“Why are we sharing a competitor’s offer on our Facebook page?” It’s a question British Airways’ executives may have asked themselves last year when they found out they’d shared an offer from rival Virgin Atlantic.
When a social media crisis happens, the question of who is responsible for B2B social media strategy can rear its head. But pointing fingers after the ship has sailed is pointless. Having clear oversight of social media output and who owns it is vital. Sadly, for far too many mid-sized to large B2B organisations, it can be a mess.
Every department has an opinion on B2B social media strategy
One of the key questions larger organisations struggle with is ownership. Every team and department thinks they should have a greater say. Should social sit with the marketing team? After all, they’re responsible for promoting the business. But what about sales? Surely, they need to control engagement with prospects? How about communications/PR – shouldn’t they be the mouthpiece for any external communication? To add to that, departments like customer service will want a say on how social efforts connect with existing customers. And human resources will care how the culture of the business is presented to the outside world.
And that’s not even considering product or regional teams. Each has their own audience who they’ll want to engage with social media content – sometimes in multiple languages. Plus, if you have a diverse audience across sectors, the messages will be different too.
The bigger the company, the greater the challenges
To complicate the issue further, the bigger a B2B company gets, the more fragmented social media tends to become. A Twitter feed for product line X, a LinkedIn page for region Y, or a customer service Facebook page.
It’s a strategy many B2B brands follow. 100% of the brands on the BrandZ B2B Top 20 list have multiple Twitter accounts. Top B2B brands like Microsoft, GE, Intel and Oracle all split their Twitter accounts, either by product, department or geography. But the crucial factor is all of these brands have a high level of traffic and interest to justify multiple accounts. Not all B2B businesses do.
Creating an effective line of communication for multiple accounts can become unwieldy unless managed well. All too often you see Twitter, YouTube, Google+ or LinkedIn pages that are virtual ghost towns of information. Social accounts that have been started by one team become dormant as priorities or personnel change.
For smaller B2B companies, ownership is often at a more senior level – one person who is the PR and marketing person all in one. They understand the value of social because they manage it all and rely on direct communication with customers and prospects. Without multiple offices, territories and reporting structures, it can be a lot simpler. Even when there are a few digital heads, the marketing person will generally be more involved. Cost vs. return is also a factor. Tactics like social media, PR and email marketing are too cost effective for microbusinesses and startups to be neglected.
At larger companies ownership is more complex. The interweaving hierarchies make communication tougher. Usually the person leading social will report to a chief marketing officer (CMO). The CMO is critical to defining social’s importance and how strongly it’s embedded in an organisation. Good B2B CMOs embrace social media and take ownership. Less savvy B2B CMOs don’t understand social media or see it as a valuable tool. For them, B2B social media isn’t strategic because it doesn’t always drive leads in what can often be a long sales cycle. If budgets tighten, we often see social media go in-house because “it’s easy” or “just a few tweets that can be managed ourselves.”
But effective B2B CMOs know that’s a fallacy. A lead or key nugget of intelligence could come out of monitoring conversations around products and keywords. They know that personal and company reputations (and their job prospects) could be damaged by a single post – like GoDaddy’s CEO infamous elephant hunting post.
Don’t get me wrong. Social media marketing is being pushed up the B2B marketing agenda, especially as social moves more into the paid realm. But many B2B companies should do a lot more to ensure there is a clear chain of command to deliver an effective B2B social media strategy.
5 things you need to do take control of your B2B social media strategy
So what can mid- to large-sized enterprises do to take ownership of B2B social media strategy?
- Bring your departments together
There isn’t the customer service, sales, HR, PR or marketing team for social. It should be one team pulling in the same direction, encompassing the views of all parts of the organisation. A good solution is a cross-functional team led by PR and marketing. That team should also include all the key departments, partners and agencies. This approach can be particularly helpful in companies that split traditional marketing (PR and offline marketing) and digital marketing (SEO, PPC and social media), where the two sides don’t always communicate often or effectively enough.
Cross-functional teams are better able to manage all the objectives of the organisation and tap into the buying and after-sales cycle. An effective overarching social strategy should include all stages of the buying cycle, from awareness, consideration and decision through to post-purchase loyalty and advocacy. For example, sales should be heavily involved in the pre-purchase content and customer service should work closely on post-sale content.
