As the new digital world embraces participation, openness, conversation, community and connectedness through social media, it brings new opportunities and challenges to B2B branding. It is not to suggest that social media will change how businesses do business, but it is another layer to brand management that needs to be treated different from traditional marketing efforts.
The brand has never been what the boardroom wants it to be; the brand is a perception of what a company is, instilled in the minds of the audience. Previously informal conversations regarding people’s perception of the brand, both positive and negative, took place in the offline world. But the business-to-business brand now has to be managed in a much wider environment; as the era of digital communication evolves, these conversations are now also happening online – and they are searchable.
By using software companies can monitor people’s perception of the brand without having to perform expensive and extensive market research. Companies can either choose to ignore those conversations whilst at the same time hoping their competitors also ignores them, or they can use the opportunity to sit up and take notice; either passively through observation, through active listening, or by participation in order to ultimately influence the perceptions.
The B2B brand is becoming more accessible, and the audience can now engage on their time and on their terms with the brand. Core values of the brand can be further enhanced by connecting, engaging and building relationships with various stakeholders. Business-to-businesses marketers have the option to embrace these opportunities. By engaging in the social media space the brand now has the chance to demonstrate an added dimension of branding; the brand personality. Through social media the brand can more efficiently demonstrate thought leadership, increase awareness, establish trust, and highlight the competitive advantage with a reach potentially covering all people connected to the Internet. Social media can gather people in niche markets on a global basis.
But in the world of social media there is no delete button. Once a comment is out there, it is out there and it cannot be taken back. A slip-up can build momentum and have a tremendous negative impact on people’s perception of the brand. Social media is word-of-mouth on steroids, and that is both the opportunity and threat. As employees within companies are participating in the online space through networking platforms, commenting on blogs or participating on forums, they are representing the brand. The employees need to be made aware of that, and they need to be provided with guidelines in order to keep the brand consistent through all customer touch points.
Companies should listen internally and externally to find out where the conversations are happening. The opportunities present for each company depends on the unique properties of the company. Two companies within the same industry with the same products or services can have different objectives with social media, just like Microsoft with over 4,000 bloggers compared to Apple with the one-man-social-media-machine Steve Jobs.
Based on internal and external investigations, the company should establish an objective with their social media engagements; companies should ask themselves what business objective they want to solve through social media. Participation in social media should not be focused hard-selling, but on providing the audience with content or features of value. When the objective is identified, the company should create a strategy. Only when the strategy is in place the company can start thinking about which tools, tactics and technologies they want to use. Where companies go from there depends on the objective, the strategy and on the unique properties of each company.
“I realize everyone is telling you social media is a unicorn, but maybe it’s just a horse?”
Jay Baer, social media strategist