By adaptive - August 21st, 2012

Can social media make the same impact in the B2B world as it has in the B2C sector? [T]here’s no denying social media is now a powerful force in the B2C world, but does social media work in th...

Can social media make the same impact in the B2B world as it has in the B2C sector?

There’s no denying social media is now a powerful force in the B2C world, but does social media work in the B2B space? Why would you want to create a customer service channel on Twitter or Facebook when you probably already give customers a dedicated account handler?

Peter Petrella, Creative Director, GyroPeter Petrella, Creative Director, at Gyro specialist in B2B social media communications believes one of the key reasons to take up social media in the B2B channel is that businesses only really see one part of their customers, but by engaging in social media they get a new and better insight into how they’re perceived.

“If you look at a business like Apple they make an active choice not to engage in social media. They let everyone else talk about them but they don’t engage in that channel. They have a great reputation. However, they do take a lot of flack on social media. Also their customer service tends to be quite remote and hands off unless you walk into a store.”

Guy Stephens, Social media consultant, at Cap Gemini agrees. “In my mind there’s no distinction between social media for B2C and B2B. They are still people with issues, they just happen to use social media to resolve those issues. Even if you don’t open a channel you are going to get comments on social media. People can say and do what they want. They can go onto Twitter and ask questions and say anything about you. I think for companies it’s not ‘should we be doing it?’ but ‘when can we do it?’”

CaterpillarHeavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar use social media to support their dealerships and sees social media as central to their business. Kevin Espinosa, Social Media Marketing Manager, at Caterpillar Customer Services Support explains. “We built our social media strategy on four pillars: social listening, promotion, thought leadership and customer support.

“However anytime - regardless if you’re B2B or B2C - you open up a social channel you automatically get enquiries and questions, so the customer support part of the pillar comes by default.” It’s also a channel you shouldn’t ignore warns Espinosa, “Social media is the new public telephone, but it’s not a one-to-one conversation anymore it’s one-to-many. So it can be very damaging if you let that phone ring and not pick it up to answer those enquiries.”

B2B strategies

Once you’ve made the commitment to social media the first choice you have is which channel do you use? LinkedIn would appear to be the most B2B friendly social media channel but it may not be the right place for your audience.

Petrella’s advice is to look first and see where your users are, and what they’re saying before you decide on a channel, “LinkedIn gives you a very narrow focus and actually it’s a bit of a beauty parade. Businesses need to identify the places where the chatter is happening. We work with HP and they have lots of their business around large-format professional printing with a very dedicated customer-base that are very vocal but you tend not to see them on Twitter. What they use is forums.“

Cap Gemini take the notion of social media one step further than many businesses and also allow their employees to actively use social media, however this can give rise to some problems as Stephens acknowledges: “At a corporate level there are certain channels that we officially recognise on Twitter and LinkedIn, and as an employee I can – within the bounds of our social media policy – do what I want in terms of Twitter and blogs as do any number of people. And I do get asked questions about Cap Gemini and either somebody on the official accounts will step in or I will answer it.”

Talking sense

For many businesses there’s a notion that they need to talk in a different way because they’re talking to businesses rather than consumers, and this should also be reflected in their social media approach. Petrella however argues that businesses should think differently when it comes to social media. “At the end of the day, whether or not you’re a consumer or someone who engages with a business you are dealing with people. The B2B bit is the red herring the thing that people should focus on is people and you forget that at your peril.”

Stephens also thinks it’s dangerous to follow other businesses just because they’re been successful on a certain social media channel. “In the B2B space you have companies like Screwfix who are doing interesting stuff with communities and are reaching out via Twitter, and businesses will try to bench mark against Screwfix, or Amazon or BT. However, social media is so specific and so individual to a company it doesn’t necessarily make sense to do this. It really is about understanding how you do business and how you engage with your customers and how they engage with you.”

A danger faced by all entrants into social media is, not understanding the immediacy of the channel, as Espinosa explains: “We make sure that we answer social media questions just as fast as we answer the phone. If it’s a quick question like ‘who is my local dealer?’ then it’s answered right away. If it’s more of a big issue, like customer satisfaction, or if it’s something that’s quite technical then they will acknowledge that they’re working on it, so the public can see that Caterpillar has answered that telephone, but what they will do is take it off-line, resolve the problem and come back online and post the resolution.”

However, Stephens warns that becoming to obsessed with the speed of reply can cause problems. “You have to be careful that you don’t get into the trap that says I can see everything in real-time so I must resolve everything in real-time. Companies have got unstuck by that. What I think is important is if there’s and issue and a company has seen some tweets what you have to do is acknowledge that tweet as quickly as possible.”

Customer support

While this may seem like a lot of work, the information that the channel provides can be invaluable particularly to a big worldwide business like Caterpillar. “When you aggregate data from your social media customer support and social listening you start to see the themes and where you are missing opportunities with your customers, and we use that data to drive our customer support strategy and our content strategy.” said Espinosa.

Ultimately what many businesses want to do with social media is to increase their revenue and create new opportunities and this is something that Espinosa has seen with Caterpillar’s B2B strategy. “Turning customers around is one of the big things we want to do with social media. We think a negative post is one of our biggest opportunities as you can turn them around and make them an advocate. Especially when you respond to their issues. Recently a customer from Poland tweeted that they wanted to rent 49 haulers from Caterpillar but didn’t know who to contact, and we worked with the dealership in Poland to close that rental deal the next day.”

Adding, “We say that social media from a customer perspective is the first line of defence and also the last line. Sometimes people will come to the Caterpillar social media channels without first calling the dealership and asking them for help, and sometimes it’s the last line of support when they are really frustrated and the dealer is not helping them or they’re not getting what they need from Caterpillar.”

We leave the last words to Petrella to sum up social media B2B best practice: “What you need to do is embrace the market and go with the grain. Don’t try and create communities, find what’s happening out there, find the conversations that are going on, try to answer their needs and strike a chord with the themes and trends that are going on, and augment that, don’t try and force people to come to you.”

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