Some companies will be startled we’re even asking this question. Others will wonder what social media has got to do with business. What’s the answer?
As a company that works almost exclusively in the world of business-to-business, it’s a question that has been preying in our minds. Is there real commercial value in furiously tweeting, Facebooking and Linking In, or is this all a passing fad that we’ll remember with a wry collective smile?
The attitudes Plain Text sees vary widely. Some companies we work with run virtually no social media activity. They see no relevance for their customers. Others have a social free-for-all, with Twitter feeds and LinkedIn discussions springing up in different departments and different parts of the world. Yet others have a highly regulated approach, with social media activity rigorously controlled to keep it ‘on message’.
It’s very similar to the early days of the Web. Remember when companies questioned whether they really needed a website, or wondered whether e-commerce would ever take off? And it’s reflected in studies that show that while some companies are investing in social media, few are measuring their results and fewer still (11%) have formal policies for social media. Or this study, which suggests small businesses are aware of the potential benefits of social media but not acting on them.
Just like in the mid 1990s, though, a lot of early adopters are embracing the new technology. In fact some of our clients would be shocked we’re even asking the question that headlines this article. For them, the value of social media is beyond question.
From broadcasting to sharing
In essence, social media breaks down the walls between companies, suppliers and customers. All of a sudden – just as with networks of friends on Facebook – you can see a very great deal of what everyone else is doing and thinking. And, of course, you can share your own activity too. It’s a big shift from the ‘broadcast’ model of email and the web. A constant ‘everyone to everyone’ network of shared information now augments ‘one-to-one’ or ‘one-to-many’ communication.
B2C companies have been taking advantage of this for a while. Who’d have thought, for example, that a conservative airline brand would be mining Twitter to pinpoint and resolve customer service issues?
In B2B, there are endless applications for social media. Here’s just a selection:
Improving search engine results. The Google algorithm gets cleverer all the time and you have to work hard to get noticed. At the moment it ranks shared content higher in organic searches. So a well written and shared blog post will bring your website up the search engine listings.
Tapping opinion and sentiment. A whole ecosystem of applications – like Radian6 and Metrica – has appeared to help companies make sense of the firehose of tweets and posts – and use them for a huge range of applications from marketing and PR to customer service and product development.
Due diligence. Hiring people? Checking out prospects? Now their CVs, thoughts, opinions, etc. are there for all to see.
Innovation. Could the wheel have been invented by email? Or even by Wiki? Collaboration and serendipity drive invention. Social platforms make it easier – now you can even outsource your own.
So with even seriously technophobic customers playing with LinkedIn, peeking at Twitter and almost certainly lurking on Facebook somewhere, the audience is out there for B2B companies thinking about whether social media is likely to be worth it as a communications channel.
Social: here to stay in B2B
We will almost certainly tire of minute-by-minute Facebook updates and crazily over-prolific tweeters. But it seems unlikely that we’ll look back on today’s social media explosion with a knowing smile and go back to our email inboxes and bookmarked websites. Why? Because social media is better than what we had before. It gives businesses what they want: more insights and more opportunities.
Plain Text has teamed up with Honey Digital to help our clients make sense of social media. From an initial audit we can help you with blogging and content, social media channels and monitoring – and ensure your social media strategy fits together for both your staff and your clients. Contact us to learn more.