By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
For years when a B2B company expressed an interest in starting a social media program, I often cautioned them that it was like a self-licking ice cream cone. Were they prepared to continuously put fresh scoops of content on their page? However, my advice was wrong!
Well, my advice wasn’t entirely wrong, social media programs do require regular attention. But the context for that advice was wrong because I misunderstood the purpose of a social media presence for B2B organizations.
Social media platforms number more than 100, but most B2B companies either have, or are considering, LinkedIn for their program. If an organization doesn’t have a company page, their employees certainly have personal profiles. This article will focus on company pages for LinkedIn.
LinkedIn went live in 2003 and is older than YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Its mission statement is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. And while LinkedIn’s capabilities and user offerings have evolved over the past decade, their mission remains the same; it is primarily a networking platform.
Let’s go back to my misunderstanding. When I cautioned B2B companies about the resources needed to maintain a LinkedIn presence, I viewed it as another platform primarily to promote the company and engage buyers. However, LinkedIn is a network of people, and each member has control of their connections, and to a degree, the content they are served. Think of it as a 24/7 networking event.
With that in mind, can you imagine showing up at a networking event, introducing yourself to several people, and then pulling out a giant poster board listing all your products or services and beginning a sales pitch? That’s not how mutually beneficial networking works, so why do we do that to each other? Let me offer some ideas that will help B2B companies establish a social media presence on LinkedIn that is more humane.
While in-person networking events appear freeform, they have structures: registration, sign-in, location, time-window, identification nametags etc. LinkedIn has similar structures, and a user agreement; you know, those rules we agree to follow, but rarely read. Going back to LinkedIn’s mission statement, understanding the spirit of their rules can provide valuable context to your organization’s presence there.
Here are some tips to get started, or to re-energize, your company’s presence on LinkedIn.
Define the purpose for your company LinkedIn page. One of the best social media thinkers I know is Julio Viskovich. Julio entered the world of social media as one of the first 30-or-so employees at Hootsuite. He witnessed firsthand the power of social media to connect people in information-controlling, authoritarian nations, adding great value to their lives. Today he teaches social media at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada.
Julio advises us that social media platforms are not places for the hard sell, but rather a place to build trust and credibility with your network. In his words, we should focus on “adding value to others, before we consider asking them for anything.”
I recommend that your purpose start with delivering meaningful advice, valuable insights, best practices, and helpful connections for your network.
Define your network. Note that I didn’t say define your target audience. Establish a firewall between marketing and sales lexicon and your organization’s LinkedIn persona. As a network, it might include professionals in companies like yours, media that covers your industry, and recruiters to name a few. And yes, it would include potential buyers of your products or services.
However, a better way to describe them is who in your market has issues or sub-optimal business performance that you can most help? Then use the same descriptions you might use for target audience development.
Establish a content guide. Your content guide should begin with your own corporate values but include style, themes, topics, formats, and frequency for posts. The audience for this guide is your network manager, which we will discuss next, and your employees who are actively participating in your network, and it should be written and shared across your organization. Be sure to include the purpose for the company’s social media presence.
When determining themes, topics, and formats, begin with an understanding of what your network is interested in. Overlap your network’s interests with your organization’s collective expertise and the ideas will flow.
Without being too directive, define the role of your employees in your network. Some of your team will naturally gravitate toward the network, and you’ll want to give them some guidance and ideas for how they can participate. For example, you may encourage them to share posts with their personal networks, comment on employee promotions and news, and invite their network to follow the company page.
Assign a network manager. Identifying the right person to manage your network is critical! It ought to be intentional and not just fall on someone who has available time. Remember, this isn’t a launch pad for sales pitches, but rather a natural extension of your external and internal communications.
The network manager should have a clear understanding of your company’s values and situational awareness of just about everything going on in your organization. They should also be able to collaborate and coordinate across several key functions: marketing, human resources, and public relations.
Should you outsource this role? There are plenty of agencies who offer social media services from setting strategy to running your program for you, and many are very good. However, I would be deliberate in selecting an agency and clear about your purpose for a social media program. While there is overlap with the rest of your marketing communications, you don’t want your social media activity to be no more than a duplicate of your digital advertising campaigns. Remember, LinkedIn is not just another launch-pad for sales pitches.
If you feel that your social media program on LinkedIn is like a self-licking ice cream cone, like I did, you have it all wrong. If your scoops of content are daily sales pitches, executive grip-n-grins, or surveys only intended to create chatter, you will only annoy your network. Add value to your network!