How to build great b-to-b social content in three steps

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Let’s begin with my core belief about social media: The key to success in social media marketing has little to do with your feature-rich platform, clever branding or well-honed messaging. Question: What then, you ask, drives success in social media marketing? Answer: Content about your product that is contributed by impassioned members of a community of practice that self-populates without the golden hand of the marketing team.

The path to a vibrant and engaged b-to-b social network, with a healthy content supply chain, begins with building a community of followers passionate enough to contribute content and stir up conversation about your product or service that motivates others to learn more. That is the best situation to be in—to have your top contributors endorsing and defending you without your prompts.

I’ve been a part of such a community for five years, as a leader of the SAP’s Digital, Social and Communities marketing team. Our flagship customer community, the SAP Community Network, will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2013. We enjoy 2 million unique visitors a month and generated155 million page views of content created by 30,000 contributors in 2012.

Here’s my take on three steps to generating successful social content from and for your community of customers, partners and influencers:

  1. Discover. Use a mixture of listening tools like NetBase and Twitalyzer to conduct audience research (it usually takes more than one tool to get all you need). Always start by learning a) what is being talked about, b) who the most influential voices are, and c) where their virtual water coolers are found. You’ll learn the keywords of the conversation you want to join before you jump in, helping your message resonate with real customer pain points.  Create a scoring mechanism to prioritize the influencers who are most valuable to you. Then, find ways to engage in conversations with them. Connect them with your subject-matter experts to give them insights that help them become “in the know” about your products and plans where appropriate. Influencers love gaining more influence and building their reputation, often more than financial rewards (you’d be surprised how true this is).
  2. Empower. The biggest “amen” moment during my comments at the 2013 BtoB Digital Edge conference in San Francisco recently came when I said,        “Marketers need to create an environment that enables rich information exchange among community members—then get out of the way”. We know the majority of social media teams in companies reside in the marketing organization. But I view our jobs as enablers and “conductors”. The real task is to get your internal experts (product management, designers, etc.) to talk to customers and influencers about how products are designed to solve     business problems. It can be hard to get your experts to be on the front lines of communication. But there are tons of lessons in it for them too—direct customer feedback for starters!
  3. Publish: Here’s something that IS in the realm of marketing’s role in social media marketing—finding ways to highlight the most engaging content on your channels. You can link to popular blogs or discussions in your hosted community, or via Facebook posts, or tweets/retweets or LinkedIn comments. Feature links to your most popular blogs in your next monthly newsletter. There are plenty of ways for you to give this organically generated content “legs” and get more exposure for it.

At SAP, we are constantly improving and honing our model to orchestrate our well- regarded professional social network. We could not do it without our 30,000 passionate contributors—that’s the priceless part of our equation.

Have you tried moving from a traditional “bill of materials” content creation process to a community-driven approach? How have you done it and how has it worked for you?

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