You could call it a slam dunk moment.

Oreo has been the envy of many marketers since its Superbowl spontaneity led to social media stardom in February 2013. When power at the Superdome in New Orleans went out shortly after the second half began, it caused a major delay in one of the most-watched live television events of the year. To pass the time while  waiting for the game to resume, fans took to Twitter to make jokes about the situation.

Oreo was smart enough to react quickly, and tweeted out a picture of a spotlit Oreo in the dark, with the text “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was quickly retweeted millions of times and has since become a textbook case study for business to consumer social media marketing efforts.

Business-to-business marketers engaged in a social media practice may never get a Superbowl slam dunk. But that’s not to say you can’t score a few points if you’ve got a good playbook.

In a panel discussion I took part in this morning, The Case for B2B Social: Looking above the bottom line, hosted by public relations agency Edelmen as a prelude to the DX3 showcase coming up in early March in Toronto, discussion turned to why B2B marketers have been slower to turn to social media than their consumer-facing counterparts. My thought is that they may have been frustrated by a lack of initial success. Starting a Facebook Page that no one “likes” or a Twitter account that no one follows can be humbling, especially when other consumer brands are boasting  high numbers. But as the rest of the panel agreed, it’s very worthwhile for B2B marketers to spend time building a community on social media. It might not be as loud, but given that you choose the right channel and take the right tone, results will come to light.

After all, remember that all those people retweeting the Oreo ad also have jobs. They’re just as likely to want to talk about the product they use to do their jobs as they are to talk about halftime snack food – you just have to connect with them in the right context. Thinking about what channel business related conversations are happening on is the first step – would your message resonate better in a LinkedIn group designed for a certain type of professional than it would during a busy Twitter conversation about the Superbowl?

Understanding that community is also key. The message that you’re ready to deliver isn’t necessarily the message they want to hear. Spending time knowing your audience and doing research into what they are looking for will pay off in spades when you’re ready to publish some content. And it’s all about the content – don’t expect to break into a conversation and start marketing yourself right away without earning that right first by contributing value to the community.

If it’s your company executives that you have to convince social media is worth spending time on, try showing them the value in a way they understand. If you can build a conversion funnel and track the percentage of users to come from social media through to completing a goal on your site, that’s great. If you can’t do that, find one lead that you won over from a social media source. Often building a story around that person, who they are, what they do, and how they became interested in your product or service can turn on the light switch for executives and help them see that real people are using social media.

Many case studies show B2B social marketing can work

Or perhaps turn to these case studies of the success of other companies, put forward by the panel:

Jen Evans, co-founder of SqueezeCMM, pointed to American Express and its Open initiative. In 2011 it hosted “Facebook Big Break for Small Business,” a national contest designed to help transform the way small businesses use Facebook to connect and engage with customers. The big prize on offer was an all-expense paid trip to Facebook HQ for a two-day boot camp and a $20,000 cash prize. The entrants submitted a questionnaire describing how they’d use the winnings to improve their business, and the Open Facebook Page fans voted on the 10 semifinalists to decide the winner.

Steve Sharpe, the head of communications for small business at Intuit, pointed to the work of his colleagues south of the border as a good example. Its Small Business United campaign launched with a Youtube video of Intuit customers who were small business owners (real people, not actors) and hosted a contest encouraging small business owners to share their own success stories for a chance to win $300,000 in small business grants. It resulted in 1.3 million visits, and a conversion rate on par with transaction sites. Of the conversation taking place about Intuit, 90 per cent was rated as positive.

When you’re charting your brand’s social media path, don’t try to do it on your own. Social media is a platform that encourages direct individual interaction and the more people you can recruit from your company to help, the stronger you’ll be as a team. Don’t try to be the star player at the NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest. Instead, play a tight zone offence and be willing to pass the ball to score some points.

Remember, your brand is represented by your people. Your people are social.

Tools for B2B social communications

Little Bird

Evans recommended this tool to find influencers.

Keyhole

Evans also recommended this tool from a Toronto-based firm. It’s a hashtag tracking tool (or keyword or URL tracking tool) that works across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s offering a new tool to identify influencers as well.

Hootsuite

My own (and perhaps fairly obvious recommendation) but critical if you’re juggling multiple brand accounts. The free version of this software even gives you up to five accounts to manage in your dashboard, so you can easily listen in on different social channels and publish to them without getting lost in browser tabs. One of the tool’s most powerful features is the publisher, which allows you to schedule messages and connect RSS feeds to publish content to different channels (why not make sure every blog headline you put online gets tweeted out?) There’s also views, which allows you to quickly see who is engaged with your accounts, and paid-for automated reporting that can help with business priorities such as lead generation and conversion tracking.

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