B2B social media and all things Internet have got us all thinking globally. Not a bad thing, but sometimes the good ol’ fashioned local networking is overlooked. And with the diversity of social media platforms, there is at least one that suits every business, even B2Bs. That B2B social media power can be focused on local connections…whether your “local” means regionally like in your city or pertinent to your industry.

B2B Social Media Locally and Beyond

How to use B2B Social Media to build a local following…or stay in touch with an existing network

If your business primarily serves a local community or is part of a tight-knit industry in which relationships are paramount, you know the importance of a web presence. Most of us fully grasp that the Yellow Page ad no longer serves as our primary outreach to local customers.

Many studies reveal the obvious, most local customers use the web before making a purchase…especially customers who are businesses themselves. Here are some traditional B2B networking concepts that are important to growing a business and how to apply that concept to B2B social media engagement.

1. Listening to business owners helps you understand their needs and plans. It helps to define ideal clients.

Traditional: Face-to-face meetings or social events with individual clients or perhaps industry networking events at conferences. If you require clarification or change your research focus based on new information, you meet with clients again.

Social Media: Just a few ideas:

  • Organize Twitter followers (or non-followers of interest) into Twitter lists that identify various segments of your target clients. Then create a stream in a social media management tool like HootSuite to “listen” to what they are talking about. Boost usefulness by adding hashtags, keywords, or other filters to your stream so that you receive fewer, but more relevant posts in the stream. Learn something new? Add a stream or change your stream filters.
  • Use Facebook pages to engage with your clients.
  • Post discussions and polls in LinkedIn groups related to your target clientele…or just read responses to others’ LinkedIn group interactions.
  • Read your competitors’ reviews that their customers posted online. It will tell you a lot about what your potential customers want and don’t want.

2. Presenting your business lets other business owners know what you offer that they or someone they know might need.

Traditional: Joining local service clubs like Rotary International or speaking at the club meetings, using your elevator speech when meeting people, exchanging business cards, follow-up phone calls and e-mails.

Social Media: Engaging your local community can lead to word-of-mouth marketing which leads to more clients. Social media can extend the reach of your networking in your local and industry-specific communities.

Building relationships is key to growing a successful business and this can happen online by remembering that social media is social, even in business. Using social media is not that much different than face-to-face networking.

Being friendly, useful, and genuine will get you further than constantly pitching your products or services. Many great tools abound to help you identify and attract the followers you want to engage with. Here are a few examples:

  • TweetAdder – a free tool that helps you identify Twitter users by geographic location.
  • Tweepi – a free tool that helps you follow the best followers of leaders in your industry. For example, if your business is ship-building, look for influencers in your industry in Tweepi, then use the tools to follow that influencer’s followers.
  • Search the web for local businesses, visit their websites to discover their social media links, and then connect. Remember to engage with their posts to build the relationships that generate qualified leads.
  • Put all your social connection links everywhere including on your email signature, website, business card or use QR codes to provide easy ways to find you online. This gives your prospects the invitation to learn more about your business.

3. Current customers can learn about new products or services.

Traditional: TV or radio ads, billboards, brochures, direct mail, even direct email campaigns might be considered traditional.

Social Media: Whatever community is appropriate for your business use it to the fullest. For example, use a Facebook page to inform your followers about new products. Conduct a contest in Facebook that generates buzz.

Ensure detailed information is available on your LinkedIn company pages including pictures and keyword-based descriptions. Use all your communities to direct attention to your website or other company page. Use great pictures and offer deals to draw interest.

4. Current customers can be your best advertising tool. Reference is the sincerest form of flattery in B2B.

Traditional: A local business owner attending a local golf charity event complains of a big problem keeping him awake at night. One of your past customers mentions that your business helped his business overcome the same problem with amazing results. Whammo! Another customer will be calling you right after the 18th hole.

Social Media: Get those referrals online so many prospects can see them. Select 3-to-5 sites related to general business or your industry to focus gathering customer reviews.

Google+ is a must, as well as general directories like Yelp or the Better Business Bureau. If you sell products on Amazon, get Amazon reviews. If you run a restaurant, list on UrbanSpoon or other foodie site.

Incorporate asking for reviews throughout your sales cycle. Include a request and link on your invoice, follow up with emails for shipped products to ask for reviews, or send “thank you for your business” and include a request a review. Regularly read and follow up on comments. Thank them for good comments, address issues and respond to negative comments.

5. You use your successful business status in the community to support a cause close to your heart. And, in doing so, your exposure and customer base increases.

Traditional: Become a non-profit board member or adviser, sponsor a community event, or volunteer to find opportunities to show your business cares about the local community.

Social Media: Here are a few ideas to help you engage or expand your engagement with your local community or industry to build brand recognition, trust, and respect:

  • Most non-profits have a website or social community network page. Support them by following, liking, and posting. Share their information with your own networks.
  • Seek out causes that are relevant to your business or local community by searching on the web or in social communities, then engage.
  • Check out sixdegrees.org and networkforgood.org to identify opportunities to connect and then create website “fundraising badges” to share with your prospects and clients that your business supports a worthy cause.

Local B2B social media is NOT a replacement for being involved in your community for business and personal satisfaction reasons. Rather, social media can keep the conversation going to increase the effectiveness of the face-to-face activities, or help you identify connections you would not ordinarily get an opportunity to make.

For example, while connecting to local businesses on Twitter, I saw a really great profile picture and inquired about the artist who created it. Through that connection, we have been having all sorts of conversations and maybe one day she will ask about my services or refer me.

I have already referred people to her business several times. It will always be important and fun to meet other business owners and potential clients in person, but online connections can be rewarding, too.

Provide online content that solves a problem, gives them insight or is otherwise valuable. Also, remember that etiquette is important online as well as offline. If people reach out to you through social media through commenting on your blog, tweeting to you, liking your Facebook post, responding to your LinkedIn discussion, etc. then you should respond to them in a timely manner.

As many Tweeters say when connecting, “Keep the conversation going!” Connect with Social Business Maven and SEO Buzz. Comment to let us know how you use social media to listen to your clients!