Building the B2B Social Media Machine

A couple of days ago I found myself in Chicago. I went there to do my part in finally settling the age-long debate over dry-aged vs. wet-aged steaks. On Wednesday night at the Chicago Chop House, over two identical cuts of wonderfully cooked ribeye, only varying in their aging process, the jury was in.

90-day dry aged. All the way.

Since I was already in town for this ground-breaking research, I decided to stop by the Search Engine Strategies show to share what my team and I at SAP have been up to in social media. The interaction level at my session on Building the B2B Social Media Machine was fantastic, and a few people approached me after the show to thank me for the practical advice. Most impressively, I got through the entire thing without comparing the purchase funnel to dating or marriage once.

For those of you that weren’t able to join us in the windy city, below is a recap from my presentation.

Step #1: Forget about social media. Think content marketing.

It’s all about content. Social media is just one of the many platforms you have to deliver that content to people interested in hearing about what you do. Keep a mindset of helping people buy rather than helping sales people sell and you’ll be sure to always serve up content that people are interested in consuming.

I heard a great quote during the show from Jonathan Allen of Search Engine Watch. “There’s this perception that B2B stands for B2Boring and B2C is B2Cool. That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Don’t fall into the B2Boring trap. We all have a story to tell.

Think SAP is a big, boring enterprise software company? Did you know that our customers produce more than 72% of the world’s beer and 70% of the world’s chocolate? 12 million tons of cheese? 60% of the world’s toys and games?

If we can find a way to tell our story that connects with people, so can you.

Step #2: Get your objectives in order.

Social media objectives aren’t removed from your business objectives. They’re one in the same. Our business objectives are to (1) help people discover how to do what they do, even better, (2) help them explore how technology can help solve their business problems, and when the time is right, (3) help them evaluate whether our solutions are the right fit.

Our social media objectives are to (1) grow our social media audience so that we have a critical mass to communicate with, (2) deliver relevant and engaging content to position SAP as a trusted source of information for solving business challenges, and (3) listen, learn, and adapt based on community feedback.

This last one’s important. Be humble enough to admit you don’t know what you don’t know, and keep the flexibility to adjust your approach accordingly.

Step #3: Measurement. What’s ‘success’ mean to you?

If you’ve identified a single metric to gauge success, you’re probably doing it wrong. There are a number of things to look at as people move from being passive followers to active advocates who promote your story on your behalf.

Then there’s the dimension of the purchase cycle. As people move through the funnel from consideration to purchase, different metrics will become more relevant.

Map these two dimensions in a simple table and fill in the boxes with metrics that will help you measure success at each intersection. Passive followers in the consideration phase? You probably want to look at Fans, Followers, and Views. People evaluating specific solutions? Interactions with solution-level content and how quickly you’re responding to questions posted in your communities are more appropriate.

Three things to keep your sanity.

First, no one’s figured this out completely. It’s tough, particularly as you try to tie social media to specific deals or revenue. Anyone who tells you they’ve figured out the return on investment of social media for B2B is either telling an incomplete story, or simply bullsh@ting you.

Second, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Thanks, Einstein. No, really. Albert Einstein said that.

Third, there’s a social media double standard that you need to watch out for when asking for funding. Get your story in order, and prepare to educate those holding the money.

Step #4: Infrastructure. Get some help (you’re going to need it).

This is social media marketing today. If you’re like me, you’re way too busy trying to make
money to figure it all out. Find who can help.

In a large organization like mine, we have some fantastic people at the Global level that help us with best practices, tools, and guidance.

Our friends in the local teams are the subject matter experts, and provide the relevant content that’s so critical to engaging people in a meaningful way. We have a ‘social media ambassador’ program that encourages people to contribute. If you sign up, there are specific commitments you need to adhere to. In exchange, we give you access to a community of people that help you build your own brand externally. Generally, people like talking about what they know. Give them the chance.

My team sits in the middle and coordinates it all, with the help of an agency that helps us define the strategy, manage posts and responses in the community, develops some content to engage followers, listens to what the community is saying, and reports on performance.

Your ability to tap into internal or external resources might be different. But don’t try to do it yourself. There are people who can help.

Step #5. Governance. Establish the rules of the game.

Don’t be selfish. Social media belongs to everyone. But make sure the rules of the game are clear, because unless everyone understands how their specific objectives are represented in social, and see regular reporting on it, you’re going to be in for a rough ride.

My team has put together a very simple editorial calendar that gives everyone internally crystal clear visibility to what we’ll be talking about in social, week by week. We typically plan it two months out, and it’s always blessed by the managers across our region before finalizing.

Remember when I said keep your mindset focused on helping people buy rather than helping sales people sell? 90% of the content we publish in social media is pure content with no call to action like ‘register’ or ‘call us’. Only 10% is what you’d consider a more traditional “offer”, like ‘register for this webinar’ or ‘download this white paper’. As a recovering direct marketer, this kills me. But we believe it’s the right balance for this particular channel.

Whenever someone comes to us with an ad-hoc request to publish something, we pull out the calendar and the 90/10 guideline. If it fits, great. If it’s someone asking us to help push a webinar, totally unrelated to the theme of the week, well, it’s a lot easier to say no when there’s an established guideline in place. We do make exceptions for high profile content or very timely, unanticipated events that require an immediate response. But careful not to let exceptions become the rule.

And lastly, lock down your corporate-sponsored accounts. Earlier this year, there were dozens of Facebook and Twitter accounts floating around related the business unit I manage at SAP. We put together a quick matrix of audience (followers) vs. engagement (interactions), and shut down any pages that were in the red area. We monitor this on an ongoing basis, and any new official corporate pages must go through us. For employees that want to contribute from their own social media accounts, we have guidelines to help them.

Step #6 through #…: Launch, listen, learn, adapt.

This is an iterative process. Be flexible. Listen to what the community is saying. Adapt your approach.

We started the year with under 10K followers in my area, and now we’re over 70K. Two things have worked pretty consistently in attracting people to our pages. First, online or physical events generate a tremendous about of buzz. But it’s short-lived, so make sure you’re ready to catch and take advantage of that traffic. Second, a little bit of media money, especially when part of an overall, integrated campaign, can go a long way.

Tips, customer stories, and ”Did you know?”-type content tend to drive high interactions. But mostly, the highest interaction rates come from content that’s opportunistic. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for things that are timely and relevant (in the news, for instance), and be prepared to talk about it quickly.

And finally, people will use these channels for what they want, not what you intended them for. For instance, we were surprised at the amount of support-related questions, and had to quickly build a process to route and respond to them. And people will expect a response.

I’ll go into more details on some of the areas covered here in future posts. But for now, hopefully this gave you an overview of the steps we went through to build a scalable social media machine.

Folllow the conversation @Adriel_S or #marketingpfft.

1 thought on “Building the B2B Social Media Machine

  1. Great work – you share very useful information so I see the rule 90/10 described above is real. At this moment I’m doing a Pinterest campaign for B2B and testing what it impact it has on business.
    You are right that B2B shouldn’t be boring but a lot depends on the sector you are in. Some sectors might be cool just to be cool (just PR) but other sectors may use coll social campaign for business purposes.

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