Facebook as a B2B Marketing Tool

We’ve been watching the shift in Facebook’s audience demographics and its transformation into a marketing channel for connecting with online adults. This initially seemed like a major coup. Few of us could have predicted it when the site first launched as college-focused social network back in 2003.

More of a surprise is what Facebook is poised to become next: a B2B (define) networking and marketing platform that attracts corporate executives and decision makers.

It’s been nearly a year since Facebook launched open registration, but a mere few months since business really began to embrace it as something other than a potential media buy. For some, it’s replacing LinkedIn, which has been criticized for being too dry and corporate.

Others, like Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, a Montreal-based digital marketing agency, are using it less as a networking tool and more as a soapbox from which to demonstrate thought leadership, promote their companies and interests, and drive additional traffic to their sites and blogs.

When I first found Joel on Facebook about six months ago, his profile referred visitors to his MySpace page, then his primary social network. Not anymore. Now I see Mitch update his Facebook status daily with a recap of his most recent public speaking engagement. Posts from his blog feed into his profile through a Google Reader Shared Items application, and he distributes news about the upcoming content of his Six Pixels of Separation Podcast through a Facebook Group by the same name.

For Joel, Facebook became a viable B2B network the day it opened its API (define) to third-party developers. Its value also lies in its reach and the niche focus of its Groups. “The key is to create an environment that’s always yours — your blog or podcast space — then feed into it through a Facebook Group,” Joel says. “The Group is just another touch point.”

One of ClickZ’s founders and the current principal of Walker Rhodes, Andy Bourland, takes a similar approach, posting links and notes to third-party articles alongside his own commentary (both text and video), in essence using the site as a blog. He also uploads posts from his own blog, Bourland.com.

Bourland also sees Facebook as a place for professionals to build their personal brand. “I would never advertise — as in buying ads — on Facebook. I’d develop an app that creates some form of involvement with the service or the brand,” he says. “I’ll betcha some smart marketing minds are out there right now coming up with some great apps that will make it more conducive for people like us to do business on Facebook.”

I’d bet the same thing, but it’s too early to count out advertising, which admittedly has been reserved for B2C (define) marketing efforts to date. If Facebook’s user base of business professionals continues to grow, it could become a legitimate option for B2B marketers eager to connect with savvy professionals who largely depend on word of mouth to influence their business purchasing decisions.

In addition to targeting by Workplaces Network (these have long existed for most major corporations along with many smaller agencies and firms), advertisers could handpick groups from such categories as Business and Internet & Technology. For corporate service providers, equipment and supply vendors, employment companies, and research firms, these techniques could deliver access to a qualified audience of potential customers in an engaging, interactive environment atypical of most B2B marketing and sales channels. Given its malleable nature, there isn’t much to prevent businesses from experimenting on all fronts.

To date, Facebook has been predominantly a personal social network, but that hasn’t stopped businesses and their proactive marketing and sales teams from adapting its existing features to suit their networking and promotional needs. As their own networks of business contacts grow friend by friend, so too does the site’s B2B community as a whole, and the opportunity for interactive marketers to target it.

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