How B2B Companies Leverage Social Media

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Cisco and Seven show that social media efforts can be fruitful in the B2B space.

Social media is no longer the sole playground of B2C companies. Its value as a communication, marketing, and relationship vehicle has been proven again and again. As a result, B2B companies, often a step behind their B2C counterparts in adopting new customer-based business strategies, have begun using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and internal online communities to enhance their marketing, sales, and service efforts.

And their participation will continue to increase. Executive Guidance 2011: Achieving Intelligent Growth, a recent survey of more than 400 communications executives conducted by The Corporate Executive Board, identified that B2B companies plan to triple their spend from 2 percent to 6 percent of their marketing budgets in 2011. Here we highlight two B2B companies - Cisco and Seven -- that have seen positive results from their social media efforts.

Cisco builds relationships with the SMB market through social media

Cisco's reputation is that of a company that serves primarily enterprise clients. Almost four years ago it extended into the small- and medium-size business space with new products and services aimed at smaller companies. George Gutierrez, director of social media programs at Cisco Small Business Technology Group, says social media has been a critical way to build awareness and relationships among SMB prospects and customers.

"We can't not be in these spaces," Gutierrez says. "Small businesses talk to their friends and others like them. They're big users of social media, like blogs, forums, and reviews. We made a decision from the start about building Cisco's social media group."

The group launched an SMB-specific community called Cisco Innovators to offer product and service support, answer questions, and provide a network of peers and experts for the SMB audience. Gutierrez says the community is a mix of Cisco engineers and community members, and he's happy to see that the audience step forwards to respond to and interact with one another. The community is global, offered in 11 languages.

Cisco's Small Business Technology Group also focuses on interacting with customers who review its products on third-party sites like Amazon and Newegg. A dedicated task force of two employees monitors reviews and provides feedback comments. "There are no cookie-cutter responses," Gutierrez says. "We want the audience to know that we're listening and responding when we can."

And like many other companies, Gutierrez's group has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Twitter is used primarily to listen and respond to customer tweets, and also to promote new products and drive customers back to its site. On Facebook, however, Gutierrez says the goal is more broad. "We're informing our followers of updates from Cisco, but also what's going on in the SMB space in general. We don't make it always about the business." For example, he may post a link to an article about new government programs or clever examples of how SMB companies have made improvements through technology. "From the start we're very conscious of voice and tone," he says. Since many of his audience are small companies and not IT-focused, his team speaks in plain English, not in what he calls "enterprise-speak or tech-speak" the way he would with an IT director at a large company. "You can't talk to everyone the same way."

For Gutierrez, social media presence is about being in the right place at the right time with the right message. "We want to allow the audience to make up their own minds. By joining the conversations where they are we aren't pushing [our customers and prospects]. By allowing them to self-educate, we have built more of a strong bond with them on their own terms and on their own time."

As for results, Gutierrez says sales are increasing among SMB customers, though he declines to offer specifics. Traffic to its resellers' and e-commerce sites are up, as well. Community membership is also growing, and the company receives more than 300 new Twitter followers each month. And with awareness and perception of Cisco's small business efforts as a main goal, he says that quarterly surveys to its channel partners show steady growth in perception of Cisco as a SMB provider every quarter for the past three years.

Next steps include educating its 97,000+ reseller community about how to use social media to educate themselves and grow their business. "Right now [in the channel partner community] it's a lot of fits and starts," Gutierrez says.

He advises companies not to think of social media as siloed from other marketing or service functions. "This should not be separate from other marketing you do."

Seven integrates social media into the service experience

Seven provides mobile email and messaging solutions for mass market devices. It sells primarily to the top 20 operators in more than 80 countries. Its global presence means there is a lot to keep up with when it comes to communications. Social media allows the company to send small updates in a timely and efficient manner to different groups and stakeholders, says Christina Trampota, senior product marketing manager.

Seven uses platforms including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a company blog, and Wikipedia to communicate with customers, partners, and prospects. But they're not just used to promote marketing messages. The company has different goals for each tool. "Twitter is more fact-based, news-based information, Facebook is more about content, and YouTube has executive interviews and thought leadership," Trampota says.

On its Facebook page, Seven recently added a service plug-in, driven by Parature, designed to allow users to search its knowledgebase or ask service questions. "It's a new channel where we can provide support," says Sean Treat, senior manager of customer support. A Facebook request automatically creates a service ticket and gets placed into the same support workflow as any other support request. The company responds on its Facebook wall or directly to the customer, depending on how much the company knows about the identity of the customer.

"We know customers are out there and looking for support in a medium they're familiar with," Treat says. "[The tool] is easy for the customer and it's easy for us."

In addition to providing another support channel for customers, Seven's social media presence helps to collect voice of the customer insight and learn about issues to share with its partners. The Facebook tool, for example, helped drive down call volumes and saved one carrier $800,000. Common issues were identified via social media, and the carrier trained its support staff on how to quickly resolve the issues. "It's an early warning system," Treat says. "Some customers are unable to obtain the level of service they expect from their carriers. They want answers quickly. They can find us, ask questions, and we can get back to the carrier [with the issues]."

As for its marketing ventures, Trampota says that as a white label company, most social media fans and followers are already customers. The company uses social media primarily to enhance awareness and thought leadership.

Trampota adds that the company doesn't have specific metrics to hit, because social media is considered an extra channel to its traditional marketing and service efforts. She says its benefits include a greater awareness of the business, thought leadership on mobile issues, constant updates such as articles, public relations, events, and the ability to reach small constituencies. The company just used Facebook to promote new mobile tools for Slovenia, for example.

"Once you see the viral effects, you understand the value," Trampota says.

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