The claim that social media only work for companies in contact with end customers is a persistent one, but it’s also just plain wrong. As enterprises are increasingly showing, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn can be effective tools in service of their communication goals. But a distinction has to be made about the goal involved. Selling millions worth of a particular machine or service cannot be the direct goal. The goal can be to convey a company’s image, show it in a positive light and get people talking about the company – as an attractive employer, for instance.
First off (as with B2C), companies should develop a strategy and think about which networks might suit not just their products but also the customers they have in mind. As we already demonstrated in this whitepaper on “B2B Content Marketing” in the case of content marketing, it’s also crucial to regularly monitor and tailor these measures around current topics and trends.
When creating content, it is important to be aware of how the target audience ticks and the kinds of thing that might interest them. As Andreas Bersch, Managing Director of the Brandpunkt agency, reminds us, measurability is more difficult here than in traditional retail: “In the B2B area, a company has to focus on building a long-term relationship in a spirit of trust. And there are competing measures, such as sales activities and trade fairs, that make it hard to measure the size of the contribution by social media.”
Example 1: agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere
Brandpunkt manages social media channels, among other things, for agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere. Its first job was to identify what essentially made up the tractor manufacturer’s content marketing for more than 100 years – with printed formats such as “Flur und Furche” [“Meadow and Furrow”] and a community that John Deere certainly considers a “love brand” – even if the company would never say so. Today, for example, the company works with YouTube content from influencers such as the Tractor Brothers and promotes its content more through WhatsApp and other messengers than via e-mail – “because this is a target group that of course you’ll rarely find sitting at a desk in an office but are often on the go,” as Bersch explains.
Example 2: Deloitte, the management consulting firm
The situation is different for firms that could use the services of management consultancies. Their employees spend considerably more time on their notebooks. Deloitte is a management consultancy that has successfully conveyed complex B2B content via social media for years. The consulting firm often puts people at the heart of its posts, thus positioning itself as more than a firm that just happens to be an interesting employer.
Topics that occasionally can be very complex and stem from the everyday workings of the companies for which Deloitte consults are brought to life through skillful storytelling. Moving-image content has a crucial role to play here. Deloitte also shows how “content bits” can be adeptly produced: as simple little vignettes that are easy to share. Whether on evergreen topics such as digitalization and nutrition trends or the latest developments around Brexit – Deloitte offers a considerable number of channels, from Twitter to Instagram at the same time disproving the assumption that products with high visual impact are an imperative part of content for Instagram target groups. Longer audio formats such as the Future Talk Podcast also work well in settings that require some explanation.
Example 3: Krones, the manufacturer of plants for beverages
When it comes to visual language, the social media managers at Krones have an easier time of it. The beverage plant manufacturer from the Bavarian city of Neutraubling is not only one of the global market leaders for bottling plants; for years, it has also been very successful in its posts to social media channels and company-owned blogs. So the main focus cannot be on social selling, i.e. sales initiation; nor can direct ROI be the primary concern – even though product communication plays a role, especially in the context of scheduling trade fair appearances.
The company benefits from its many years of experience – they have tried lots of things over the years and were early adopters of dialog media and YouTube in particular – simply because the company had lots of video content that could be used in this context. Working through all the conventional channels, not only had Krones built up an organic reach over the years; it had always promoted two-way communication, too. Unlike many other companies, not only is content published, but the team also makes a clear effort to engage in dialog with customers and interested parties.
The bottom line: Social media and B2B go together well
There are quite a number of companies that demonstrate that social media also work with products that require explanation and with complex services in the B2B environment. Even though not many are likely to get enthusiastic over a bottling plant as they would for, say, a sneaker or a high-tech gadget, the examples mentioned show that social channels ensure positive brand awareness and make a company look more attractive as an employer among the corresponding target groups of degree holders. Apart from that, social media channels can be a good medium for customer communication, helping a company identify problems or dissatisfaction in a timely manner.
The impact remains difficult to measure – people need to know that comparisons with other sectors or even B2C companies will not work, but that comparisons with competitors within a company’s own environment will. We’ll explain how this works in the days ahead.