17/02/2011

By Pete Hendrick, MD, Rocket Communications

The last decade or so has thrown up its fair share of the “next big” technology innovations/trends and the media publicity that has surrounded them has made most difficult to ignore. Some have warranted the attention and have achieved the predicted heady heights, take the iPod for example. Others however, such as the millennium bug or WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) have turned out to be little more than hype.

Arguably the most recent of these hyped up trends is social media. As was the case in the early days of the Web, social media has had its fair share of sceptics, adopters, exaggerators and advocates.

While this is all part of the course for a new technology trend as it goes from introduction to widespread adoption, perhaps never before have we seen a trend where so many prejudices have clouded seeing the real advantages it can offer a business. And never is this truer than in the B2B market- Business to Business market. No matter where marketers are in this lifecycle of adoption, one thing is clear: Social media is not just hype; used correctly it offers a powerful set of tools that can provide valuable customer insight and should form part of a marketer’s customer service toolkit.

Too often marketers approach social media with trepidation because of the ambiguity of the phrase itself. The term social media blocks together a whole host of tools and technologies which they feel unfamiliar with, nor see relevance in. Both these points are inaccurate. The basic old school principles of business and marketing haven’t changed; striped back social media is just another communication channel in the marketing mix. What has changed however is that social media has commanded that these basic principals have become even more critical to a business because in today’s market if someone doesn’t like you or your product, it’s not just them and a couple of their friends that know about it; the power of social media means we all know about it and fast.

For this very reason, marketers need to stop being scared of the risk of social media and instead consider what the risk of not investing may be. This will involve a shift in mindset and approach. One of the first obstacles to overcome in achieving this is dismissing social media without quantifying why it isn’t relevant. This has in the past led to poor decisions when it comes to investment. While it’s true that social media for the B2B market will not see a flood of millions customers it doesn’t mean to say it simply isn’t relevant.

Quite the reverse in fact. The B2B buying process is fundamentally changing and examining the figures makes it difficult to justify not investing. Today 9 out of 10 buyers say when they are ready to buy they will find you (demandGen Report) and 93% of B2B buyers use search to begin the buying process. Source: Marketo. If they can’t find you they can’t buy from you and worst still they may find your competitors first.

B2B marketers are also used to operating in controlled environments where there are a set of clearly defined metrics. For too many, social media takes them outside of their comfort zone into a world where success is measured by the immeasurable. In social media you are very much reliant on people discussing your brand in environments which are sometimes outside of your control. But consider this; if it wasn’t working for brands, then it surely would have fizzled out by now. People will talk about you and your brand regardless. Surely it’s better to be part of the conversation than not.

There is also a common fear that people are not properly equipped to implement a robust social media strategy. At its simplest social media is content marketing which is delivered across a new set of digital channels. That’s not to say we should dismiss it as a specialism, or the time and effort you need to invest to get it right; but at the heart of social media is creating compelling shareable content. Marketers have been doing this for years. As well as compelling content recognizing and utilising those channels which are most relevant to their organization is fundamental. Once these have been identified the explosion of social media channels has meant that business networking has never been easier and marketers have a plethora of social networking communities at their disposal that can be used to exchange services with existing and new contacts. As a final point you don’t have to do it alone either. Today’s market is overrun with companies who can help to shape your strategy and guide you on your way.

Instead of fearing social media or getting caught up in the hype there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a B2B marketer. There isn’t a company out there who wouldn’t want to be considered a thought leader or be able to utilise a network of channels that allows them to crowd source and engage their customer base. Social media allows for all of these things and much more. And what’s more the tools to unlock this potential already exist within your armory; you just need to reposition them slightly. So what are you waiting for, take the plunge and jump on the bandwagon and don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

Pete Hendrick is MD Of Rocket Communications - www.rocketcomms.net