It's a lonely time for many b-to-b social media employees. While b-to-b social media spending increased 9.6% last year, according to the CMO Survey, the majority of b-to-b companies are failing to integrate social media into their business practices. That has left most social media employees stranded on what is fast becoming a social media island with few if any connections to the mainland business. Despite more companies embracing social media, most haven't taken the next step of transforming it into an essential marketing practice. "The biggest challenge is that many companies see social media as a cute promotional activity when it can be a strategic marketing activity," says Christine Moorman, director of the CMO Survey and T. Austin Finch senior professor of business administration at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. We're in the "silo" stage, according to Brian Kardon, CMO at Lattice Engines, "where most social media is generally segregated from the rest of the organization." Exacerbating the problem is that most b-to-b companies don't understand that the practice of social media is both a technology and a business process. Mastering the technology is just part of the equation. Marketers also need to understand how social media affects other parts of the business—such as sales, customer service and public relations—and then run their social media programs in support of those business practices. Isolating social media also flies in the face of buyer behavior, where so much of the buyer's journey happens before, not after, a prospect talks to a salesperson. Much of that journey is occurring in social media. So what is a marketer to do? Here are some steps b-to-b marketers can take toward building an effective and integrated social media capability:
- Understand the importance of social media. It's becoming a competitive advantage for the companies that do it well.
- Understand your goals. Do you want to track sales, monitor customer complaints, grow brand equity? Do you want social media to do a push or pull job? Too many companies get distracted by instantaneous metrics, such as the number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, to the detriment of any business-building goal setting.
- Gain top management buy-in. A key challenge is to convince the organization that social media, as well as such other new factors as mobile, geo-location and gamification, are important and worth the investment of time and money.
- Find the right home for social media. Don't make social its own department. It's better as a customer-facing department, ideally as part of marketing.
- Determine the structure of your social media team. There has to be a built-in work-flow system that links social media to customer service, sales, operations and the other business processes.
- Train employees so they understand the linkages between social media and the rest of the company. Don't just assume that employees get social media.
- Establish an accountability system that demonstrates the impact of social media on intermediate outcomes, such as buzz and revenue.
Obviously doing this requires some work. Yet there is no better time than now to get started if you want to establish a powerful social media capability that is a seamless part of the organization. It's time to kiss the island goodbye. Wendy Marx is president of public relations company Marx Communications (marxcommunications.com). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed via Twitter: @wendymarx.