(If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I am one of the moderators of #B2Bchat – a weekly conversation for B2B marketers. This post also appears on B2Bbloggers.com web site, which serves as the content hub for #B2Bchat. For all posts on #B2Bchat, search for #b2bchat tag on B2Bbloggers, or visit http://www.b2bbloggers.com/blog/tag/b2bchat/).
Any company, including B2B, wants a strong community – to provide feedback, evangelize your brand, and stand up for you in times of crisis. But how do you build and nurture this community, where do you start with? In other words, how can B2B companies move towards being ‘social enterprises’? These were some of the questions we tackled on the last #B2Bchat.
What does it take for a B2B company to be ‘social’? What are some of the attributes?
Companies have to become more social, but whether they embrace it (yet) is subject for debate. The suggestions on starting with your customers especially resonated with me – they know your product and company best, and can provide real-world feedback, rather than a second-hand opinion. It’s also important not to equate social media with being social; presence on “social media outposts” alone does not make you a social enterprise. Ability to engage in meaningful conversations is essential:
- b2bento: Start being ‘social’ with your existing customers (Flip the funnel) and partners
- misskatiemo: Break out of speaking like a corporate robot – have actual conversations with people (offline AND online!)
- Ron_Hudson: Involve existing customers/clients in product/service improvement/development. Clients/customers want to be heard, acknowledged, and rewarded. Doing it in a public forum inspires repeat behavior.
- EngageStrat: Social B2B = Openness, willingness to be responsive, tenacity and dependability . Willing to commit the resources to stay involved
- pathwaypr: Must have a clear plan or agreement on how to approach. To be successful, need to be willing to commit to it for the long term.
- Kinaxis: You must trust your employees to speak on your behalf and educate them accordingly
- cpechayco: B2B companies have to be social to survive. Whether social media as we know it makes sense is another question.
- briansrice: Openness, commitment to participate, ability to add in personality, support, ability to integrate with other mediums
- CelsiusMI: Be a partner! A solid B2Brelationship should be beneficial for all parties involved. Also, put in the work to do GREAT things.
- joellenroberts: Listening = *most* important thing. Can’t properly respond to community if you don’t listen to wants/needs.
What does it mean to have a community? Is community important, and why?
As expected, there were no suggestions that you should ignore your community. But the participants highlighted the fact that not all customers would want to interact online, some will require personalized attention. Also, don’t equate being on social media with having a community – it goes much deeper than that.
- b2bento: SM or no SM – community is important. One evangelist of your brand is better than 100 salespeople.
- kseniacoffman: Community to me means (1) customers & (2) partners – entities that contribute to/are vested in your success
- marcseyon: Goes back to really knowing your business partners, not treating them as nameless faceless entities in a ledger
- FSSimon: B2B community offers opportunity to build brand evangelists and WOM (word of mouth). Also new business development opportunities. Critical for long term growth.
- kimgeralds: I really don’t get the point for B2B unless the company is listening. If you want to broadcast, use email.
- jeffthesensei: Why customer communities? Foster stronger long term relationships, create champions and identify share of wallet opportunities for sales
- Kinaxis: Community is about virtuous cycle of content and connecting. Community exists since dawn of time – only medium has changed.
- asuthosh: Community is critical – but only if in it for the long term. Too often, communities are abandoned by their creators. Either disheartened by lack of initial interest, “no funding”, or shifting “strategic priorities”
- joellenroberts: Some business customers have no interest in being part of a “community,” but do want personable communication beyond a sales pitch.
- misskatiemo: Are prospects part of your community? Absolutely – partners, customers, prospects, fans… they’re all part of your community.
- jeffthesensei: Prospects should be a part of it but have access to all. Customers need to feel “exclusive”. They paid to belong.
Do you have a designated community manager? How do they interface with PR, customer service, product development?
Community managers (or at least the titles) are not very common in B2B. On the chat, he had a few bona fide community managers, including misskatiemo and Kinaxis. Some insights shared on the chat into the role and responsibilities of a community manager:
- jeffthesensei: Community management should be done by the community ideally – company and customer mix. Create ground rules for all. Community is about inclusion and acceptance. If you exclude customer in managing it, you send a distinct message.
- Kinaxis: Dedicated manager is critical; they bring super users into the mix through advocacy program
- robbtrost: The community manager should be either: brand manager or marcom manager with strong social media experience
- LoisMarketing: Idea from a conversation this week: in professional services firms, the administrator may be better social media/community manager than the marketing director, with insights into personalities
- asuthosh: A community manager should almost be invisible, yet omnipresent… if that’s possible! A light touch works best. Something like a evening party host. Ensure everyone’s having fun & deriving benefit.
misskatiemo shared an interesting blog post (Community Roles & Players) on how her company set up its community engagement team, which includes close to a dozen people. Other companies are not so lucky, or have not yet defined the role with as much precision. Some tips and observations:
- kimgeralds: Resource constraints make it difficult to have a dedicated person, until someone at the top makes it a priority.
