In a recent strategy meeting with a client – head of marketing for a professional services firm – I was trying to articulate why social networking makes sense as one aspect of B2B marketing efforts, especially for service firms. My argument (still in need of refinement) was that these media contribute to visibility, to reputation, and to community, in that order.
I suppose I’m using a not-quiet-valid definition of the phrase “social media” here – I’m talking about media including blogs, Ning, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn; really any web-based media by which a firm can quickly and easily post content on a regular basis, with the opportunity for anyone to read, anyone to subscribe (through an RSS feed, perhaps), and (perhaps with some restrictions) most folks to respond or participate in the discussion.
Firstly, these media contribute to visibility, giving firms the chance to get the word out, in their own way, about their service offerings, how they distinguish themselves from competitors, their involvement in their communities, etc. Certainly these Web 2.0-ish media contribute to better search engine visibility; blogs and their kin are indexed readily and well by Google and other engines.
And visibility might mean exposure for cross-selling opportunities: a set of blog posts might introduce a client from a given vertical to services offered by the firm from another area – an opportunity for an “oh, I didn’t know you did that, too” moment.
Blogs and other post-ful media, if done well, offer perhaps the best web-based mechanism for firms to build reputation: much better than saying “we are an award-winning firm” is to let the reader conclude for him/herself that you are an award-winning firm by scanning a series of posts detailing those awards – with photos of the work, comments from clients, etc. An inductive argument works better here than a deductive argument.
Furthermore, social media contributes to reputation for thought leadership: allowing the geeks in the engineering, design, number-crunching, or other backend department – those whose ideas were formerly released to the outside world, if at all, only via the marketing team – to share details of their latest accomplishments. This can be daunting for the firm – since these internal folks are appropriately more concerned with doing the work than with communicating it in a polished fashion – but the enthusiasm, knowledge of industry, and currency of their thoughts can let the outside world see the innovation, complexity, and quality of the work going on at the ground level.
Lastly, social media can build community. This is the tough one: building community means accepting, and welcoming, contributions from those outside of the firm – and allowing the whole world to see those inputs. But if done well, a thriving blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page, or other social media venue can connect clients to the firm in new ways, allowing the firm to gather valuable feedback from customers, collect testimonials from community-service efforts, and participate in a professional community.