Social media is considered a mainstream activity in 2014, which brings both risk and opportunity for B2B professionals seeking to turn social into a competitive advantage. The good news is that we tend to be comfortable using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging. When the fastest growing populations for Facebook and Twitter are with the middle-aged crowds, we can tell that these platforms are not just for kids anymore. However, the risk is that employees trying to use social media may not know how to translate social media into real-life interactions.
This may seem like a silly notion, especially for a generation of employees that are not the Millennial generation, but a generation of phone and email users. However, regardless of age, we all tend to use Facebook and Twitter pretty similarly: to catch up with our friends and to make comments about the weather and what we ate for lunch.
Oddly enough, Facebook has become its own silo of sorts, where everything goes in and nothing ever leaves. This doesn’t work well with our grown-up concerns of tracking marketing campaigns, sales leads, service concerns, and brand equity where we actually have to bring this data back to enterprise software and data storage solutions. So, how do you use social behavior to support targeted B2B behavior? It’s 2 easy steps: INFORM and Speak.
The social characteristics to INFORM are to INitiate, FOllow, Respond, and Message.
You have to start by providing focused posts, text, and media that are spot-on with the messages and services that you are trying to bring to market. If you want to talk about your personal life or your favorite rock band, move that to a different account. Keep your work-based social media focused on work. Use the right hashtags. Link to relevant articles and research. And write about what you actually do for a living. This is the foundational work for people to understand what you do. Think of your writing as the new Yellow Pages where your last five tweets or posts at any point define what you care about. Do you want to be under “Technology Services” or “TV Gossip”?
This isn’t the Field of Dreams where you “Build it and they will come.” You need to find the people that you want to interact with, whether these are professional colleagues or potential sales prospects. To make social media work, you need to find and follow relevant people. Otherwise, you will spend all day showing your relevance to the same 12 people and wonder why your social efforts are going nowhere. To rip off Glengarry Glen Ross, there is a new ABC for social: Always Build Community.
As you create the right content and follow the right people, you need to interact with them as well. Over time, you can start pulling back on your original posts and content and start reacting to your community. If somebody else says something interesting, retweet them or share their posts. If someone makes an interesting point, reply to this. Be human! Nobody likes to have a conversation with another person who never talks back.
One of the best features in social media is the ability to make a conversation more personal and private within the platform. Whether it’s Facebook messages or Twitter direct messages or LinkedIn mail or InMail, you can send direct communication to someone else without having to share your thoughts with the world. If, for example, your replies lead to a buying sign, that’s a good time to move from reply to message. That way you can go back and forth without having to share it with the world. And you can ask for a phone number or an email address so that you can send lengthier messages.
At some point, you need to move the conversation from social media to a longer form communications medium. This can be email, but phone or video conferencing are better. Pick up the phone or click your new Skype connection. Although I am a big believer in social media for sharing thought leadership, building communities, and finding new and interesting people, B2B work ultimately requires people to talk to other people. But to earn that phone call, you need to build credibility in the social world.
In some ways, this seems like a very simple sequence, yet many social users skip one or more of these steps and end up frustrated when they struggle to get value out of their social media efforts. By remembering to INFORM and speak, social media can transform from a waste of time to a powerful business enhancer.