Errol Jayawardene is Head of Digital at PR agency, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, focused on overseeing digital services and growth among innovative b2b tech brands.

The significance of social media has grown rapidly over the last ten years and presents many challenges for businesses to overcome. As a marketer you have to make educated decisions about which platforms to use and decide how you will measure ROI, among a plethora of other considerations. However, owning and creating an effective B2B strategy is one of the most common and important issues larger organisations struggle with – given the complex nature of processes and how social touches on so many parts of a business.

The first challenge?

The vested interest of internal stakeholders. Every department has an opinion on social media strategy and each thinks they should have a greater say. But where should social ultimately sit within the broader picture? Some will argue that it is part of PR and marketing, while others might say sales. Then there are customer service and HR departments, both of which might want a say on how social media  is run. 

Then, beyond the challenge of internal dynamics and ownership – we also see that each team wants to engage a different audience with social media content. This might not be such a problem for small businesses, but the bigger a B2B company gets, the more fragmented social media tends to become.

“The bigger a B2B company gets, the more fragmented social media tends to become”.

For example,  nearly 100% of the brands on the BrandZ B2B Top 20 list have multiple Twitter accounts. Top B2B brands like Microsoft, GE, Intel and Oracle all split their Twitter accounts – either by product, department or geography – and while this can be a great way of engaging different audiences, it can present complications.

Taking control of social

Creating an effective line of communication for multiple accounts can quickly become unwieldy – unless managed well. It has become common to see Twitter, YouTube, Google+ or LinkedIn pages that are virtual ghost towns of information, with accounts becoming dormant as priorities or personnel change.

For smaller B2B companies, ownership is often at a more senior level – e.g. a PR and marketing person who understands the value of social because they rely on direct communication with customers and prospective customers. Without multiple offices, territories and reporting structures, it can be a lot simpler to build a social community, well.

At larger companies, ownership is more complex. Usually the person leading social will report to a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), who is responsible for defining social’s importance to the organisation. Good B2B CMOs embrace social media and take ownership, while less savvy CMOs don’t see it as a valuable tool for driving leads in a long sales cycle.

That’s a short-sighted move. A lead or key nugget of intelligence could come out of monitoring conversations around products and keywords. Personal and company reputations (and a CMO’s job prospects) could be damaged by a single post. At the very least, a personality of a brand can be shaped by its tone of voice and how it interacts with its audience via social.

That’s not to say social media marketing isn’t being pushed up the B2B marketing agenda, but many business-facing companies should do more to ensure there is a clear chain of command and take the potential of social more seriously. So, what steps can mid- to large-sized enterprises take to simplify ownership of B2B social media strategy?

1. Remove internal silos

The first thing businesses have to do is bring their departments together. There shouldn’t be separate customer service, sales, HR, PR or marketing teams for social. There should be one team pulling in the same direction. This approach can be particularly helpful in companies that split traditional marketing (PR and offline marketing) and digital marketing (SEO, PPC and social media), where the two sides don’t always communicate effectively.

Cross-functional teams are better able to manage all the objectives of the organisation and tap into the different stages of the buying and after-sales cycle. This ensures that everyone has insight into the stages where they can have the biggest impact.

Keith A. Quesenberry outlines a useful process for creating what he calls ‘social care teams’ in his book Social Media Strategy, Marketing, and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Research existing social media and define who controls the official brand channels.
  • Outline which systems, policies, and employees are responsible for monitoring social media.
  • Develop a social care team made up from all key departments that can address all areas of social information efficiently and effectively. Identify policies and software systems needed for implementation.
  • Organise departmental responsibilities in the social care team. Clearly define roles and responsibilities among marketing, customer service, public relations, sales, corporate communication, human resources, etc.
  • Assign specific employees from each department to social media tasks. Set up social media accounts (if needed) and remove those that aren’t active.
  • Give employees access to social media systems.
  • Create brand guidelines for standards, tone and style of social media communication. Ask legal and human resources to provide a list of dos and don’ts for real-time consumer engagement.
  • Define specific goals, based on key performance indicators – such as response time, sentiment analysis, engagement, views and shares etc.

Remember, the key aspect is to clearly define the team’s role. Rather than checking every bit of social content that goes out the door. The focus should be on monitoring results against goals, reviewing content successes and failures, and helping to define quarterly strategies.

2. Align social media strategy with business goals

Make sure your social media team knows and understands your key business goals. This will help to manage when and where different departments and offices are needed. Aligning social media strategy to business goals will also help ensure that the management team sees more value from social.

Typical business objectives include:

  • raising brand awareness of products and services
  • driving website traffic
  • growing new markets and sectors
  • increasing lead generation and sign-ups
  • building brand advocates
  • improving customer service
  • hiring top talent
  • improving R&D
  • building market share

Working towards defined business goals will make social content more focused and more likely to achieve tangible ROI for the business.

3. Develop audience and influencer profiles

Having a clear understanding of target audiences, and sectors, is vital for developing the right strategy and defining who owns each feed. Start this by building audience personas, i.e. analysing the purchasing triggers and characteristics for all your B2B buyers and influencers.

Knowing who your b2b audiences are will help you deliver the right strategy and messages to the right people, at the right time. It will help you understand the social content that will add value at each stage of the sales cycle. Your PR team and agency should be particularly helpful as they will regularly be creating messages for each audience.

Key things to add to your audience personas include:

  • age
  • gender
  • job role
  • sector
  • location
  • business size
  • personality traits
  • business goals
  • pain points
  • motivations

Check out sites like Xtensio, which offer a limited number of free templates for creating personas.

4. Formalise your social media strategy

There is no point putting all the work into defining your audience and goals if it isn’t formalised and accessible for everyone to see.

The plan should outline areas, including:

  • goals and who is responsible for each goal
  • audiences/ personas
  • social and competitor audits
  • key social channels
  • content strategy – written, video and image content
  • tone of voice
  • key monitoring metrics
  • key employees in charge of each channel and contact details
  • key employees responsible for responding to content – HR, customer service, sales, etc.
  • key partners and agencies

The audit part of the plan is especially important. What key channels do your audiences use? What feeds will help you meet your goals? What don’t you need? Addressing these questions should help to reduce fragmentation and streamline processes.

5. Hire social media specialists

Finally, hire and work with people who have experience in  social media marketing and who know how to engage different audiences. Yes, understanding your industry is important, but it’s easier to teach social media savvy people to understand your business, than teaching someone to become a social media expert.

Think beyond key platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Broader skills like brand tone of voice, copywriting, design, messaging, marketing analytics, PPC, and SEO are also useful, as are traits such as creativity, curiosity, decisiveness, and leadership.

Put these pieces of the jigsaw in place, and your organisation will be on its way towards taking ownership of B2B social media – and developing a strategy to help drive long-term business growth.