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B-to-B Social Media: Yes, You Can!

February 15, 2009 

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I’m frequently asked if social media has value in a business-to-business context. The answer is emphatically yes, although these applications rarely get the publicity of their flashier consumer counterparts. Over the next couple of issues, I’ll look at where social media tools can deliver the most B@B value and how some companies are putting them to work right now.

The term “social media” is almost a misnomer in this context. Businesspeople usually aren’t looking to socialize when making buying or career decisions (LinkedIn is a notable exception) but rather want actionable advice as quickly as possible. That’s why the tools that work best are those that let people easily discover what they’re looking for and extract value quickly. Blogs, podcasts, video and discussion forums can all be effective.

In fact, some of the most ambitious corporate blogging campaigns have been primarily aimed at B2B. uses. Microsoft and Sun, which between them have about 10,000 corporate bloggers, use this tool to reach developers, business customers and prospective employees. The blogs are easily searchable and they allow readers to pose questions to the best sources of information.

Among other b-to-b companies that are using blogs effectively are Emerson Process Management, the New York Stock Exchange, Marriott, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Boeing and Accenture, to name just a few. You won’t find a lot of playful repartee and trivia contests here. These blogs are intended to communicate useful information and reinforce their authors and their companies as authorities in their fields.

Podcasts are one of the least appreciated tools for business-to-business communications. EMarketer says regular podcast listeners are twice as likely to have advanced degrees and to earn over $100,000 annually as non-listeners. Nearly every information technology company now regularly uses podcasts as educational tools. Their busy corporate customers appreciate the fact that podcasts let them consume information while driving, exercising or waiting for the train. It’s a great way to use otherwise unproductive downtime.

Discussion forums are the oldest form of social media around. They’re a great way to cut support costs by giving customers a way to solve their own problems. The new breed of social networking tools has given new life to this meat-and-potatoes application. Members can now link their activity to personal profiles and earn points for their contributions; the more questions they answer, the higher their status in the community.

In many cases, this status is enough reward in itself. In their best-selling book Groundswell, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li tell of one Dell customer who saved the company more than $1 million in support costs by answering customer questions. He received no compensation for his work. Some people on LinkedIn regularly answer more than 200 member questions a week. For them, the reward is the status that they gain from showcasing their expertise. This can lead to promotions and consulting contracts.

There are even b-to-b applications of some of the flashier new social media technologies. Next week we’ll look at some of those.

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