You are here

Use Social Media to Engage Business Partners

Social media is rapidly becoming a proven, comfortable channel for most B2C businesses. Consumers are used to organisations being present in their personal social media sphere and view it as a useful, direct link to brands they use.

Despite the fact that social lends itself well to the one to one, complex relationships B2B marketing seeks to develop, B2B brands are still less familiar with forging relationships through these channels. The B2B sector’s indecision over social is causing many businesses to hold back on social and do nothing, however for those that are prepared to get stuck in the rewards are clearly there.

Primary considerations when using social for any purpose should be who your audience is and what your objectives are. Don’t try to do too much and don’t try to appeal to everyone. Also make sure you are listening as much as talking – the ‘social media as a party’ analogy has been done to death, but it has a ring of truth about it. If you’re the only one talking then it’s not very interesting for everyone else. Listening to others, as in real life, can help you frame and target your conversations more accurately.

Our work with Hive has demonstrated how these principles can be hugely effective in guiding a social strategy for the B2B space. Hive is an eCommerce business selling books, DVDs, eBooks, eReaders and music and its USP is that it supports independent, local bookshops. Users register their favourite indie and Hive shares a portion of the profit from any orders with that shop. So Hive’s social media needed a B2C outlook – to communicate with consumers, and a B2B one, to engage deeper with their network of local bookstores.

The B2B social media strategy objectives we created for Hive were not only brand building and customer services related but also created a mutually-beneficial community between Hive and the indie network they support. Here are the steps we took when creating the strategy:

1. Meet customers on their terms

The key consideration when using social as a B2B engagement channel is to remember that social media is not a one-way marketing channel, it’s a communication platform. Be friendly and informal - it’s important to remember that your partners’ businesses are made up of real people who use social media platforms to behave socially with friends; you’ll only be welcomed into their network if you fit in. But that’s not to say you can’t be strategic about your B2B plan.

2. Work out who your audience is

Bear in mind that in smaller businesses, the person tweeting may actually be the decision maker while for larger partners, it is likely the responsibility of social media has been delegated. Work out who your audience is and set achievable, realistic goals accordingly. Rank your audience in terms of influence and measure success according to how many of your top influencers you can convert to active community members or advocates.

3. Create an advocacy and influence index

Having an organised way to look at how partners are working with the brand is important and using easily accessible information to feed into B2B social strategy is an extremely valuable way to make it work for your brand. For Hive, we put together an index ranking partners in terms of their social media influence and their levels of advocacy for the brand. From here we used these rankings to mark out and reward big-influencers advocating our client. Relate your measurement of success to solid data rather than vague terms like ‘engagement level’.

4. Offer social media tips to partners

Don’t take partners’ social media experience for granted. If your partners don’t know how to make the most of social media, engaging them will be next to impossible. We wrote a ‘how to’ booklet for Hive to advise their partners not currently using social media on how to join the party and to help those who are already using social media to understand best practice.

5. Don’t expect something for nothing

We didn’t expect partners to advocate the Hive brand for nothing in return. Retailer relationships can often seem unequal to partners, so through social media we help Hive to offer partners some sort of service incentive. Our community management team posts useful content for Hive’s bookshop network including promoting indie bookshop projects that aren’t related directly to Hive. Our community manager’s calls for followers to add reviews of their favorite bookshops to a Guardian indie bookshop map were popular with partners. We made an effort to promote benefits of the brand that partners could not access alone; we encourage users to shop for eReaders and eBooks with Hive while supporting indie bookshops- this is something the bookshops can’t offer but we can promote on their behalf directly to their customers via social.

6. Reward proactive partners

Rewarding partners who are proactive advocates of your brand is always a good idea, but it’s also not a bad idea to reward the active social media users among your partners too. Our community managers promote events or promotions that our most socially active bookshops post online, in doing so Hive can encourage other bookshops to recognize the value of social media for their own promotional marketing.

7. Collaboration with partners

Social media (whether B2C or B2B) must be a collaborative, responsive channel. We work with Hive to ask partners for input wherever possible so they feel they are part of a real community online. Make sure you listen to and respond to comments and questions left on your social media streams by other users – that may be social media marketing 101, but many B2B businesses neglect the importance of good, direct customer service.