The thesis includes four interviews with social media experts, synthesised around brand management for B2B companies, where as the theoretical background is B2B brand management. Thought leaders of social media and branding in the online environment are currently doing their work out in the field, whilst the academics are lagging behind. In order to shed some light on issues regarding how B2B companies should manage opportunities and challenges in the social media space, this master thesis seeks to address the topic by conducting an exploratory study on how B2B companies can utilise social media to enhance the brand.
Social media does not change how businesses do business, but it adds another layer to brand management which needs to be treated different compared to traditional marketing efforts. In order to influence through social media companies have to provide value and build relationships, rather than hard-selling. The brand needs to be monitored in a much wider environment as conversations about the brand or conversations relevant to the brand are likely to be happening online; but at the same time they are feasible to monitor.
Branding in social media presents the company with opportunities to demonstrate the brand personality in a much more dynamic way then earlier, a new dimension for branding, as well as highlight the competitive advantage, increase awareness and gather people in niche markets on a global basis. But the challenge is there is no delete button. Once something is out in the online space and starts build momentum, it is not possible to control it. Slip-ups spread through social media can hurt the brand significantly. As employees are increasingly using social media in their day-to-day work they are also representing the brand, whether it is consciously or not. Guidelines are proposed as a tool to manage employees’ engagements in social media.
Before approaching the social media space companies need to monitor what is being said about the brand and the industry online, as well as map out how people internally are using social media in their day-to-day work. This will provide ideas to what business objectives it is possible to pursue solving through social media. When the company has established an objective, they could start choosing the strategy. When the strategy is chosen, they can start planning which tools, tactics and technologies they want to use. Where the company goes from there depends on the objective, the strategy and the unique properties of each company.
Method: The study is conducted using a qualitative approach. The purpose is to give an aerial view of how B2B companies should approach social media, what opportunities and threats exists, and how they should focus their online strategy to enhance the B2B brand. The theoretical part of this study builds upon business-to-business brand management due to the growth of B2C brands in social media. The empirical data of this study is interviews with four experts on the topic, which is further illustrated by three case studies. By synthesising the interviews, and comparing them with the illustrative case studies and the theory, the results develop.
I would also like to acknowledge the valuable insights contributed by Jeff McCarthy (@JeffMcLFC) at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, Steve Lamb (@ActionLamb) at Microsoft, Mike Rowland (@MRowland602) at Impact Interaction, and Scot McKee (@ScotMcKee) at Birddog (and author of Creative B2B Branding (no, really)). I also thank them for taking the time to share their experience, knowledge and expertise. Special thanks go to John Watton (@JWatton) at ShipServ and Paul Frost (@PositiveDigital) at Positive Digital for sharing their experiences with their B2B social media initiatives.