Thought leadership and B2B social media (#smwmecsocial #smwldn)

This week is Social Media Week in London and there are a lot of events taking place at a variety of locations. I’m not London-based, but I do work there for a couple of days each week and I booked onto some that look particularly relevant to my role – the first of which was hosted by the social media team at MEC Global (@MECsocial), looking at thought leadership and the role of social media in B2B communications.

To be honest, it was a bit light in places on the “thought leadership” angle (MEC covered this, the invited guests less so) but I was pleased to see someone taking a serious look at B2B social media. In my experience most of the “advice” given at events like this is very B2C (or even C2C)-focused and when asking about specific challenges for B2B it’s often brushed under the carpet.

With presentations from MEC Global, LinkedIn and the Telegraph Media Group, followed by a panel discussion, there was a lot of information provided but I’d like to concentrate on just a few highlights.

Organisational considerations for social media

MEC’s Shane O’Byrne (@shaneysean) opened up the event with some organisational considerations for B2B social media. Taking the view that, in stark contrast to B2C (which is 80% agency, 20% client), B2B social media requires more client input (the 80:20 split is reversed), with the agency helping organisations to deliver thought leadership externally. Considerations include:

  • Hard vs. soft approach.
  • Thought leadership.
  • Lead generation.
  • C-suite.
  • Sales.
  • Credibility.
  • Prospect.

And, whilst Shane didn’t go into detail (after all, he’s showing just an insight – let’s call it thought leadership – maybe I should engage with MEC for more detail), in general, it’s about bringing people into a community, thinking about when to approach and move them down the pipeline, and shaping conversations with potential clients rather than selling.

Thought leadership may include advice about the marketplace, culture, political landscape, and even some “crystal ball” gazing; and Shane has seen success in organisations who have found the right seniority of stakeholders using a social media council – working as experts to nurture talent and expertise, turning that into rich content for digital ecosystem.

That digital ecosystem was a topic of conversation for LinkedIn’s Colin Smith and, I’ll hold back on that for a future blog post but Richard Fitzgerald, also from MEC (@fitzyrichard) spoke about the need to avoid treating social media in isolation – integrating with other channels.

Richard recommends setting a mission statement – whether that is a philosophy, a brand campaign, a goal, or a business objective, and building on top of that.  In terms of time allocation, a rough split might be:

  • 70% resource planning, data and insights, content audits, market analysis, futures studies (what are people expecting to hear about?).
  • 20% community management – engagement strategy, moderation guidelines, escalation documents, editorial guidelines, content calendars.
  • 10% for the unpredictable – breaking news, crisis management, reactive content, real time engagement and tactical campaigns.

Social is another means of communication, to be ignored at your peril

Matthew Margetts and Jonathan Davies spoke about the Telegraph Media Group’s experiences of social media, which they regard as another means of communicating and not as superseding a web presence or any other form of communication.

I was particularly interested to hear about their experience of digital media consumption. The Telegraph Media Group is a brand, a content provider and it has commercial solutions (with declining newspaper sales but new markets including competition applications, social video, bespoke applications and Twitter). And, on that last point – Twitter as a channel:

1.6m people consume @ content every day - a further million on Twitter (not monetised: http://t.co/DVDc7z9V) #smwmecsocial #smwldn
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

That shows that Twitter should not be ignored and, although monetising the output might be a challenge, there are opportunities to establish presence, create a groundswell of opinion, establish oneself as a thought leader, and become a recognised (and respected) brand – all of which have positive effects later – even if they don’t lead to direct sales.

Pick your channels with care; and who owns that social profile?

The event finished up with a panel discussion and there were two main areas of interest for me here.

Firstly, there’s a lot of talk about relative sizes of social networks (Facebook is huge, Twitter is pretty big too, Google+ may be significant too, and LinkedIn is relatively small) but then think about the audience that you are targetting.

Think about context for B2B socmed. LinkedIn connects professionals but only 640m professionals in world, 12.5m in UK #smwmecsocial #smwldn
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

This tweet is based on information given by Colin Smith from LinkedIn and, whilst it clearly plays into LinkedIn’s market position (connecting professional people), I think it makes a powerful point: perhaps the majority of those 800m people on Facebook are not actually your target audience?  Perhaps Saleforce.com Chatter might serve an organisation well, in a B2B context?

Finally, who owns your social profiles? Well, I’m pretty determined that I own my LinkedIn presence, this blog, my Twitter stream, etc., many of which predate my employment, but a communications director might take a different view, said the panel!  One argument is that you learned the points that you communicated whilst you were working for the company (but do we? Some might argue that we build personal brands, based on experience with a variety of roles and employments). There may be cultural differences between personal and company accounts and Matthew Margetts highlighted that The Telegraph has guidelines but, equally, it employs “contrarian thinkers who are encouraged to give their opinions”. Maybe some brands are threatened by the rise of the “personal brand” – that will depend on the company and the market. One thing’s for sure – this particular issue is far from clear cut and looks set to become more and more significant, most likely to be settled in the courts…

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