B2B Social Media – Plus Ca Change?

Earlier this month on a balmy autumn morning, Ketchum Pleon had the pleasure of hosting a PRmoment conference on Social Media in B2B Communications. Adding to the resulting posts from Ben at PRmoment and others, I thought I’d share some personal reflections on what really stood out from the event and some quick research we did off the back of it.

I was always a fan as a kid of join the dots, so can you see what picture emerges when you connect the conclusions below that emerged from the conference?

  1. With social media in a B2B context, the critical starting point must be clarity of objectives – essentially “Why are we doing this?”

  2. Armed with this clarity, preparation, planning and patience are everything.

  3. Content is king, but it needs to be something at least close to creative content and must be constantly refreshed.

  4. Immediacy, relevance and agility are critical to success – don’t bother if you’re not prepared to try to be fleet of foot.

  5. Organisations of all kinds are purposefully deploying a diverse mix of tools – blogs, video content, multiple Twitter streams, Facebook pages – but the integration of those tools is key.

  6. In the same vein, the consistency of social media activity with an organisation’s overall brand and cultural values is crucial.

  7. Senior engagement and buy-in – based on ability to prove business value – are essential.

  8. Social media is all about dialogue based on active listening, not about monologue – “The herd will be heard,” to quote one great line originally coined by Bob Garfield.

  9. Any B2B social media strategy will be doomed to failure unless is draws on a true, properly researched understanding of your audiences and their sentiment towards you.

  10. The technology involved is almost incidental – it’s about how you use it based on your needs and objectives.

Can you see what it is yet? Personally, I think that the conclusion smacks you between the eyes. None of this is new. These are the fundamental principles and challenges that we as communicators face every day of our lives. The only difference is that a new set of channels have emerged that have changed the nature of debates around PR. Plus ca change, it seems.

I’d like to think that the calm that might stem from this conclusion explains why 78% of the respondents in a snap poll we did after the event acknowledged that their total investment in social media is “barely a whisker.” That may be a little clement, however, with fear, scepticism or late adoption probably accounting for a fair proportion of this total. I say this, because 65% of respondents also claimed they were “going shopping” and increasing their investment in social media in 2011. Demonstrating ROI and securing internal buy-in were cited as the biggest communication challenges for 2011, while 60% of the respondents claiming “engaging audiences” and “changing their perceptions” were bigger challenges than simply reaching them.

So as we enter 2011, the B2B community appears to be waking up to the power and importance of social media. Excellent news, of course, but in doing so, they could do worse than remember that while the game appears to have changed, the rules may not be as different as they look at first sight.