Take Social Seriously

This September will mark the tenth anniversary of “the Zuck” (aka Mark Zuckerberg) and his band of college buddies unleashing Facebook membership from the scholarly confines of Harvard to anyone thirteen years and older with a valid email address. For those of you with teenagers a decade ago, you’ve witnessed --- and often agonized---what most would acknowledge as the advent of social media. Currently engaged by over 1.7 billion active users, Facebook opened the floodgates to and acceptance of a plethora of other social channels, including LinkedIn which also celebrated its thirteenth anniversary this year with its over 100 active users.*

LinkedIn is no longer deemed a Rolodex (tell your teenager to Google it), and has become the essential social community for business. The significance and profitability of the channel is unquestionable and witnessed by Microsoft’s pending $26.2 billion acquisition of the company to be completed later this year.

Yet with all this acceptance, documented analytics and testimonials demonstrating how social has become an integral part of today’s B2B communications, large chunks of the industrial sector remain hesitate in consistently integrating social as part of their marketing programs.  Some B2B leaders claim that there is marginal to no value in investing in social, and most alarmingly do not see the benefits of deploying it as a strategic tool to  elevate their brand and establish thought leadership to the industries and markets they serve. All too often, such consideration ranges from a patronizing smirk to “get a grip, social is for kids.”

Granted, social first achieved its fame and Zuck fortune on B2C, however, when employed relevantly it has proven to be an important driver to elicit Voice of Customer (VOC) for B2B companies. Even with limited use, participation in discussion groups and commenting on your connections’ postings further reinforces customer intimacy previously established in face-to-face discussions.

Those naysayers that continue to deny themselves the opportunity to further differentiate their culture, capabilities and products, should consider the loss of not seizing the power of LinkedIn to demonstrate the value of their organizations. Furthermore, some have become blind to their more savvy competitors that are employing LinkedIn to collect valuable intelligence, while surveying the mindset and preferences of the industry landscape, trends and emerging technologies.

The savviest of your savvy competitors are regularly executing social as part of their marketing plans, which includes dedicated personnel that have varying degrees of responsibility to administer, post, follow, and most importantly interact with customers and prospects via discussion threads, messaging, and postings (individual, company, group). They are also regularly contributing content that is authored from within their organizations, as well as from third party source materials that are often perceived as having higher credibility. These folks have witnessed the power of this tool to drive qualified customers and prospects to their websites and blogs, which often includes the downloading of technical articles, process guides and manuals. This documentation provides the compelling data and expert content that engineers and other professionals covet.

As reported in the IEEE Engineering360 research report, “2016 Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector,” 65 percent of engineers and technical professionals maintain at least one social media account. Of this group, 54 percent use social to find product reviews; 52 percent use it to keep current on the latest company/product news/technologies, with a surprising 43 percent searching for expertise.** As detailed within the report, social is not preferred nor will it replace search engines and online directories that enable users to more easily locate specific subject matter. Although many of us love to share, tweet, and link, the report rightfully recognizes that social is not a marketing program unto itself, nor is it a substitute for face-to-face. However, social is a powerful supplement for many of the traditional and digital tactics your company heavily invests, ranging from trade show participation announcements to the launch of a new website. 

Just creating a LinkedIn page or any other social media channel is an empty pasta shell without the tasty content that will make your channels part of your customers’ daily nourishment. Enticing and satisfying the intellectual palettes of your audience is critical. This is especially true of the under 30 crowd that increasingly relies upon social to communicate and obtain work-related information. Unfortunately, there are far too many companies that launch a corporate page and watch it wither as there is little commitment to publish relevant and timely information that will engage their target audience --- the whole reason for creating the channel in the first place. Silence is by no means golden, whereas the company’s lack of social engagement may sometimes be extrapolated in a negative manner that expands well beyond our digital superhighway.

On this last point, all I can say is, “Ouch!” I can hear my inbox pinging with disgruntled emails. I have the distinct feeling some of these missives may not be ready for prime time posting.

* Wikipedia       **IEEE Engineering360 Media Solutions