By Ashley Connell, Spiceworks

It’s no secret that social media plays a critical role in the ever-evolving marketing mix. Not only does it grab the attention of potential customers, but social media gives consumers an infinite platform for discussing — and sometimes criticising — the brands they love one minute and not-so-much-love the next. Marketers now realise that being part of this social conversation is ‘a must’ for building relationships with customers and ensuring the voice of the brand is heard and understood.

Using social media to reach customers has often been seen as strictly for B2C companies. However, B2B organisations looking to talk, connect and collaborate with their customers are also reaping the benefits of social networks. While broader, horizontal networks are widely discussed and used, a new breed of vertical networks have emerged to give B2B brands an opportunity to get even closer to their customers and prospects.

Cue Vertical Networks
Social media in the B2B arena is very different from how it’s utilised in the consumer world. While consumers tend to use social media to keep up with friends, family and acquaintances, business professionals can use social platforms to gauge sentiment, pool knowledge, ask for feedback, or, in the case of marketers, directly reach prospective buyers. When done correctly, social networks allow professionals to be more effective and efficient at their jobs and, in turn, drive their business forward.
Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn will remain attractive places for marketers to reach potential customers, but vertical, profession-based networks have emerged to give entire industries a meeting place to share best practices, review products and services, and connect buyers and sellers. Unlike most social experiences, which have become transactional and tend to mix personal and professional lives, vertical networks offer a place to ‘talk shop’ with industry peers during the course of a working day. Whether it’s troubleshooting a problem, seeking advice about a product or service, sharing new industry trends or venting about the stresses of a workday, users rely on and trust other members to assist them as they’re doing their jobs. This brings industry-specific expertise and camaraderie directly to their fingertips.

Brands are also drawn to these networks due to the members’ conscious decision to join and engage, which makes them an invaluable tool for reaching the right audience all in one place. Targeted marketing campaigns, which can be challenging to run on horizontal social media sites, are easier to manage within focused, vertical networks. As an added bonus, companies can tailor their brand messaging to one specific audience without fear of alienating another. As these networks grow, so does the collective expertise of all involved, which in turn makes them more valuable to their members, boosts engagement and makes the network more attractive to marketers.

Springing into social
Vertical networks are flourishing across a range of industries. For example, Spiceworks, a vertical network founded in 2006 to connect IT professional and technology brands, now boasts over 2.5 million members and 2,300 technology companies. Additional examples of profession-based networks include Element 14 for engineers, Wave for finance professionals, Practice Fusion in healthcare, and Edmodo in education.

These networks are becoming the online meeting place for both professionals and those looking to reach them. As industries go social and new networks emerge, marketers can look to these networks as a new, more defined way to engage and influence their target audience.