by Marc Hausman Social Media Today
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, Digg, Reddit…I love them all. Yet, their value has been overstated.
These social networks are merely another channel to address the market, in many ways comparable to traditional forms of communication such direct mail, trade shows and events.
Now consider Web 2.0 offerings like BeFunky, PixxMe, Go!animate and Apture. While they’re certainly cool, they are merely tools designed to dress up staid content.
It is encouraging that the adoption of social media in corporate environments has marched on at an accelerating pace. However, executive buy-in and budget commitment has been dampened by the curious fascination that social practitioners have with online communities and tools, rather than the strategies and applications necessary to produce a measurable ROI.
During the past four years, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has designed, executed and evaluated nearly 40 social media campaigns for the world’s largest, fastest growing and most successful technology companies. Our clients have included global brands such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, EMC, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom, NeuStar, Monster and BearingPoint, as well as emerging vendors like Merchant Link, Cimcor, ePok and govWin.
While the practice and influence of social media can be applied across the organization, our experience teaches us there are primarily three high-value viable applications of social in a B2B environment.
Social Media for Public Relations
It’s no secret there has been a sustained shift in influence from traditional sources of credibility like trade publishers, market research firms and conferences to the conversations and debate that define social networks. However, interest from and coverage by journalists and analysts still delivers much-needed awareness and third-party validation.
Plus, bloggers and social media power users now flex their influence with daily commentary, staking claim to their place in the public relations landscape.
Participation in online communities can deliver a direct channel to these high-value influencers, helping PR professionals cultivate relationships, present story ideas and participate in the news gathering process.
The practice and importance of public relations remains constant. Social now overshadows the phone and Email as the preferred means of communication.
Social Media for Corporate Positioning
Canvas corporate sites on the Web and it’s apparent that most marketing departments are getting hip to audience demand for a Facebook fan page, LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed. In fact, in some instances a company’s presence in an online community can eclipse the relevance of its own corporate Web site.
A defined strategy and appropriate benchmarks for success in areas such as market awareness and positioning are a must for an organization to experience a positive return from this corporate-driven social presence.
Equally important, corporations have begun to recognize that a lack of participation in popular online communities can be damaging. Key audiences such as customers, partners and investors may stand perplexed and, in some instances, question the viability of an organization that fails to sport a Facebook logo on its Web site.
Social Media for Sales
Referred to at Strategic as the “last mile,” the ability to appropriately tap into online communities for lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture delivers the most meaningful ROI in a B2B environment.
Consider that a social network is merely a collection of individuals who have organized around a shared theme or topic of interest. Participants in this community also self-identify, sharing with other members information about their professional responsibilities and areas of interest.
Plus, everyone in a social environment leaves a digital footprint -- who they follow, the discussions they participate in and the comments they provide. All of this intelligence informs the astute marketer about what this individual deems important.
By publishing thought leadership content that enhances the value of participation for community members, a corporation can attract a loyal and engaged following. It’s then a matter of presenting opportunities for those followers to choose to strike up a more intimate conversation.
When integrated with a socially-trained sales team, these conversations can be assessed, vetted and evaluated for their business potential.
The end result: social media becomes a driver of high-value sales activity and opportunity. The awareness, credibility and search engine optimization (SEO) resulting from participation in social networks becomes merely an unintended benefit.