In Part 1 of this series I provided some advice on social media strategies B-to-B brands might consider adopting, designed to expand reach, deepen connections and generate leads. Those were the examples; this week come the warnings. For every good social media strategy for B-to-B, there are a dozen lousy ones. I’m going to help you steer clear of them.
There is no shortage of coverage of scintillating social media campaigns to regard as examples, many of which are festooned with superlatives like “best” or “most successful” or “awesomest”. But 99% of these are B-to-C brands, and most are B-to-C brands with multimillion dollar budgets hiring the most progressive agencies and allocating considerable internal resources as well. What works for Starbucks will positively flop for most B-to-B brands. Here are a few of the more popular social approaches employed by major B-to-C brands. While the results they achieve are appealing, they’re out of reach for B-to-B. Worse, poor response to social campaigns like these can make a brand appear less relevant than it is. When you have a million customers and disappoint a few, it’s a problem but not a crisis. With B-to-B however, alienating even a single important client can have immediate ramifications on the bottom line. It’s better for B-to-B brands to hit singles consistently than to swing for the fences and whiff.
Here are a few Don’ts for your B-to-B social strategy:
1. Don’t crowdsource or run user-generated content contests. B-to-C brands love these, as they are able to harness the creativity and passion of a few of the most engaged fans and make it appear like a groundswell of brand enthusiasm. But the success of initiatives that rely on followers to create media, generate ideas, and otherwise propel the campaign forward publicly rely on a sizable audience. One of the most famous is MyStarbucksIdea.com, a social media site create by Starbucks for their fans designed to solicit and vote on great ideas to roll out in their stores. The initiative won Starbucks accolades across the industry for its inventiveness and social underpinnings, but the data on the initiative reveal the massive scale necessary to perpetrate it. When Starbucks launched the program they had about 10 million Facebook fans (today it’s over 25 million). From those 10 million, they generated just 53 ideas for their community to vote on. That’s a participation rate of .0005%, or one entry for every 200,000 fans. Most fans – particularly for brands that have sizable followings – are more casual than impassioned. Soliciting creative participation requires not only a very high level of engagement, but also followers who are creatively inclined in the first place. Absolutely these people exist within your own B-to-B brand’s fan base, but unless you have tens or hundreds of thousands of fans the probability of generating participation great enough to support a campaign is slim.
2. Don’t rely on going viral. Going viral is the holy grail of social media marketing, as it fans your message out to thousands or even millions of people without costing you a dollar in media. The first viral message I remember was an email sent to millions of people containing a spoiler plot for the final episode of Seinfeld (which was actually either a hoax or just inaccurate). Since then, viral dreams have moved out of the inbox and onto YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Videos, articles, blog posts and other messages go viral when there is some attribute within the that is not just appealing to millions of people – it has to resonate so soundly within this population that each person it touches is transformed from a passive consumer of media to an active sharer of media. Look at your email open rates to see the challenge of even finding passive consumers of media. Your click-through rates represent active consumers of media. What percentage of these do you believe are actively sharing what you send? It is possible that a B-to-B brand could put together a successful viral campaign, but the content would almost have to be so far removed from the brand’s central tenets that the brand would hardly benefit from it. It’s very hard for a B-to-B brand to be relevant to millions of people, and also not necessary. Instead of aiming for viral supremacy, targeted pass along makes more sense for B-to-B. Leave the teeming millions to the Old Spice Guy and laughing babies everywhere.
3. Don’t ask for input you don’t intend to use. Many brands’ social strategies can be summed up as “we’re listening to our customers.” This is perfectly appropriate, provided that the brand is genuinely listening and intends to act on the input it receives. In the My Starbucks Idea above, the 53 suggestions from 10 million fans only resulted in 6 actual initiatives by the company, the most successful of which ended up receiving a relatively low number of votes. The challenge for all brands with feedback initiatives like these is that the brand often believes (correctly or not) that it knows better than its customers. So these programs end up as exercises designed to pump an idea that already exists under the guise of a customer-generated suggestion. For B-to-B brands in particular, audiences are smaller and the people who are engaged enough to provide suggestions publicly are very often the same people actively involved in other ways – as key customers, highly active members, conference speakers or committee members. B-to-B customers often regard the brands they do business with not as mere vendors or suppliers, but as business partners or industry colleagues. Not using their ideas often requires a personal explanation, and can risk bending a nose out of shape. Even if bold new ideas were to come from the exercise and be adopted by your B-to-B brand, the backlash still is not worth it.