Just in the past week, I have been asked the following questions by Partners from two different accounting firms: “Is all of this social media stuff really necessary?  If so, how can I possibly be productive?”  This is quite a dilemma especially in the world of professional services where time equals money.  Both of these Partners bill their time at $350 per hour.  The opportunity cost of a three minute tweet becomes over $17.00.  When time is limited and you think in terms of dollars and cents, what social media commitment level makes sense?

It’s a fair question – the social media world is confusing and can be a time sucking proposition if you let it. Your B2B marketing consultant or in-house professional should be able to help you determine what forms of social media are necessities and which types are luxuries.  We, the marketers, should help to make sense of the social media chaos for our colleagues and clients.  It’s our job to be aware of the various social media tools, including ones that have been around like Twitter and LinkedIn and some that are up-and-coming, such as Google+.  What are the pros and cons of each and how could they be used as a part of an overall marketing communications plan to introduce or reinforce thought leadership and /or a firm’s brand messaging?

Here is what we are advising our clients right now:

LinkedIn:  NECESSITY

With over 100 million professionals on LinkedIn, how can you and your firm afford to not have a presence?  Think about how you feel when you go on a Web site that was created in the early 2000’s and it has outdated information, stale graphics and all self-serving copy.  That same bad impression now happens, albeit to a lesser degree, when you can’t find someone on LinkedIn.  Or, you can find that person on LinkedIn but they have no photo and very few connections.  Two thumbs down!  Here are some stats compliments of “LinkedIn’s astonishing growth: By the numbers” posted on 3/24 on The Week:

100 million
Number of LinkedIn users

98,425
The height, in feet, of a hypothetical stack of business cards representing all 100 million LinkedIn members

44 million
Number of LinkedIn users in the U.S.

200
Number of countries with LinkedIn users

I get comments every week from clients and business colleagues who read something on my LinkedIn profile.  And YES, we have gotten business from LinkedIn.  For some helpful LinkedIn tips, read:

Marketri Blog: LinkedIn Posts & Tips

Twitter:  LUXURY

I know that some avid “Tweeps” might be upset by my advice but I offer it nonetheless.  After using Twitter for over two years, I have found it valuable from a thought leadership standpoint.  I find some of the best marketing tidbits from going through the tweets of the people I follow and running keyword searches on search.twitter.com.  I also have formed some wonderful connections with other marketing outsourcing companies, like the Marketing Eye, and we share best practices.  So why do I call it a luxury?  Twitter is very time consuming as it truly is about having conversations and forming relationships online.  Those looking to simply push self-serving messages out are wasting their time and will, in fact, insult the Twitter community.  In the B2B professional services world, where time is money, the cost-benefit equation is a bit unbalanced with the weight shifting towards the cost side of the equation.  Disagree?  Would love to hear other perspectives.

Google+:  NECESSITY

Google+ burst onto to the social media scene in the past year with a great deal of hype, and I have to say that it is worth the excitement it has generated. Check out “What’s So Exciting About Google+” for an overview. Google+ feels like a hybrid of some of the existing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but offers some new and interesting benefits. My favorite feature of Google+ is how flexible the information sharing is through the use of Circles. You can select which content you want to share with which people. We have clients in several different industries and it is great to be able to share only the information that they will find relevant. In addition to sharing information on Google+, it is also a great resource for finding information on specific topics or for monitoring your brand. Using the Sparks feature you can set up topics that you are interested in and click on them to see a live stream of information being shared on that topic. The Google+ Hangouts feature also offers a fun way to host live group video meetings, great for internal or client meetings when you are geographically dispersed. Last but not least, one of the greatest things about Google+ is that it may improve your SEO results and increase visibility in Google search.

So how does this factor in with our other necessity, LinkedIn? There have been reports that Google+ may threaten to overtake sites like LinkedIn due to its rapid growth. However, I think it is hard to tell whether a network like Google+ could replace LinkedIn. In my opinion, the potential for a Google+ takeover will be largely based on what new features they roll out in the future, especially for the company/brand pages. So for now, I say continue to enjoy and explore both!

If you are interested in getting started on Google+ I would highly recommend “34 Google+ Resources for Your Business: Advice from the Pros” from Social Media Examiner. Here are a few basics to get you going:

  • Set up and complete your profile information. Use the “Links” section to post information about your business, news mentions, or links to other social media profiles.
  • Begin inviting colleagues and clients to Google+. You can import Outlook contacts as well as LinkedIn connections.
  • Create a Circle of your clients on Google+ and begin sharing useful content with them.
  • Set up Sparks to monitor your company name and topics that interest you. For example, one of my favorite go-to Sparks categories that I’ve set up is “B2B Marketing”.

Facebook:  LUXURY

Facebook is a social network near and dear to many of our hearts. We use it to connect with friends and family, post pictures, keep up with our social circles, and connect with our favorite brands and celebs. I have found that Facebook is great for individuals and B2C companies, but can be a little bit more challenging for B2B companies. Facebook has a much more personal feeling based on the uses mentioned above. I think this is where B2C companies, especially the big brands, derive their advantage. People are usually using Facebook as an individual and less as a professional entity. They are looking to connect with companies that represent their personal interests like their favorite clothing store, sports team or musical group. The lack of “professional identity” on Facebook has made it difficult for B2B marketers to find and engage their audience. Compare this to LinkedIn, where the majority of people are using it for professional reasons and you can see why it is much better suited to B2B companies than Facebook.

If you have a limited amount of time to commit to your B2B social media efforts, stick with LinkedIn where you are likely to find an audience that is in professional mode and will be more receptive to your message. While this is true I will say that Facebook is a great tool for recruiting new and talented employees. It allows you to use the reach of your current employees to spread the word about job openings. You can also send messages and post information about new positions and projects, plus you can begin getting to know the candidates.

We hope that this guide will help you determine where to dedicate your limited time and resources when it comes to the ever changing world of B2B social media and marketing. What are your luxuries and necessities for B2B social media? We’d love to hear your thoughts!