Social media doesn’t always come naturally to B2B companies, especially not those in traditional industries. There are a few bright spots out there, but most enterprises are only at the start of their social journey.
Do you need 10+ reasons as to why your B2B organisation should harness social? Fear not, I’ve had a chat with Jonathan Wichmann of Orca Social and Wichmann/Schmidt to get the full story, based on his recently released eBook “10 Reasons B2B Companies Need Social Media”, available to download now.
What are the 10 reasons B2B companies need social?
Basically we did a three-month research project in Orca Social, trying to sort of comprehend why is it that actually social in this thing we do, what kind of value does it add to B2B companies and why should they focus more on this.
So first of all, we found out the conclusion is that there’s a massive potential. One of the problems is that it’s still referred to as social media and I think you need to refer to it as social technologies. Once you do that you start sort of realising that it’s much more than Facebook and Twitter. And then at least Facebook has a very bad reputation amongst the C-suite in most big companies because it’s just silly stuff, right? And something marketing might work on and stuff like that.
And then we sort of tried to, of course, make it into the ten reasons just to give it a popular format, something that’s easy to read. And I have always liked David Letterman’s top ten. So I knew it wasn’t going to be as funny as that and it wasn’t going to be a count down, so we would start from number one and then number ten, and not the other way around.
1. Break down the silos
The first one was that it’s simply social is a huge opportunity in terms of breaking down the silos. So, of course, silos, that’s been on the agenda for 25 years or something. I think Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE was one of the first people to really formulate it and talk about it and dream about getting rid of all the silos. But I think the problem is you need something to replace the silos with once you start, something to break them with and something to replace that flow of information. And here social technology is like an internal or enterprise social network, ESN. It actually gives us that solution.
There are many reasons you should do this, not least for efficiency gains. Because people are working in parallel in these global companies focusing on the same task in parallel. People in the same function as you, just in a different country, for instance. It’s really silly. So best practice sharing and simply just getting more efficient is a reason to do that.
2. Create a culture people value
We also found that once you do break the silos, then you have a second opportunity, and that’s to create a culture that people value. Employee engagement rates can go up as a result of social. We see that socially-enabled companies are better at retaining employees and they have a higher employee engagement rate. But also in terms of other stakeholders like partners and customers and what have you, even press and the public.
And I think that when you start using these technologies, social technologies, which is, of course, peer-to-peer-based, two-way communication, t will support the idea that it’s better to share knowledge than to protect it. That you don’t win in the 21st century by just protecting your knowledge and trying to climb the corporate ladder by stepping on all your colleagues. But you really need to be able to do it with them and cooperate. So it ought to be a CEO’s dream come true, your CFO’s even. A more efficient organisation valued by all the people in it. I am not saying technology can do this, but I am saying it can support it. So there is a chicken and egg discussion here in terms of culture or technology. What comes first?
3. Strengthen the corporate brand
Another reason is to improve the overall brand of the company. Of course, you can use it for that purpose. We see some really good results there, DSM the global science based company, increased brand value by $800 million thanks to social media.
— DSM Company (@DSM) June 24, 2015
4. Build lasting business relationships
You can use it for social selling and building more lasting business relationships. So moving away from short-term sales and into sort of actually focusing on lifetime value of your customers and on the real connections, business connections, instead of customers and brands. Then it’s peer-to-peer.
5. Care about your environment
You can use it for CSR purposes in a way because often the CSR or sustainability people in these organisations, they have a lot to say. They have a lot to network about and they should be empowered and equipped with these social tools to go out and share all their passion points.
— Tetra Pak (@tetrapak) December 16, 2015
And when you deal with that, you, of course, need to be aware, conscious of not doing any kind of greenwashing, whatever you call it. Where you actually just do it for the sake of looking good. But it has to be authentic. But what we see there is that there are actually really good stories to share. Whereas what goes on in the boardroom tends to be less interesting, people don’t care. And so it’s people with a mission and with a story. And that people like to follow, because they are very passionate about what they do.
6. Let the crowd help you improve
You can use social technologies to involve the crowd in developing your business. The most famous example, I think, is the My Starbucks Idea. The platform has been running for almost ten years now, where people can submit ideas for Starbucks. All the users can then rate ideas up and down and Starbucks can review it and reply and say, “We already did this four years ago, it doesn’t work,” or actually, “This is a good idea, we will review it further and maybe launch it.” So you get all the validation and the ideas from the crowd to develop your business.
