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“Markets are conversations.”  –The Cluetrain Manifesto

Facebook has more than 800 million users.Twitter has 200 million users.  Google+ just hit the 50 million user mark, making it the fastest growing website ever. Moms and Millennials, Boomers and Tweens – everybody’s texting, tweeting, posting and blogging via desktops, laptops and mobile devices. And brands are falling all over themselves in the mad dash to reach consumers via social networks and join the conversation. But what about business-to-business communications? How are companies talking to each other?

In the B2B arena, the conversation is decidedly different. While B2B buyers have very high social participation, their primary goal in the social media space is to establish themselves as subject matter experts and then build relationships for future lead generation. Social media is based on relationships. Relationships help make B2B buying decisions. Word of mouth, whether online or offline, is still the most effective means of advertising. Particularly in the corporate world, personal endorsements and referrals validate business decisions.

As Ford CMO James Farley famously said, “You can’t just say it. You have to get other people to say it to each other.”

A primary concern of relationship marketers is migrating interactions to a lower-cost communications channel. That’s what makes social media so appealing: the prospect of building an audience of pre-qualified brand advocates on an owned media channel with minimal cost. The undisputed social media channel for B2B communication is LinkedIn.

Eighty percent of companies use LinkedIn for recruitment. Talking shop is expected on this platform, which boasts an advanced search option that allows users to sort by region, business category and other specifics. Setting up a company profile, establishing industry groups and encouraging employees to create personal profiles and “connect” with colleagues are all ways to build meaningful B2B relationships. LinkedIn is an online Rotary Club. It’s digital word of mouth.

According to Christine Moorman, senior professor of business administration at The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, while marketers, in general, expect to increase social media spending over the next five years, B2B product sector companies anticipate lower budgets going forward. Moorman hypothesized that CMOs don’t believe social media activities are appropriately integrated into their companies’ overall marketing strategies. In other words, there’s an urgency to utilize social media tools, even without a comprehensive plan in place.

“Firms are in a period of experimentation and observation about social media. Like television advertising in the 1950s, this period will define winners and losers of this generation’s firms,” Moorman said.

So whether your goal is lead generation, networking, brand management or establishing your company as the thought leader in your field, social media is where it all happens. While the physical handshake and business card exchange haven’t gone away, they are increasingly a precursor to or follow up after a digital dialogue. Get used to it.

“Transparency and conversation are to the Web 2.0 culture what ‘productivity’ and ‘innovation’ are to corporate culture.” – SAP

Slow down and think about it. Incorporate social media into a holistic, integrated marketing plan.  Don’t put tactics before strategies. B2B marketing traditionally lags B2C marketing in terms of innovation, so learn from other people’s mistakes and formulate a well-thought out approach to social media communications.

Things have changed.” – Bob Dylan

Indeed.

*This post is used with permission. The original blog can be viewed at talkstreetsmart.com

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