B2B Communications: Blazing a Trail to Effective Social Media Starts with a Clear Map and Clear Goals

Smart B2B communicators have awakened to the realization that social media communications is no longer the exclusive domain of B2C companies, brands and organizations.

The change can be seen in results from last year’s Accenture study, “Making Social Media Pay,” which surveyed more than 200 North American B2B business executives. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those polled thought social media was an “extremely important” or “very important” channel for stakeholder engagement. The research also found that more than half of respondents pointed to enhanced customer interaction, improvement in brand perception, and revenue generation as chief drivers for the development of a social media program.

However, the path to social media adoption hasn’t been an easy one for all B2B businesses. B2B communications trailblazers have had to address questions about ROI, policies for employees, and the very public nature of dialogue on social media.

We wanted to take a pulse check to see how B2B companies are evolving their social media communications programs to reach both internal and external stakeholders. Our query to top communicators yielded responses from a diverse group of seasoned PR and marketing strategists representing interests ranging from metals and mining, medical professionals, crop protection, and equipment manufacturing.


Director, Corporate Communications, Vale S.A.

One of the main challenges of B2B companies on social networks is to understand the objectives and the role of each channel in interacting with stakeholders. More than generating visibility and engagement, for us at Vale we see in it an opportunity to enhance our reputation. Therefore, we’ve determined that our ROI is based on strengthening the positive perception of the brand on the Web.

The entrance of Vale on social networks took place in a planned manner, through the creation of a digital media team responsible for Web presence; the establishment of a solid strategy; the creation of global governance; and the release of clear policies for our employees regarding the use of social media at work.

Our presence is structured around generating relevant content for our stakeholders, on building relationships through a 2.0 customer service line for real time interaction and a monitoring system that acts as a thermometer of our reputation. Currently, more than 110,000 people are connected with Vale on social networks. In the past eight months, our fan base on Facebook has doubled its size.

Subjects such as work opportunities have opened great engagement opportunities, reaching high viral rates (around 22%). In this sense, we believe that digital media are an essential part of the communication tools to strengthen reputation.


Public Relations Manager, American Society of Anesthesiologists

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Maybe it is the nature of the specialty and its safety-focused physician members, but the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ (ASA) entrance into social media communications was carefully planned and executed based on stakeholder research.

Initially, it was difficult to convince our 48,000-member scientific Society of the value of such practices, and as such, engagement was a bit “sleepy” at first

Slowly, members awoke to the idea that social media offers tremendous benefits. A strategic effort led by internal communications, and endorsed by ASA’s Committee on Communications, resulted in ASA’s presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Now touting nearly 2,500 members, more than 1,800 “likes”, greater than 3,500 followers and more than 144,000 video views, respectively, members use the platforms to stay current on Society news and events.

LinkedIn allows members worldwide to share best practices and challenging cases. Contests and incentives drive participation.

Select ASA members also respond to patient anesthesia-related queries on ShareCare —the Dr. Oz-inspired patient information site. A new endeavor, members have answered more than 100 queries to date.

For those still social media-cautious, ASA created MyASA, a 24/7, secure and personalized member platform. The network features forums, accepts due payments, gives access to member profiles and more.

While our approach may be methodical, demonstrating value and persistence has paid off handsomely.


Internet Marketing Manager, Syngenta

The tactics may vary slightly, but the social media approach in a B2B capacity closely mirrors the B2C perspective. It requires a return to Communications 101: understanding your goals and identifying your target audience.

Two questions to keep in mind when implementing social media: Which platforms reach your target audience and how do you go about choosing the best platform as opposed to latching onto the latest social media fad? Taking these key questions into consideration has helped Syngenta reach the right audience with the right messaging.

That is not to say that your social media avenues should replace existing communication methods. They are a Reader’s Digest version to your core tools, if you will. Social media should act as accessible avenues to company Web sites that provide in-depth information while creating engagement opportunities.

It is important to continuously monitor these opportunities and respond accordingly. Following a process that makes someone accountable for a company’s engagement plays a large role in social media success.

Understanding legal requirements also falls under accountability. And, when you are working with 140 characters, it is always best to confer with your legal department regarding these parameters.


Social Media Marketing Manager, Caterpillar Inc.

At Caterpillar, we are already successfully connecting with customers through the most popular social media venues, including Facebook (with over 150,000 total “likes” for Cat pages), Twitter (with 20,000-plus followers) and YouTube (with nearly 3 million views of Cat videos). Thus far, we’ve enjoyed success in social media with our Caterpillar and Cat Products Facebook pages and YouTube.

The differentiator is how we have integrated social media with our Customer Interaction Center (CIC). This allows us to respond to customer inquiries just as though they had called via the telephone. By taking advantage of technology, processes, and manpower, we’ve expanded our capability to be responsive to our customers.

All of this has given us insight into what people are saying about our company, products and competitors; where they are saying it; and who our key influencers are. This enables us to be where our customers are, respond to their questions or problems, have insight what our competitors, and aid our product innovation and marketing efforts. PRN


B2B Communications is written by Mary C. Buhay, VP, Marketing & Business Development at Gibbs & Soell. She can be reached at mbuhay@gibbs-soell.com.