole process before implementation.

I am sure by the tone of this post, you can tell I am excited about social media and monitoring.  If monitoring isn’t the theme for social media in 2011, it certainly will be in 2012.  Lets go do some listening.