Keith A. Quesenberry outlines a great process for creating these teams (he calls them social care teams) in his book Social Media Strategy, Marketing, and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution. Here are some key takeaways:
- Research and analyse existing social media.
- Define who controls the official brand channels.
- Outline the systems, policies, and employees are responsible for monitoring social media.
- Develop a social care team that can address all areas of social information efficiently and effectively. Identify policies and software systems needed for implementation.
- Organise departmental responsibilities in the social care team. Clearly define roles and responsibilities among marketing, customer service, public relations, sales, corporate communication, human resources, etc.
- Assign specific employees from each department to social media tasks. Set up social media accounts (if needed) and remove those that aren’t active.
- Give employees access to social media systems.
- Create brand guidelines for standards, tone, and style of social media communication. Ask legal and human resources to provide a list of do’s and don’ts for real-time consumer engagement.
- Define specific goals based on key performance indicators such as response time, sentiment analysis, engagement, views and shares, and other important metrics.
What’s important is to define the team’s role clearly. It’s not about checking every bit of social content that goes out the door – that’s neither practical nor advisable. The focus should include monitoring results against goals, reviewing content successes and failures, and helping to define strategy for each quarter.
- Make sure your social media strategy matches your business goals
Make sure your social media team knows and understands your key business goals. Knowing your goals will help to manage when and where different departments and offices are needed. Aligning social media strategy to business goals will help ensure that the management team sees more value from social.
Typical business objectives include:
- raising brand awareness of products and services
- driving website traffic
- growing new markets and sectors
- increasing lead generation and sign ups
- building brand advocates
- improving customer service
- hiring top talent
- improving R&D
- building market share
Working towards defined business goals will mean that your content will be more focused and achieve tangible ROI for the business.
- Understand your audiences and influencers
A clear understanding of target audiences and sectors is also vital for developing the right strategy and defining who owns each feed.
A good starting point is to build audience personas. That means analysing the purchasing triggers and characteristics for all your B2B buyers and influencers. B2B differs from B2C because there are typically longer sales cycles and more people and money involved. You can’t just pop online or in-store to buy a £100k piece of equipment. Even the final decision-maker in a company will be influenced by lots of different people from management, marketing, sales and finance.
Knowing who your B2B audiences are will help you deliver the right strategy and messages at the right time. It will help you get inside the mind of your audiences to understand the social content that will add value at each stage of the sales cycle. Your PR team and agency should be particularly helpful as they will regularly be creating messages for each audience.
Create personas for each of your key audiences and create content that matters to them.
Key things to add to your personas include:
- job role
- business size
- personality traits
- business goals
- pain points
Check out sites like Xtensio, which offer a limited number of free templates for creating personas.
- Write down your B2B social media strategy
According to SproutSocial, 80% of B2B marketers have a social media strategy, only 32% have it written down somewhere.
There is no point putting all the work into defining your audience and goals if it isn’t written down and accessible for everyone to see. People will join and leave, so having it all documented allows you to define a clear plan for everyone.
The plan should outline areas including:
- goals and who is responsible for each goal
- audiences/ personas
- social and competitor audit
- key social channels
- content strategy – written, video and image strategy
- tone of voice of content
- key monitoring metrics
- key employees in charge of each channel and contact details
- key employees responsible for posting on each channel
- key employees responsible for responding to content – HR, customer service, sales, etc.
- Key partners and agencies
The audit part of the plan is especially important. What are the key channels for your audiences? What feeds are essential to meet your goals? What don’t you need? Addressing these questions should help to reduce the fragmentation.
HootSuite offers a good social media strategy template which can act as a starting point for your plan.
- Appoint social media experts to head up your team
Look to work with senior people who can demonstrate a passion for social media and experience of social media marketing. Yes, understanding your industry is important, but it’s easier to teach B2B social media people to understand your business than teach them to become a social media expert.
Think beyond key platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Also look for broader skills like copywriting, messaging, design, brand tone of voice, marketing analytics, PPC and SEO. Consider the traits you are looking for in the people heading up your B2B social media strategy. Traits like creativity, curiosity, decisiveness, and leadership will be a key factor in finding someone to take the lead on social.
If you’d like to discuss how you could create an effective B2B social media strategy for your company, contact Errol and team at firstname.lastname@example.org