Social networks are not always an easy thing to approach for B2B organizations. Engaging a more conservative professional set — particularly outside of IT buyers — online takes intelligent use of social networks.
First of all, you absolutely have to know where your community gathers online. Otherwise it’s going to be a failure. For example, Facebook may not be a good gathering point for copier buyers in large enterprises.
Unlike Jeremiah, I don’t think every company should go out and create their own social network. In fact, very few should. There’s already quite a few established social networks. Unless your social network adds to the mix with something completely new for the marketplace, then you wil just be adding to the noise. This is particularly true for B2B organizations with their relatively smaller customer bases.
A recent conversation with GM’s Christopher Barger revealed that the nation’s #1 automaker understands this. They are actively engaging communities within established social networks.
Some Specific Uses
A good place for B2B companies to look is within their own profession. Many professions are starting to develop their own micro-social networks particular to their niche. IT Toolbox is the big hit for IT professionals. While I personally don’t use MyRagan, a lot of communicators have found this to be a comfortable place to engage in social media. How about LawLink for lawyers?
If there is no profession or vertical-specific social network, then there might be an opportunity to create one. For example, there’s no social network for federal IT buyers. Yet. Consider if this significant investment is worthwhile (image from Google’s Social Graph).
LinkedIn provides interesting asymmetrical relationships, and is more trust oriented. As a result, it has become a preferred business social networking tool over other networks like Facebook. Some top LinkedIn uses include:
- Sales prospecting
Facebook can also be quite a recruiting tool for Gen Yers and Millenials as well as some professions (like PR).
Second Life has been a great meeting place for some companies trying to reach buyers externally as well as internal constituents. Examples of Second Life usage include crayon and IBM.
Facebook can be a great place to start a community surrounding a subject matter. Communities on these groups have to have fantastic value, so be sure to think about the real issues the market faces, then create your group. If it’s all about you, publish a PDF brochure online instead. You’ll save some money.