When it comes to social media, working in B2B with subject matter experts (SMEs) might seem like a bit of a challenge. On the contrary, our view is that social media is particularly useful in B2B. Let’s find out why.
B2B and social media: a love story
Firstly, it is important to understand fully what B2B marketing is about.
Proving, not saying
Let’s put our trotters in the trough: B2B marketing is not about saying one is the best, but more about proving you or your business can deliver the goods.
B2B Marketing is about bringing together experts of a particular field, who express and share their opinions with others, and generate interest.
Lead generation will follow suit, not the other way around. I see too many B2B marketers jumping on lead generation with greedy Slick Joe McWolf’s eyes when he spots the little red riding hood.
Six key success factors in B2B social media
Let me pinpoint 6 success factors for B2B social media.
1. B2B sales are based on solution selling (as explained by Michael Bosworth). In B2B marketing, what matters the most is informing clients about problems before solving them. This consultative approach could not be mastered without the people who are au fait with the content they share (e.g. technology-related subjects). Experts who know all the details about a particular field are the only ones who are able to express their views correctly when it comes to technical or complex matters related to the business.
2. Who interacts with these experts? Mostly other experts who surf on social media (blogs in particular), seeking information and answers to their questions. The B2B purchasing process is the result of a long life cycle often linked to a contract as there are many people to convince. obtain credible answers to their questions when vendors’ marketers have delved into the problems they are experiencing, documented them and shared them accordingly. Interrupt them with your features and they will be bored. Supply answers to their questions and they will remember you.
3. B2B often attracts niche but faithful communities. Subject matter experts are often connected to one another in close-knit communities and are very passionate about their areas of expertise. Social media is an important player (especially blogs) in that field. Comments and views can be posted online and are the basis of passionate exchanges between experts.
4. Subject matter experts are key to delivering engaging content. Not everyone can do that properly and marketers often assume that engineers are rather bad at it. Yet, lots of subject Market definition in B2B and B2C - The very notion of "market" is at the heart of any marketing approach. A market can be defined... experts are client-facing, deliver public speaking engagements, and even write technical books. SMEs (be they technical or functional) are mostly passionate about what they do and marketers are well advised to give them free rein and encourage them to communicate about their knowhow. Believe me, I have met quite a few who really were top-notch communicators. They usually spur word of mouth by publishing their content on social media because of the quality of their content and knowledge. In B2B, what matters most is pith and exactitude. Not the nice, or as a matter of fact, not so nice words that some marketers believe are most important. I’ve even seen a marketer label her product page in that way: “Our network is flexible and versatile.” She should have turned to a Subject Matter Expert instead. B2B marketing requires depth and explanations, not meaningless fluff.
5. B2B marketing is based on ecosystems, and in that context, word-of-mouth marketing works wonders. Experts are keen to exchange with their peers. They all express their opinions openly and freely. Such networks and ecosystems are conducive to business and fruitful exchanges.
6. Encouraging SMEs to share their opinions. The process is the following. Firstly, identify people that are likely to speak publicly, and then encourage them. In their turn, they will encourage others around them. So, where’s the magic in all this? Tell your SMEs that they don’t need to turn into bloggers, that they will merely be experts writing in blogs. This slight nuance will be sufficient to motivate SMEs and reassure them. It has worked for us many times. At times, subject matter experts might not have the time to sit at their desks and write a blog piece. But they might be willing to be interviewed and that can also do the trick very nicely. That’s where marketers come in. You can’t be an SME yourself, unless you are one already, but you may be able to put SMEs’ thoughts in plain English and that’s invaluable.
B2B is safe from social media crises
As we have already established, brands are not equal on the Internet. B2B brands have a slight advantage over others: the general public doesn’t care about them at all.
Sure, large B2C audiences may bring you a lot of traffic. However, their content is more superficial if not controversial on social media. Social media crises do not happen in B2B environments. Barring a few exceptions.
Indeed, professionals are usually reluctant to speak evil of another professional or brand on an open social platform. This could be detrimental to them.
Consumers aren’t that picky, their reputation doesn’t matter that much and they express themselves freely and sometimes, violently.
In over 10 years of experience in social media, we only witnessed one social media crisis in B2B when one of our clients created a blog to badmouth the company I was working with.
After some serious bargaining and solving whatever outstanding issues we had with this client, the blog in question was quickly removed and all things went quiet.
To all B2B marketing specialists out there: don’t fret!
Marketing specialists should relax. Social media and blogs were built, even if most consultants won’t say so, for B2B.
Compared to other types of businesses (i.e. health, food, etc.), the risks are extremely low.
Despite the common belief that B2C content is more fun than B2B, I would like to stress that attracting attention and interest in B2B is in fact easier than one thinks.
As shown in the following Blendtec example.
Assuming that B2B is boring and B2C is fun is in fact a misconception. What appears to be less appealing to some, is actually very interesting to others and mainly those involved in a particular field of expertise.
One man’s nightmare is another man’s dream
One silent person in another man’s scheme
One man’s hatred is another man’s faith
One man’s poison is another man’s cake
One thinks he knows it
But he’s never ever tried it
Rupert Hine – Waving, not drowning
The topics discussed in B2B are less accessible, they are mostly understandable to those who possess the necessary knowledge to understand the related content and information.
Small but passionate communities
As explained earlier, B2B brings together small communities and ecosystems of subject matter experts. Passion is at the heart of these relationships, and such passions fuel social media interactions too.
Passionate discussions in B2B are useful from a strategic point of view. They help businesses express their complex statements in a language that the end client can understand in a process known as B2C2B.
The High-Tech industry is a pioneer in the use of this tactic. Regis Mckenna believed one should always think of one’s client’s clients. Not all industries resort to B2C2B strategies, despite their interest.
A virtuous circle
Last but not least, in a niche B2B ecosystem, people tend to know each other, either personally or by hearsay. This is particularly conducive to a virtuous circle between real and virtual experiences. Setting aside all the misconceptions around B2B, one can say that it is a sector of choice for social media, in which risks are low.
Now is the time for you to get to business and implement a serious B2B digital marketing strategy.