— My Starbucks Idea (@MyStarbucksIdea) September 5, 2014
We have an example from AkzoNobel, which is a European B2B company within chemicals. They have done pretty much the same thing. But, of course, on a smaller scale because it’s not B2C, so it’s fewer stakeholders that they are involving, but it’s still the same thing. But, of course, then you know there is a market for it. If everyone is voting this idea up and they all want it equally, something is wrong if it doesn’t work when you do launch it. In a way it’s a no-brainer, but, I think, what’s difficult here is the process and the platform and launching it and maintaining it. So the process is how to then go about it. But the idea, it’s pretty clear. It’s a good idea, I think.
I think it’s when you realise that your business development, that actually the brightest minds are not sitting in the management board necessarily or in the R&D department necessarily. Because they tend to be a lot alike, those people sitting there. And they tend to, after a few years, they think the same way. So just to involve people is a good idea.
7. Identify shortcuts in the supply chain
You can also use social for optimising or improving or even reshaping your supply chain. So connecting all the many parts of the chain in a more efficient way or even bypassing different parts of it by identifying shortcuts somehow. You can use it in different ways. You can use it to just enhance communication so it becomes more coordinated between partners. And, again, using an enterprise social netowrk, or you can involve the crowd to identify risk or exceptions in the supply chain so you can react to it very quickly and fix the problem. Different ways of using it.
We’ve see that in Nordstrom stores, you can find Etsy goods. So local artisan goods made by people on Etsy. They are right there on the shelves in a Nordstrom store. That’s bypassing the entire supply chain of Nordstrom. It’s a new supply chain for them, from Etsy. And then, of course, it drives traffic and interest. So the same strategy can be applied by B2B companies. But you involve the crowd somehow.
Cool Etsy popup shop featuring local artists at the flagship nordstrom pic.twitter.com/oxF3MVJ61I
— Dave Rigotti (@drigotti) November 29, 2013
8. Spot and attract world class talent
Then there is the HR. In the world of HR, I think recruiters are using social. I actually can’t remember the numbers, but it’s a very high number. They’re all are using it. I think what we’re also seeing a little bit is that some of the tactics that external recruiters are using, they are being insourced a little bit by companies. Because they see that these tricks and tools and ways to search LinkedIn and Google for talent and sourcing the right talent. They simply need to be able to do this themselves.
And they also need to get much better at using these tools to simply just communicate what they are all about. Not necessarily talk about exactly who they are and why people should work for them, but just demonstrate it by putting their people out there, letting them blog and letting them share their knowledge. Because it will end up being people will then find that this is a company that’s modern, open, transparent and where people are empowered to talk and share knowledge. So we know millennials are attracted to that, among other things. So definitely a lot of upsides in the HR field, I would say.
9. Make your customers happy
And then we have a point number nine, which is about happiness, which is about making customers happy. So essentially it’s about loyalty and customer service, and really just using these tools to solve people’s problems by reacting to their enquiries. That’s often not that relevant with a service channel on Facebook for a B2B company because your customers are professional buyers, they wouldn’t use Facebook or Twitter, they would just contact their key account manager.
But forums is something that we see work, so it’s also social technology in a way. That people can go in there, like a live FAQ, ask a question, and maybe it’s already been answered before. And if not, someone from the company will help answer that question, and maybe other users will. So it can even become a self-service tool to achieve call deflection and satisfaction at the same time, that’s a good thing to achieve.
10. Don’t cease to exist
And then finally, then we had a point number ten. Which is quite dramatic, but it’s simply don’t cease to exist. It should be sort of the overall reason that social is not everything. But then again, it is becoming something like it in terms of communications technology. Because we see these social technologies be part of everything we do and it’s a change, at least in mindset and how we operate, and also in terms of culture and all of that.
What we see more and more is the winds of change. Companies are not surviving very long anymore, not like in the old days, because disruption is in the air all the time. So if you don’t at least adopt the technologies and the change, appreciate it even, then you will really struggle. Because the barriers are being dropped. It’s like the very famous example, Hilton Hotels or whatever. I don’t think they foresaw that it would be a player like Airbnb that would be their biggest competitor.
You could see the same in a B2B environment. So you need to be ready on social, if you are not… Then you are ready to be disrupted basically, I would say. So it’s sort of an insurance just to understand what’s going on in this field, because the change is so often driven by technology these days.
What reason didn’t make it into the top 10 but should get an honourable mention?
