Many marketers have already explored setting up their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to reach and connect with consumers. However, marketers targeting business professionals are finding it tougher to engage with business customers in the networks that people use primarily to connect with their friends and family.
To help, marketers are turning to professional social networks. Whether it’s a horizontal social business platform, like LinkedIn, or a vertical social network focused on a specific industry, marketers are recognizing the power of marketing and engaging with customers on these popular professional platforms. Examples of social business networks include: Element14 for electrical engineers, Practice Fusion for doctors, Wave Accounting for small businesses and my company, Spiceworks, for IT professionals.
To understand how to best market to business people in these emerging social networks, it’s important to understand why they’re there. Here are the key reasons professionals participate in industry-based social networks:
1. They’re efficient. As good as LinkedIn groups are for getting questions answered, navigating many of them can involve picking your way through spam messages and marketing come-ons. Most professional communities are pretty good about controlling this kind of thing. Some, like Sermo (physicians) and PoliceOne (law enforcement), require people to submit their professional credentials to gain membership.
2. Referrals. Many B2B professionals, particularly in technical disciplines, work in highly specialized fields where new developments are hard to track and like-minded peers difficult to find. Professional communities are the fastest way to seek out others just like them and tap into the information they’re sharing.
3. Trusted advice. Professionals like to seek advice from others in the industry on items of importance. They’re more likely to find their peers in professional communities than on search engines or consumer review sites
The professionals active on these social business networks are there to do their jobs, and therefore expect different levels of interaction from the brands that participate. In fact, the top reason that business buyers connect with brands on social networks is to gather information vs. the main reason consumers engage with brands on social networks is to obtain discounts and deals.
With this in mind, marketers are testing new types of campaigns to see what works best with professionals. These options can range from simple display advertising campaigns to launching more expansive brand or company pages within social networks to provide the detailed information, people, purchasing and service options necessary to serve more complex needs of the business buyer.
Here are some popular social marketing and commerce options currently available to marketers seeking to reach professionals on social networks:
- Targeted advertising – Presenting your ad based on the known needs, preferences or firmographics of the user.
- Surveys/polls – Contacting aggregates of business professionals in a community or group to garner input on their likes and needs.
- Brand or company pages – Hubs in a social network designed to represent your brand with multi-faceted options for communicating, showcasing products and servicing customers.
- Community experts – Enables the people representing your brand, including product and customer service experts, to create a face in a community to engage directly with professionals in the respective social networks.
- Social alerts – Let you know the posts and discussions taking place around your product or brand. Provides ways for you to participate in the social conversation.
- Contests – These can work well, provided they are carefully crafted for a target group of professionals.
- Deals and offers – Can deliver the discounts that matter to the business audience. What works best for professionals are not general blast offers, but the offers tailored to meet a customer’s specific need.
- Social commerce – Important to integrating a “request info” or “buy” action for your product or service within the social workflow of the business community.
Many of these social media campaign options represent new territory. However, early results are already showing promise for many marketers. Our recent research on the Spiceworks network found that followers of your brand are three times more likely to click on your ads or read your marketing promotions and up to 2.5 times more likely to purchase products from you. The potential for valuable returns makes social media a top priority for marketers seeking to reach the business professional.
Adam Weinroth is the executive director of vendor marketing for Spiceworks (Twitter @Spiceworks), the fastest-growing social network for IT that is now used by more than 30 percent of the world’s small business IT professionals and is transforming how $350 billion worth of technology products and services are managed, marketed and sold annually. Previously, Adam served as vice president of strategic marketing at Demand Media, a leading content and social media company with one of the Internet’s largest audiences.