How to get board support for social media and the relevance to B2B companies

05 May 2011

I’ve had my head fixed in front of my PC the last few evenings learning by webinar more about social media from the US. I wanted to share some key learnings this week based on working with some clients and as a participant in the Social Media Success Summit 2011 (#SMSS11) run by Michael Stelzner in the US.
One of the key issues in social media is how best to structure the social media dashboard to ensure that the right people in the business have the right metrics to make the key decisions to move the business forward. In some cases the old adage “less is more” is very relevant and there is a danger of turning off the board by drowning them in statistics relating to the percentage of comments, active users, engagement rates and response rates. Boards already have key metrics that they use to run the business and they thrive on their profit and loss statements.
So the key challenge for the marketing and customer service teams (typically the initial owners of the social media initiatives before they migrate company wide) is how to present the right metrics to the board. The presentation by Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter last night nicely summed up that the Board and the Executive team are going to want very different metrics than those of the Community Managers and are more concerned with revenues, reputation and looking at reduced costs.
Just as we need to tailor our messages to the needs of each social media channel user, we need to tailor our metrics to our key audiences. This is why board education is also very important in ensuring that you move the whole organisation to embrace “social” like Dell or Zappos. This becomes a daunting prospect for Board members if they have not used the social media platforms themselves. Showing them how your customers are using social media is a good place to start and board education is a key component of making social media work for your organisation.
In the UK alone there are over 30 million Facebook users which makes the UK the third  biggest community on Facebook after the US[1] and there are already 250 million active mobile users who are twice as active as those using a PC. Can anyone guess the second biggest country? (answer below[2])
The use of video to illustrate to the board how many people are already accessing social networks in your market and how often is also key for getting Board buy in to invest in social media and you will find many helpful videos already on YouTube. You can also demonstrate how video and social networks can be used to reduce recruitment costs using for example Linkedin job boards.  
Many companies that have embraced social media and the web have experienced up to a 15% annual decline in call centre costs as their responses are so much more transparent and as their biggest advocates in their online communities start to help other fans. The key is to nurture and recognise these advocates who help other fans or followers.
Many companies think that social media is not relevant for B2B (Business to Business) companies and my argument is that it is just as relevant. Mari Smith[3] nicely responded to questions on this point that the tipping point of 500-1000 followers on B2B networks like Linkedin can be just as relevant as on other social networks. In addition the process of identifying the influencers for your market is just as relevant for B2B companies, except they may be in different networks to those operating in the Business to Consumer (B2C) space.
If you are a B2B company, think about how you can connect with your suppliers, resellers and distributors and how social media could help them to share what works and how to improve your products or services. I was reviewing some very static FAQs on a manufacturing website this week and saw a lost opportunity. They could be on Facebook or Linkedin using Slideshare shared with their customers, reseller and distributor comments with video demos of how their products or service work. As we learnt from Steve Garfield if you are worried about production costs and compromising quality you can put user videos and lower cost videos on your blog or I would add your Linkedin company site. It then provides a different kind of user experience, without damaging your brand image. However we must remember that many prospective customers will be going to review sites and Linkedin industry groups for advice BEFORE they go to your website so you need to be in both places.  
The key step is to start listening and learning what your customers will value and what they are already saying about you. Remember that if you click them off to a social media site you need to be sure you give them a valuable experience which leads them along that famous customer bonding staircase from awareness to advocacy. As the average Facebook fan has around 130 friends, that makes everyone’s job that much more efficient. Ensure that all your communications including emails make it easy for them to share on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and other social networks as they appear. Not all fans are created equal and the key is to motivate the magic 5-10% active fans that will deliver 80% of the future value. They will be the helpers and the influencers and you need engagement strategies for each type.
Keeping your board happier, and better informed about the pathway to real return on investment is key at this early stage in the evolution of social media.
If you are a B2B company what’s worked or not worked for you in social?

[2] 2nd biggest country on Facebook – Indonesia with 36million users.
[3] Mari Smith co-author of the book Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day.
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