B2B brands must turn their fear of social into bravery and start communicating in the open and immediate way social marketing allows.
For some reason Twitter seems to strike fear into the hearts of chief executives (CEOs) - especially in corporate environments. Last year the Wall Street Journal published this article full of cautionary tales about CEOs tripping up on Twitter. No wonder execs are hesitant when the media is full of Twitter #FAIL stories, which hit brands hard and fast.
Unprepared senior executives can quickly find themselves floundering when social marketing initiatives take a turn for the worse. In recent months, British Gas' managing director Ian Peters found himself in the middle of a PR disaster when he decided to host a Twitter Q&A in the wake of price rises. The hashtag #AskBG was trending almost instantly for all the wrong reasons.
The Internet has given a voice to millions of people, and it's usually consumer brands on the firing line for dealing with social media backlash. Sometimes it only takes one influential individual to cause a stir. But if you think that the professional audience of B2B companies means they're having an easier time, think again.
Unfortunately, far too many B2B brands lack the social marketing vision they need. It can be extremely hard to find a senior corporate executive who isn't scared of social channels. For these senior execs the fear of losing their job as a result of an inappropriate tweet - or photograph posted in Instagram - is a very real one. As an alternative, many choose to simply avoid social networks entirely. Research by Domo revealed that only three in 10 Fortune 500 companies have a social media presence.
But to say that the possibility of a photo being misinterpreted is the root of their fear completely oversimplifies things. At the heart of their reluctance is a power struggle between the old and new way of doing business.
The formula for business success has changed. In just a few years the ability to integrate social into every part and level of your business has become a criteria for keeping up with the game. The unprecedented shift is summed up rather nicely by the American business author Erik Qualman, who said, "We don't have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it."
Many senior executives outside of generation Y have spent years being nurtured in a business environment that values control above all else. In this guarded world, everything runs on a schedule and communication is a one-way broadcast mechanism for your brand messages. Authenticity - the core of all social marketing - takes a back seat. Being a modern business today means putting the voice and needs of the customer at the heart of your business operations, communications, and timescales. Social marketing embraces this modernity and challenges the top-down way of doing things.
Corporate power and value is no longer cultivated behind closed-doors. "In the new social world control is not as successful as influence," so B2B CEOs need to effectively forget the traditional route to building a successful, profitable, and respected business. Leaving these fears and habits behind is the first stage in opening up a meaningful dialogue with their digital audience.
Everywhere you turn businesses are stepping up their social efforts. This means considering how you can use social channels right from the start - from strategic planning to the everyday. As more companies up their game, more pressure is being felt by others to follow suit, which can only be a good thing. Before you know it people will actively avoid businesses that don't have a social media presence and personality, because it just doesn't fit in with how people operate in their daily lives.
In the future, competitive advantage will be gained by companies who understand and act on the possibilities of mobile, social, and data. B2B brands must turn their fear into bravery and start communicating in the open and immediate way social marketing allows. The time to act is now.
Image via Shutterstock.
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Kimberley Brind is global marketing executive and social strategist at Oracle. She is an accomplished and pragmatic goal orientated technology marketer with an entrepreneurial approach and more than 20 years international, strategic marketing, demand generation, and marketing communications experience.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014