Natascha Thomson, CEO and consultant at MarketingXLerator has worked in Silicon Valley for more than 15 years, starting with an internship at HP during the dot-com boom. Today, she consults with small and large clients including SAP, Polycom, SLAP Company, LookingGlass and HR Strategies; is the co-author of 42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing; and an adjunct instructor in Advanced Social Media at UCSC Silicon Valley.

We recently checked in with Natascha to learn more about best practices for using social media for B2B marketing. Here’s what she had to say:

How should businesses approach marketing to other businesses through social media compared with marketing to consumers?

In general, I think that social media marketing is easier to a B2C audience, especially when the price point is low. End users often make emotional decisions, quick decisions, and on their own.

B2B marketing is much more complex. Imagine a company looking to buy software or hardware worth millions of dollars. The sales cycle is very long, many different decision makers are involved, the only emotional aspect for those involved is not wanting to lose their jobs by making the wrong decisions. As the IBM ad in the 80s said: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM“. The buyer has to feel the same is true for your product.

For lower-cost B2B deals, B2C tactics can work. Example: Facebook is generally more suited for B2C. Personally, I am on Facebook for pleasure and not business. Although there are people I work with on Facebook, but we rarely talk about work.

Many large companies use Facebook as a loyalty program. People who are already clients or fans mingle, chat, and get excited about the latest news. But many of the B2B peers I talk to at big companies say that the hype about social media is ebbing. People take a harder look at what really works and if there is ROI. Some of my friends have closed down their Facebook B2B pages.

One company I worked with in the B2B space was able to create demand on Facebook by engaging clients to share information with each other. The product was a relatively low price point. But most of us have to prioritize our resources (people, time, money, content), which means that for B2B, I generally advise against Facebook, unless there is a person who can easily manage the page.

There is nothing worse than a social media channel that looks like a graveyard, with the last post put up three months ago. Makes you wonder, “Is the company still going?”

What are some of the surprising advantages of using social media for B2B marketing?

I usually get a surprised reaction when I tell people how much easier it can be to get a response on Twitter than on email. If I have a specific ask, I often follow that person on Twitter, ask them to connect on LinkedIn, check out their blog, and comment if relevant. Pretty much, I try to get noticed by popping up in the different places where they share content.

Then I reach out via Twitter – publicly, if they have not followed me back, privately, if they have via Direct Message. More often than not, I get a response and we continue the conversation via a phone call or email.

This is not specific to B2B or B2C. As B2B has a longer sales cycle and influencers are crucial to gaining trust and credibility, B2B marketers are probably more inclined to spend the time to reach out on a one-to-one level.

Here is a case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times about a couple that lived on Airbnb for a full year. I sent the author a LinkedIn request and contacted him publicly on Twitter, asking if he would be willing to talk to me, as I am planning to write a similar article about not buying anything new and living only off Yerdle https://yerdle.com for a full year.

He followed me back and offered his help, we chatted a bit on Twitter DM and then ended up talking on the phone for an hour. It was wonderful.

What are some of the challenges businesses face when it comes to B2B social media marketing?

In my own consulting practice, I see these top three challenges:

1. An underestimation of what it takes to do it right.
More often than not, clients are surprised about the effort required to create a successful social media strategy and presence.

2. Lack of resources.
Companies frequently understaff social media efforts, believing that existing employees can simply add this “activity” to their workload. Worse, they hire an intern, arguing that “young people” know social media, while they often lack business experience. On the other hand, interns make good scapegoats, as Donald Trump recently proved when he distanced himself from a tweet from his account, stating that the intern did it.

3. Lack of budget. Social media is free, right? Studies by firms like Forrester prove that a mix of organic, earned, and paid social media promises the biggest ROI. Without an investment in some paid social media activity, make sure you have the patience needed for slow, organic-only growth.

What brands do you think do an especially good job using social media for B2B marketing? What can we learn from them?

Everybody is always looking for leaders in the field and the magic bullet. As the social media field is constantly changing in terms of tools and features, a key ingredient is a willingness to experiment and take risks.

On the other hand, I am a firm believer in doing your homework. Setting clear, measurable goals, knowing your audience inside out, and prioritizing ruthlessly on the social channels to use.

Personally, I am always impressed by Hubspot http://www.hubspot.com as they eat their own dog food. They offer a marketing automation tool (I am simplifying) that does a great job in content marketing. I suggest you subscribe to the Hubspot newsletter to find out what I am talking about. They create a ton of good content for social media marketers. Every time I read an article they send me, it says, “You might also be interested in XYZ,” at the end of the page. I am pretty much, 99 percent of the time, interested in “XYZ” and sometimes am almost am annoyed at Hubspot, as I could spend my day learning from their content.

What can we learn?

Know your audience and what content they crave. Then give it to them, where and when they want to read it.

What are your favorite social media tools for B2B marketing?

LinkedIn:

In my mind, LinkedIn is the premier social media platform for B2B.
Reach: Most business professionals have an account.
Features: You can have a company page and group(s). You can blog, you can share updates, you can find amazing audience segmentation information, and advertise.

Twitter:

Reach: Popular with business professionals. There is a barrier to entry as the tool is not intuitive to use (but Jack Dorsey https://twitter.com/jack wants to change that). I see this as an advantage as participants have to make an investment in learning Twitter to play.
Features: Easy to share, engage, build relationships, as well as to learn. Follow the right people or create lists and you can stay on the pulse of what’s going on your space easily.

What tools do you think are ineffective or not as useful in this area?

I don’t like to make blanket statements, as every company has a unique situation that their marketing strategy needs to fit around.

In general, I tell my B2B clients who have limited resources to de-prioritize Facebook and Pinterest. While everybody should have a complete (!) “About Me” page on Google/ Google Plus, with all the changes G+ has just gone through, I would also not prioritize G+ right now. Again, you have got to know your audience and where they get their information, so it’s a case-by-case decision.

What do you think is the future for how businesses use social media to reach other brands?

As big brands that want to stay competitive go through a digital transformation, new roles like the Chief Digital Officer will become more commonplace and more powerful. Marketing is becoming increasingly data driven, as the tools to aggregate, analyze, and make intelligent decisions based on data become more readily available. This also puts the CMO and CDO in a position of having to make IT decisions. This will impact how budgets are allocated in corporations. Skill sets needed to fill these roles will change.

What marketers of the future will want is to understand their target audience’s intentions. Predictive marketing is currently only looking at past behaviors to predict future behaviors. In the future, brands will be able to understand their audiences present intentions and communicate with them accordingly.

There is a creepy side to this scenario. Look at Google now offering to target Ads to people based on a list of email addresses that a brand provides. Twitter and Facebook can do the same. If you think retargeting has been creepy so far, watch out.

On the up side – and it seems that millennials especially appreciate targeted ads – this new way of marketing might limit the amount of spam we will receive. Yes, I am an optimist.

Connect with Natascha on Twitter.

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