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Why B-to-B Merchants Should Engage in Social Media
By John Fairley, director of Web services & social media, Walker Sands Communications

Business-to-Business merchants are investing in social media: According to Forrester Research, 77 percent of B-to-B decision makers are active in social media. But, itís a reality that many B-to-B sellers are not yet equipped to handle social media.

To help determine capabilities and resources, you need to ask several questions and be prepared to take action. Here are a few things to consider:

Will we commit resources dedicated to social media?
Social media requires real-time responses. It is almost preferable to have no social media presence, than one that lacks authenticity and interaction. Continuously creating and updating content, as well as consistent audience engagement in these platforms, is critical to deriving real benefit from social media efforts.

An ideal company blog, for example, should allow executives at all levels to contribute thought leadership, enhance conversations through comments, and drive visitors to more in-depth content, via hyperlinks.

Do we understand what networks our customers frequent?
To provide enticing social media content to potential customers, you need to find where the conversations are happening, and start conversations of your own in that space.

Monitor your brand, your competitors, and important industry terms to get started. B-to-B organizations can look for these conversations via LinkedIn Answers and Groups, Google Alerts, Twitter search, SocialMention.com, or even Radian6 and Alterian SM2.

Do we have realistic and measurable goals?
These can include Web traffic statistics, online social network mentions, links, conversion rates, or qualified leads. Having a metric for measurement will help a business track progress, quantify success, and learn to adapt if things aren't working.

Do we have a social media policy & corporate communications plan for it?
With social media for business, consistency is important. Employees need guidelines for how they engage in social media activities for work-related purposes.

If you maintain a company blog, a blog editorial calendar is often a good step. It establishes deadlines, sets a timeline for regular content, and encourages many members of the organization to contribute thoughts.

Do we have a place to direct social media users?
Educational content often works best; whether that is a link to download a whitepaper, or how to get in contact with your company.

Itís also a good idea to equip social media users with the means to react socially when they interact with your content. For example, can they comment or rate a blog post, or easily share it with others on Digg or Twitter?

Do we have mechanisms to capture leads, and are we ready to rapidly respond?
No company wants to let potential business slip through the cracks. To this end, itís critical to respond quickly if you receive a lead through social media.

Remember, social media users often turn to this outlet because of its timeliness and sense of instant gratification. If a business prospect wanted to wait a few days for a response, they may as well have sent you a letter in the mail.

Do we know the social media outlets ideal for B-to-B?
LinkedIn is an important outlet for employee profiles. These look professional and help prospects find the right people at the organization. Participation in LinkedIn Groups and Answers allow companies to establish thought leadership, find potential prospects talking about pain points, and identify partnership opportunities.

Slideshare is another outlet many B-to-B companies can, and should use, to share presentations with othersĖas long as they don't include confidential information.

Twitter can be used to follow other companies in the industry, as well as potential prospects and LinkedIn connections. B-to-B businesses can derive and contribute valuable content here, including answering industry questions with @replies, and tweeting about industry-related questions and company blog posts.

Facebook and YouTube have their places within B-to-B plans as well.

What's right for your company?
You need to understand the industry and listen. This will help you determine the proper outlets for your messages.


---Source: i-Merchant Magazine June 7, 2010 (www.multichannelmerchant.com). John Fairley is director of Web services and social media at Walker Sands Communications (www.walkersands.com).


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