I think still marketing, in a way, it’s a bit in there. When we talk about the brand, it’s a bit in there when we talk about business relationships. But marketing automation, for instance, and how social should, of course, be part of the marketing mix these days. And I think what’s interesting regarding B2B is that it’s hugely underdeveloped. So actually it’s not part of the marketing mix for the majority of these companies. They might have a LinkedIn page, but it’s not like they are using it for content marketing or anything. But we see it not as a reason, in a way it’s more something that flows across many of the reasons.
Which of the 10 reasons is the easiest to sell to the c-suite?
I think social selling is a rather easy sell in a way, I found. But it also depends on the sales direction, how much is he into it and is he listening to what’s going on in that arena. But I think that’s what I see also in other companies at Maersk Line. Customer service, as well, because it’s a very tangible thing. The value you can gain there is very tangible. You can achieve call deflection and you can replace people in the call centre with fewer people doing customer service online in a forum, for instance.
Also I think HR is a no-brainer, in a way. It’s something, I think hiring is, and many other people have probably said this, but hiring is so important and it’s something the whole organisation should be involved with. I think I mentioned the management board. I imagine them thinking, “Yeah, they can use it in HR.” Because HR is sort of one of the soft areas, right? So I think they would allow it to be used there without sort of thinking too hard about it.
Which one is the hardest to sell?
I think what’s the hard sell, I think that’s more breaking the silos and that’s the culture. And yeah, I think it’s because it’s so intangible and I think it has to be driven by the C-level, by the executives really. And they need to understand and they need to be part of that, as well. And they need to want it. It’s also about being approachable. So it’s actually really affecting them and the way they run the business. It’s not just a tactic in the sales department where you do a workshop with some sort of process with 30 sales reps and see if it turns out good or you train five customer service reps to use a channel or you train someone in HR to use LinkedIn. When it’s culture and breaking the silos, it becomes about them. And then it’s a really hard sell. So it gets personal, in a way.
What are the mistakes you see B2B companies doing on social media?
I think that the classic mistake is to design it, be too elaborate about the design of it and the whole strategy building it before you are even out there. And so that’s phase one for those companies that don’t even have a presence, that they spend too much time thinking about it before they actually start doing it. And when they do then jump aboard, it will be a big disappointment in many ways because there is no audience. And then the CEO is watching because he invested a lot of money in it. And then it’s just a big let-down because, of course, there are no people watching yet.
And it’s also approaching this the wrong way, because I think it’s an opportunity to fail and to learn more than anything else. So again, the cultural aspect that you do this within an open mind and try to be very sort of test-and-learn in your approach right from the beginning. It’s a wise thing to do because then you find out who are even interested in connecting with us and with our employees and what kind of content, and you don’t know anything in advance really. You know very little, if you are really honest about it. So learning with people and doing it bottom-up is what I would sort of advise most people or most companies to do, and let go of control basically.
How do you keep B2B social media marketing interesting, and not boring and safe?
I think it’s about telling stories really. And, I think, many of these big B2B companies have great stories to tell and they have really brainy and fascinating people on the payroll. Which is a huge asset because you can put them out there and let them talk or maybe help them talk. So I think, and yeah, make it as authentic as possible, and then maybe talk less about yourself and more about what you care about. And then don’t be afraid to let go of control a little bit. I think that’s interesting.
But I think most of all it’s about thinking about the users first and being really cynical about it. Is this something anyone would really care about? Honestly, would I want to read this? And then also sometimes you can do long-form content which only 30 people would care about, but maybe that’s good enough if it’s the right people. So it’s also sort of think about these different kinds of fronts, and short and long form, and figuring out, “What are we all about? Are we here to entertain people? Are we just here to sort of create valuable content for those people who really matter to us?”
But anyway, I think let go of the corporate vibe. Because I don’t think anyone appreciates that, when it’s too corporate. Neither employees nor potential employees or the customers.
Do B2B companies still need agencies for social media?
I think they do need them, but it depends on how much they are insourcing and how much they are capable of doing. But often they just need agencies to be the mentors and to shift direction, help them and train them, and maybe to do some of the key pieces of content over a year. But it depends. But if you have a really skilled department and you’ve insourced almost everything, then I do feel that sometimes you need someone from the outside. Because it becomes day-to-day at a certain point and you need some inspiration. And that’s hopefully where agencies can play a positive role.
