Many conservative brands, and particularly those in B2B sales, have either taken a wait-and-see or magic bullet approach to social media marketing. In the former they nervously check the activities of competitors, rigidly prevent employees from accessing networks, and generally will not move unless a crisis shakes them so hard they awake to the social media world. In the latter they quickly deem the nearest twenty-something the head of social media, create a sweepstakes giveaway (“Free iPad!”) and begin to collect dubious fans and followers that may or may not be their actual target markets. In both cases we’re dealing with issues that are common ailments for a new marketing platform. There is a cure, and it’s not the “Tweet-or-Die” method of the social media gurus, but rather to thoughtfully look at the real leaders in social media: your audience.

The Living Social Media Blind Spot

It’s almost a caricature in the modern marketing or sales C-suite: the executive who knows digital and social interactivity is everywhere, even in their own personal lives, but somehow deliberately ignores it when they step into the office. They share photos of the kids, pore over amazon reviews, fiddle with their smartphones (complain about how much they miss their Blackberry) and even know what a QR Code is (but would never actually beep one). But the minute they sit in their chair at work they stubbornly thwart any advance of understanding and effort in social media. They claim to be taking a “wait and see” approach as though there is a magical moment when all social media will recede into the darkness or become such a bright spot that they can’t look away. They point to underexcited colleagues and ask them to “look into” social channels that come across their desk or inbox, but their limited foray into having a Facebook Page is an underfunded, untended mess. Meanwhile, one afternoon a month they lazily update their LinkedIn profile for the inevitable jump elsewhere.

The Over-Excited App-Maven

The opposite number is equally dangerous, however: The VP that sweeps into your office with iPhone in hand, proclaiming the virtues of “latest” app that has changed their life. They crowned the office intern you hired full-time only a month ago as the leader of all social media, allowing a 20-year-old to run the outward online communications of a massive company while the near-pensioner in the creative department still has to get all 24cms x 10 ads for the industry mag proofed and approved by three people. They attend every conference on interactive and casually say, “South By” instead of “SXSW” although they’ve only attended once. In direct contrast to the long process of producing the latest sales brochures and catalogs, budgets and time are thrown at new online ventures blithely. They are the only person you know who uses Google + and will openly argue about its relevance in-between Instagram posts of their food and Foursquare check-ins to your office door.  The number of “Likes” of the company Facebook Page(s) are checked hourly. They too update their LinkedIn profile every month, also using the opportunity to ask all of their contacts for endorsements.

The Reality…

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it absolutely shouldn’t.  Social media shouldn’t be ignored nor embraced so vehemently, and certainly so blindly. In both of these unfortunately common cases we find marketers ignoring the basic strategic processes that usually govern communication: where is our audience and how should we best get in front of them? While direct marketers buy and cultivate mailing lists, event specialists plot the best way to maximize visibility at tradeshows and media buyers carve out the best deals in well-read trade publications, so should the efforts of social media mirror the thoughtfulness, planning and measurement.

B2B marketers cannot afford to pretend their audiences aren’t affected by social media in some way. As they watch their sales arms utilize email, messaging from the road and using a variety of tools to track and interact with clients, we know that even internally some element of social and digital communication would happen through top salespeople’s own instincts and savvy for relationship building. Moreover, as B2C becomes more heavily laden with social validation elements such as reviews and ratings, so does B2B begin to reflect that environment, if even in a private way. Consider the often-robust private message boards (sometimes present in LinkedIn Groups) for various industries where members dish on contractors, suppliers and more. When you take the time to look, you may see that your particular industry congregates in some very specific places online and it may not be Twitter, but rather some other channel. Repeat this regularly to ensure you’re not simply following trends or unnecessarily satisfied with inaction.

Dean Browell

Dean Browell


Dean Browell, PhD, Executive Vice President, Feedback.