Many consumer-facing businesses have fully embraced social media channels for everything from raising brand awareness to resolving customer-service issues.  When it comes to connecting with prospects and customers, Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies have left their Business-to-Business (B2B) counterparts in the dust. And even B2C companies with a social media strategy often ignore the sites that business decision makers use the most.

B2B companies are definitely playing catch-up compared to their more consumer-oriented counterparts. Here are just two examples of recent successes for B2C companies:

Business People Collaborating

  • Outdoor retailer REI’s social media team has set out to make deep, personal connections with customers through social media channels. And they operate in real time, which is critical in the social-media world.
  • Social media has changed the way Nokia’s customer service operates. The cell-phone maker takes proactive measures to engage customers through social media, as well as connecting customers with experts who can address their issues in real-time. The company’s goal is to be “a trusted source of information for Nokia users.”

In comparison, B2B firms seem to be stopped at the fork in the road, unsure how to proceed.

LinkedIn: A Useful, But Often-Ignored Tool

A recent survey found that 64 percent of B2Bs use social media for brand awareness. But 53 percent don’t use social media to generate leads, and 12 percent were unsure whether they use social media for lead generation. And more than a third of B2Bs surveys do not use social media for any marketing purposes.

Social media evangelist Amy Kinnaird, of Uncommon Sense Marketing, said part of the reason is that many popular social media channels — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus, for example — simply don’t lend themselves to a B2B model:

“With B2C versus B2B, the individual is the consumer as opposed to the business. A business isn’t necessarily looking for a supplier on Facebook. That’s what I am seeing. They don’t know how to market to a business. Many companies don’t have the time or the strategy to use it to find and get their clients.”

Social media isn’t necessarily the tool for finding clients, Kinnaird continued. Instead, it is brand awareness. But there is one social media platform she said many B2B companies aren’t taking full advantage of.

“LinkedIn, in a B2B world, is the tool they need to focus time and attention on Also, depending on the industry, Twitter might be a good thing as well. A business would need a presence on all three of those networks (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). But a B2B, almost by its definition, would be LinkedIn.”

Kinnaird said LinkedIn is the one social media platform where B2Bs can have an advantage over B2Cs. A B2C could spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and not get a lot of consumers. But decision makers at B2Bs might be more inclined to look there.

Her advice to a B2B looking to develop a social media strategy is to start with a good company profile page on LinkedIn.  “When you looked around for company profile pages, there aren’t many of them.  If you even look for the big guys, they don’t have anything.”

Regardless of your target audience, the key to success in social media is the same key to success in other areas of your business:

“If these folks don’t have a strategy, they don’t know who they are looking for. If they did, they would know where their ideal client is. If they haven’t defined that, they aren’t going to know where to go to market. Once you have defined that, then you can say what you are going to use social media for.”

B2B Customers Have Higher Expectations

Whatever method a B2B uses for marketing and brand awareness, customer service and communication are key.  Consumers may be unhappily resigned to endless waits on hold and unhelpful customer service staffers, but that’s certainly not the norm in the B2B world.  The expectations – and the financial stakes – are much higher there.

While a new customer may find a business via LinkedIn, Twitter, word or mouth, or a wholesale trading network, the next step for most is a simple, old-fashioned phone call.  A bad experience there can kill a deal before it ever starts.

Any employee who works with customers by phone – from the receptionist to the sales manager – should be trained on good phone etiquette.  If the person who answers can’t solve the problem or answer a question, make sure they know who in the company can.  Update your phone system, if necessary, to provide an easy-to-use customer interface and relevant on hold messages and music.

Social media can help a B2B connect to new customers, but personal interaction is the key to building strong, long-term relationships.