It’s also easier to stay on top of trends like that from the agency side. But I am very skeptical towards, as are many other people, towards the big agency idea. I think that their time has passed. So I think it’s more about having people, and that’s basically the Wichmann/Schmidt model, that we can go and we can help people or companies where they have an organisation where they can do a lot themselves. And we can help with sort of strategy and ideas for content and see things differently, help them optimise what they already do.
So more and more strategic actually. And then maybe also for high-end productions. Which, in all fairness, very few companies can do actually. Because the most creative people, to be honest, they don’t want to work in a big company. So they’ll still be out there on the agency side or in the bar.
What B2B companies are doing great things on social media?
I like the AkzoNobel case study, it’s called Open Space, where they’re sort of engaging scientists and engineers and all that to help them develop the business.
Krones AG, which is a German company, they deliver equipment for breweries, and they are doing some really good things on employer branding, with a lot of progress. We talked to them during the study we did and they mentioned integrity is really key here, that it’s not just about pushing and all of that. So a lot around who they are and how they talk and being authentic all the way through.
FloraHolland is interesting in Europe, which is the big flower auctions. I think it’s 60% of all the flowers in Europe, they flow through these auctions, move through them. Where people are buying and selling, so they are sort of connecting sellers and buyers. And what they are doing is they are simply building on their natural sort of strengths, which is flowers. They have amazing flower photos.
What is the next big thing for the B2B social media space?
I think for a while we’ve been talking about employee advocacy as being the next big thing, but maybe, I think, it’s already there now. So it’s also about getting wise in terms of what to do and what not to do, optimising the usage, how employees spend their time doing these things. So tools for optimisation and knowing when to engage with people and when not to, and how to. So those tools that can help you do that. There is a few of them out there, like Dynamic Signal or SmarpShare from Finland, which I think is pretty big in Europe.
But as a whole I think the next big thing is said to be sort of collaborative economy for B2B, where we have seen that already in B2C. Well, no one knows how big it will be if it’s just Uber and Airbnb and stuff, but there are start-ups all over the place. But I think actually, again, the potential disruption is it could be even bigger in some of these industries with very rigid structures and very old school. They risk really being bypassed by tools where, for instance, you connect the crowd into sort of the supply chain and bypass them, the entire supply chain.
It will get much easier for buyers to find cheaper and better solutions. It’s already happening. So price comparison, sales comparison, all of these things. Which means loyalty is being threatened a little bit. How do you keep that relationship with your clients if it’s all a price game and a matter of comparing? So different things going on.
You wrote a book about boredom, any tips on how to fight everyday boredom?
I was getting ready to write my thesis, literature studies in Copenhagen, and I was basically looking for a topic to write about. And then I came up with this idea that if I wrote about boredom, then I would maybe avoid being bored while writing about it because then I would be on a field trip, in a way, into boredom. And it actually worked out, that’s the crazy thing about. So it was an amazing topic to write about and to study.
And then I, of course, looked into different authors and what had been written about this literature of boredom, and very little had been written. So that was also good. And then mostly just negative stuff about boredom. When you read about it, it’s all the negative side of it: how can we fight boredom, how can we avoid it. And I thought, “What about these authors that I have come across who are, it seems like they are not trying to avoid it, they are trying to dive into it. And when they face boredom, they actually use it positively as a blank canvas of a kind or as a way to get new ideas, not repeat yourself, not say what you said yesterday or do what you did before.”
— Jonathan Wichmann (@JonathanWich) June 27, 2015
So I identified different strategies, how to overcome sort of the point blank or point zero, and how to build something from that. Which is about, on a very practical level, it’s about being able to focus on one thing, and then wait, be very patient, and then all of a sudden you will start noticing something new. You will see an ant crawling across the floor and then…so you trick yourself, in a way. And you refocus and you sort of reshape. So that’s one strategy that I have identified.
But, I think, overall it’s about realising that boredom is not that boring. That was sort of the main learning. That it’s really very developed countries, that’s where you see it. Boredom hasn’t been around forever. The word came about at the same time as the sort of entertainment industry, beginning of the 19th century. So boredom is a cultural thing. That’s the insight or truth of being entertained. Because then you see this thing where people start, they work during the day, and then at night they have their spare time or free time. And then they start demanding some sort of entertainment. And then when you don’t get that fulfilment, you become bored.
But really it’s a sign of a society with a certain degree of surplus, or it’s very developed. So it’s a privilege. That’s how I would approach it. And then, of course, at the same time there are deeper kinds of boredom, which are more sort of depressive state of mind. And there are many definitions of boredom, but the basic thing is don’t be afraid. No one ever died from being bored.