One of the best lines I’ve recently stolen is that “the Internet is a gigantic copying machine,” to which I appended “with a share button.”
Needless to note is that social networking is a driving force in consumer marketing. Companies as diverse as Apple, Proctor and Gamble, and General Motors (gizmos, suds and duds) are active users of social media to create brands, promote products, and otherwise find cost effective means for memes. Collectively consumer product companies are effective in targeting buyers, generating sharable content, and getting unpaid workers (you) to spread the word B2B companies are borderline imbecilic on the process.
Granted, the similarities between your average teenaged movie buff and all stakeholders in an earthmoving equipment purchase decision are about the same as the similarities between horses and horse fish. With the exception of the single-decision-maker for a consumer product vs. group decision making for enterprises, the mechanics for social media promotions are roughly the same. Tearing down the short list of social media realities, we see some sameness and some divergence.
With any promotion, including social media, you have to know your buyers and influencers. Consumer goods companies are very good at documenting their target buyer. In slightly more complex consumer sales, say breakfast cereals, they document all the purchase influencers (kids / parents) and their promotional options (colorful, noisy television ads on Saturday morning / nutritional info). They then orchestrate social media in such ways that the themes, memes and brands are clearly communicated to each individual demographic. This gives every buyer a reason to share what they experience or learn.
B2B marketing efforts always fall short in buyer genotype segmentation, much less social media promotions from there. Each genotype needs specific social media content, and you cannot create that content without knowing your genotypes. Even sophisticated technology firms often fail to pitch products to each influencer much less make that content social (i.e., sharable).
Going where they are
One problem is that B2B marketers don’t have the same social forums for business buyers. Facebook may be a good venue for promoting a book (which by a book’s nature targets individual buyers, typically of one genotype) but is not ripe for selling a million dollar ERP system to a Fortune 500 enterprise.
Social promotions begin by going where buyer genotypes go. However, the more genotypes in the buy decision, the more numerous and varied the social media sites may be. LinkedIn may cover many bases, but likely not all. Some web sites provide for discussion groups, but lack real sharing tools. But no social media campaign can succeed unless you leverage social tools specific to one or another genotype (i.e., don’t expect a techie’s social media, like SlashDot, to sell CEOs).
With multiple genotypes in on buy decisions, you have multiple sets of content to create and maintain. If you are budget tight or plain lazy, then generating enough web and collateral content is a challenge, much less a steady stream of social media stuffing. If this is the case, it might be better to not attempt social media if you cannot keep up with the reaction to your outreach. Alternately, performing social media on your most problematic genotype alone might reduce sales cycles and improve your top-line numbers.
Making it sharable and encouraging it
Social is about sharing. If it can’t be easily and instantly shared, it is not social. Yet glance about most B2B promotions and you will discover little that is instantly sharable. Perhaps the chicken is ahead of the egg (or the other way around) – perhaps the dearth of genotype-specific or general business social networking sites makes social engineering online content wasted effort. But some B2B sites do, going beyond mere “like” links and creating content specifically for sales-focused sharing. Videos that cover genotype-specific value propositions in humorous ways tend to do well, and thanks to YouTube are instantly sharable (though the places where they can be shared are still not well aligned by genotype).…
Buyers can’t share a Caterpillar earth mover or an elaborate ERP suite. Your goal is to use what can be shared to represent your B2B products, to do so for specific genotypes that highly influence purchase decisions, and to make it sharable in the online venues that these genotypes haunt. Wait until you can hit all those marks before starting or you’ll waste time, money and the patience of a lot of non-buyers.
Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing. Guy has led marketing strategy for a variety of technology companies vending high-availability backup software, wireless middleware, enterprise software, infrastructure software, mobile applications, server virtualization, secure remote access, risk management applications, application development tools and several open source ventures. Before turning to marketing, Guy was a technologist for NASA, McDonnell Douglas, Circuit City Corporate Headquarters and other organizations.