- joellenroberts: Having a dedicated community manager is one strategy. Not only one. Depends on the business objective you’re looking to fulfill.
How to move your company into ‘social’? Where to begin: forums, blogs, social outposts outposts (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook)?
- bfr3nch: It’s best to build community sites where the community already resides – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, associations, forums, etc.
- briansrice: 1st look to see if they are out there in an existing community. Then determine if you can leverage or need to build your own
- kimgeralds: Start with a community that already exists ‘face-to-face,’ say a Users Group, or via the Online Support site, Wiki’s, forums, etc.
- trainingfactor: Consider blogging; a blog allows for call to action links which enable viewers to make choice to connect
- 30lines: Integrate. Put those links in your email signature, document footers, brochures, business cards, etc.
- robbtrost: To encourage moving into ‘social’, best bet method is to provide data from like-situations or competition. Show impact examples and provide solutions
- AliciaSanera: I recommend starting with 1 tool (based on the comfort level & potential ROI) learn how to use it. Avoid the ‘intimidation factor.
- Kinaxis: For companies: Make the business case. For example, some research suggests that that customers who are community members remain customers 50% longer than those who aren’t.
We also touched upon what might incentivize customers to join a community:
- cuferg: Incentives? How about content, best practices, engagement, networking?
- AliciaSanera: Education, idea building, networking, exposure are the most common. Not so different from business communities ‘in the real world’
- stsanto: Special offers, first to know, offline gathering to create opportunity for networking
- cpechayco: I prefer incentives that add value to both businesses: white paper, consulting services, how-tos, etc.
- ExoPoirier: Guide your customers in listening first, where what and whom to listen, and let them find their comfort zone by themselves
- jeffthesensei: Another way to get people to join yours is to be part of their communities. Pay it forward!
- robbtrost: Incentive = information about the brand. Make your community feel like they have the scoop to what’s happening with the company/products.
- joellenroberts: But shouldn’t just be about the brand; should be about what insight you bring to the table. That builds repeat business. Provide actionable content they can’t get elsewhere. Don’t do gimmicky bribes and assume they’ll stay in the long run.
Some cautioned that the communities need to be managed and moderated; otherwise the community will lose value:
- Ron_Hudson: Interaction without direction can lead to a free for all promotional community. Nobody wants more clutter.
Others had more faith in self-moderating communities:
- asuthosh: Works wonders if harnessed well! RT @kimgeralds: Consider crowdsourcing opportunities in a b2b technology community of your customers
- jeffthesensei: Maturity in B2b communities is high. You can recruit and train volunteers to moderate.
- ExoPoirier: Agree but still ambitious. However, regarding B2b maturity, you bring up a good point.
What obstacles have you encountered in ‘social’ initiatives? Successes?
At this time me veered into challenges, with major themes being: companies trying to be social, while the culture does not encourage it; lack of patience and expectations for immediate results; lack of appropriate metrics to measure engagement and tie it to lead generation:
- cuferg: Concerns about sharing publicly (competitor awareness/involvement), inability to see the value.
- 30lines: Make sure the technology isn’t getting ahead of your audience. Make it as easy to participate as possible.
- pprothe: Biggest obstacles is simply making time for engagement/content development. Making “Community” a habit, integrated in your day-to-day marketing.
- AliciaSanera: Helping clients get over the formality they are used to in traditional communication. It’s hard for them to be “real.”
- trainingfactor: #1 obstacle is antisocial companies attempting to be social (whole culture must change)
- jeffthesensei: Biggest challenge is company’s focus on sales/themselves in social media. Biggest success happen when you make it about your customers, relevant to them.
- fearlesscomp: Lack of patience is good point. Too many managers expect instant leads.
- girlmeetsgeek: If companies do not have in-person, authentic networking down, that should be focus before social media. Social media leads to human connection.
Having a ‘Community’ is generally viewed as desirable, but there’s much work to be done before B2B companies can truly embrace social interactions. Company culture, marketing approaches, executive attitudes all need to change before we can be considered ‘social enterprises.’
As @support2point0, one of the chat participants, said:
That will be a good start!
Many thanks to all who participated. Join us for next week’s #B2Bchat, Thursday, August 26, at 8pm Eastern (5pm Pacific, 8am Aug 27 in Singapore). Follow @B2B_chat for updates.
For other posts on social media topics, see: