As a marketing professional, I have often come across clients, who think Social Media is nothing but a passing fad. They refuse to see the value social media can add to their marketing programs and are obviously missing out on the benefits of one of most the defining trends of our times.

This post is an effort to dispel, some of those myths.

Social media marketing is a term that describes use of social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis or any other online collaborative media for marketing, sales, public relations and customer service. Common social media marketing tools include Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

Social media marketing has three important aspects

1. It is about creating buzz or news worthy events, videos, tweets, or even blog entries that attract attention, and become viral in nature. Buzz generation is what makes social media marketing work, it replicates a message, not through purchase of an ad, but through user to user contact. The message does not necessarily have to be about the product, but could be anything either relatively or remotely associated; many successful viral campaigns have gathered steam by focussing on the interests of the social media enthusiasts with a subtle presence in the form of a company logo or tagline included.

2. Requires building of assets that facilitate fans of a brand or company to promote it across multiple social media channels. Fan pages in Facebook or Groups in Linkedin are ideal examples.

3. Demands a democratic approach – Social media marketing is successful only when it is designed to allow customer/user participation and dialogue, with little or no control by the organization. If a company has something to hide, then maybe social media marketing is not for them, here only the honest or the smart survive, companies which know how to accept and make the most of both bricks and bouquets.

Advantages of Social Media Marketing versus Traditional Marketing Strategies

  • Efficiency- Unlike many traditional marketing methods, social media marketing provides an instant connection between the company and its target audience. As soon as a company puts information up on the internet, it immediately becomes easily available to a large number of people. By contrast, television or radio commercials can take weeks to produce, billboards take time to print and install, and postcards and mailers can take several days to travel and find their way to the desired address.
  • Cost – Social media marketing is extremely cost-effective when compared to other marketing methods. Many social networking platforms charge little or no fee to register, allowing companies to utilize their services to locate and interact with their target audience without having to spend large amounts of money.
  • Effectiveness- Social media provides a lot of flexibility, when it comes to reaching out to the target audience. It can be used to connect with both the masses as well as a company’s niche segment. All one has to do is to ensure that they use their social media channels and assets carefully. And tweak the message as per the audience they are reaching out to. Such flexibility makes any campaign effective, yielding significant results, with just a little effort.
  • Personal Connection- Unlike most traditional marketing strategies, social media allows companies to open up a conversation with their audience, allowing them to provide feedback and express their ideas and suggestions about their business in real time. Customers who have a personal connection with the business and feel as though the company cares about their feelings and opinions are more likely to return to the company when they need their services again. For organizations trying to promote an idea or cause, social media allows them to have discussions with people, informing them about their cause and eventually winning their support.

Why should B2B Companies opt for Social Media Marketing

Because most of their competitors are already there. Today most B2B companies are decreasing their offline marketing dollars and spending it online online. A recent survey by B2B Magazine revealed that over 48% of those surveyed were increasing their online marketing spend. Wonder why?

According to a recent study by KnowledgeStorm of B2B technology decision makers it was found that:

  • 90% Participate in Video
  • 80% Participate in Blogs
  • 80% Participate in Wikis
  • 69% Participate in Social Networks
  • 53% Participate in Podcasts

In the same study it was shared that of 69% of B2B buyers use social networks “primarily for business networking and development.”

Now it would require a lot of over confidence to ignore that kind of social media audience and continue staying away from social media. At a minimum B2B businesses should at least be involved in communities and social network where their customers are present. It would also pay to explore the opportunity to reach out to key influencers in their target market segment and optimize their content and social media applications for syndication.

There is enough data available online which proves that social media marketing has made a mark and is here to stay!

B2B Social Media Marketing Present Usage Trends

The “2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarking Study” found that those B2B companies already using social media were much more active in the space than their B2C counterparts, especially when it came to microblogging, participating in discussions on third-party sites, blogging and monitoring company mentions on various social media. B2Cs were ahead in a few areas: social media advertising, user ratings and reviews, and online communities for customers and prospects.

B2B Social Media Marketing Trends for 2010

“2010 Outlook” indicates social media marketing will be of rising importance for business-to-business (B2B) marketers.

Website, e-mail and search spending were at the top of the list for online tactics to increase, but social media was not far behind. Six in 10 B2B marketers planned to up spending on social in 2010.

Fifty-four percent of respondents currently use social media for marketing. That was up 9 percentage points from November 2008 and about 4 points from June 2009, showing a steady increase in B2B participation.

Among B2B social network marketers, thought leadership was the main purpose, though about one-half hoped to generate leads through social media.

How B2B companies use social media varies but what is important to note is that companies use different social media platforms depending on their end objectives, which could be creating brand awareness, lead generation or just customer engagement.

B2B respondents to a survey by Visible Technologies and SiriusDecisions had somewhat different priorities: The top way they leveraged social media was for generating awareness, followed by customer engagement.

About one-third of respondents to the Visible Technologies/SiriusDecisions study had created a customer community, while one-fifth used podcasts. Slightly fewer (18%) relied on blogs, and only 14% were tweeting. Success in the social channel was mainly measured.

Most B2B marketers reported tracking results themselves, either manually or with a monitoring tool. One-fifth relied on an agency for metrics, while 21% reported not tracking their success at all.

Social media coupled with other marketing campaigns both online and offline can give any brand awareness or lead generation program the much needed impetus. The best part is social media can don multiple hats, same accounts and profiles can be used to promote products, to attend to customers, generate new business leads and respond to customer feedback.

However, getting into social media marketing requires a change in mindset by the company adopting it. It involves the risk of putting out all that you offer on a platter for comments, complaints and compliments. If your company ideology can facilitate that, social media can change the way you do business and interact with your customers.

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