Do you know if your customers are writing blogs, networking on LinkedIn, “tweeting” on Twitter, or commenting in forums and discussion groups? In the Forbes Insights 2009 Rise of the Digital C-Suite report, data revealed that more than half of executives under the age of 40 are actively engaged in social media. This rise in adoption has shifted the power to customers as they look to their peers for more information and advice on buying decisions.
Many manufacturers I speak with see social media as something for consumer companies. However, according to Forrester Research’s "The Social Technographics of Business Buyers" report, 91 percent of B2B decision-makers are taking part in social media; 69 percent do so for business purposes. Additionally, 55 percent have at least one social networking profile and 43 percent are active in creating social media content.
It is no longer a question of whether or not to join the social media movement. It’s about choosing the best strategy for combining social media with more traditional communications tactics to strengthen your company’s brand and stay top-of-mind of buyers.
To develop and execute a successful plan, manufacturers first need to understand there are different communities for different goals – customer service, new product announcements, listening/gathering, market feedback, competitive intelligence monitoring, building site traffic, SEO, education, targeting potential customers, and so on. There are three keys to a targeted approach:
1. Know why you are doing it.
2. Ensure you have the right metrics in place.
3. Have the resources to handle it.
Following are five essential steps for manufacturers seeking to implement a successful social media strategy:
People trust and depend on their peers more than ever. The comments, activities and conversations that are happening online can be valuable and influential. The good news is that social media tools provide a direct line to your customers. The other news? Enthusiasts, critics and influencers are already talking candidly about your brand or rating your products and services online. It is best to accept the bad with the good and use negative comments to turn a discussion around. But be careful. You want to provide value to the conversation that facilitates sales but does not sell directly. The key is to engage customers. Become a valuable part of the conversation. Talk about industry news and current events, not just about your new product. You may find that your brand already has strong advocates – connect with them. Build deeper relationships.
2. Be Transparent.
Social media promotes unique authenticity. People join groups focused on similar interests to share ideas and opinions, and to write honest reviews for products and services. Customers want to hear from both executives and regular employees at manufacturers who have a unique point-of-view, not from the “brand” itself. They want to talk about the good, bad and ugly things that go on behind the scenes. Think about it: behind every blog, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile is a human being. When institutions join the social media conversation as a “brand,” they fail to gain any level of trust. As the leader of a brand, you must implore your ambassadors to engage, respond to and steer conversation about your brand – all while allowing for individual personalities. People trust people. Come out from behind your brand to engage with your customers.
3. Dedicate to Relate.
Social media may have started with a few college students, but its widespread influence today is not to be taken lightly. The influence that your company can have using social media tools should be given as much dedication and as many resources as any company priority. Your company’s reputation is on the line, so why wouldn’t you prioritize your strategy for social media?
Not only do companies need to dedicate time, talent and funds to get started, they must align those resources and plan a unified approach. Before jumping into the ocean of social media, be sure you know your audience. Who are your customers? Have you researched their online participation? Are they more likely to read a blog or download a video? Once this research is complete and your company kicks off its social media program, give it time. Building relationships offline doesn’t happen overnight, so you shouldn’t expect that online either.
4. Be Flexible.
Social media is hard to define. It’s a moving target. No plan or strategy can guarantee your success in the world of social media. To be successful, don’t just dive head-first into tactics. Develop a plan, and then obtain stakeholder buy-in, because you will need more advocates for social media than for any other segment of your business. Establish measurements up front and share metrics with the entire organization to assess your program’s success, evaluate its business value and make adjustments accordingly. Ensure that you have the best communicators on your team to keep both your employees and your customers abreast of the latest social media developments.
5. Get Started!
Taking the first step is the hardest part. Avoid being left behind by allowing your competitors to connect with your customers before you do. Today, planning a social media strategy is a necessary risk. Learn how to make social media work for your brand.
Don’t let your company’s reputation be ruled by customer commentary alone. Social media is about connecting. Connecting all of your audiences. Connecting your brand with your reputation, with your logo, advertising, representatives, employees and executives. In today’s economy, some companies are using social media tools to develop stronger ties to their current customers and develop long-term brand loyalty. Educate yourself, take control and get ready for the rollercoaster ride that is social media.
Steve McAbee is President of Wunderkind Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency for B2B companies. For more information on Wunderkind Public Relations, please visit www.wunderkindpr.com.