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Why B2B social media is about making love, not war

Ever wondered why Facebook has a 'like' button, but not a 'dislike' button? I was having a conversation with clients the other day about this and it seemed to underline a much wider point - what is possibly the biggest obstacle between B2B marketers and success in social media marketing.

Social media – and all the benefits that B2B marketers hope to derive from it – depend on engaging people. It is an overused term, but think about it. Content distributed across social media aims to provide value, to give desired information, to make the recipient wiser and in some small way, better equipped to do their job. In short, content aims to interest people, rather than interrupting them.

Yet, if we look at traditional marketing approaches, they are based on a completely different mind set. Old-school marketing assumes the prospect is not interested. It assumes that they need to be interrupted and somehow prompted, pushed, even pressured into receiving messages.

To the traditional marketer, it is war. The target audience does not yet believe in the product, and needs to be converted. The marketer therefore stands at the head of a crusading army that has to defeat the heathen hordes.

Look at the terminology. We target our prospects. We launch campaigns. We aim to hit them with a killer offer. As long as we continue with this warlike stance, it is going to be hard to use social media, because this is a different kind of battle altogether.

In social media, we are aiming to win over hearts and minds by showing that we understand their needs. We are a force for good that is changing our prospects' lives for the better.

And let's avoid the temptation to draw parallels with the real conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Don't think of the British soldiers walking around Basra without helmets in PR footage designed to show the people back home how we are working with the local population instead of repressing them against their will. This is not how our business battles are fought. There is no deep-seated ideology at work, no fundamental opposition to what brands are offering people [at least, not with most brands]. The 'target' audience is willing to listen just as long as you tell them what they want to hear. And if you don't have that kind of message ready for them, you're not going to be in business for long.

To summarise, if you find yourself planning social media initiatives in the same way you might plan a military campaign, try to see the other side. Put down your weapons and concentrate on how you can engage with people in their communities. Help them to succeed in what they are doing by offering your help, your information, your expertise. Win them over instead of trying to force them. You are never going to win the battle that way.

And going back to the Facebook button – why is there no 'dislike' button? Apart from the fact that FB doesn't want to make life difficult for the brands who bring revenue and traffic into the Facebook site, it is counter to the whole principle. Social media works because people spread good content; they add their name, and sometimes their opinion, to existing content and send it on to their circle of contacts. If they don't like it,l they can either comment to that effect if they feel strongly enough. Or they can just decide not to share it. A 'dislike' button? There may as well be a "Don't share" button, and how pointless would that be?

It's time for a little less sabre-rattling and a bit more talking. You're engaging, not invading. We're talking love not war. Peace, man.