Making sites more social

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While it's no secret that social media can be a powerful tool, b-to-b marketers may be overlooking some opportunities when it comes to using social media on their websites. Failing to invest in social media integration can be detrimental to a website's success, and it doesn't take much to maximize its positive effects.

To implement a social media strategy successfully on a website, marketers should focus on the basics. Most important is identifying goals: What is the company trying to accomplish with its website? How will social media help it do this?

“Companies should use social media [in a way] that makes sense for the goals of their websites,” said Marcello Figallo, principal-creative director at Zer0 to 5ive Media. “When you're setting out to build a site, you must have a perspective of what visitors are going to get out of visiting it.” For example, Figallo said, if the company's goal is to get people to spend more time on its website, then its social strategy should focus on keeping them there as opposed to a plan that might send them to other sites via social media links.

After that foundation is laid, next is determining which tools will help the company communicate most effectively with customers, said Jennifer Pemberton, manger-advertising/marketing at American Airlines Cargo. “We did an extensive review of social media a year ago when it started to become obvious that b-to-b marketers were beginning to step out into that space,” Pemberton said. “We decided that, for our business, we would get the most out of Twitter; it fit our criteria for [communicating] what we thought our customers would find valuable.”

Customers who visit the AA Cargo Business Insights' website will find a link to its Twitter account on the home page. The company sends out five to 10 tweets daily to provide its followers with relevant information, such as data on new initiatives. Twitter followers can check the site or be informed via mobile devices of new tweets.

B-to-b marketers can also take advantage of the benefits of social media if they keep in mind the effect that adding social components to a website will have on the relationships with and expectations of the company's customers. “You have the opportunity to be more than just a product,” said Jason Breed, digital consultant at Accenture Interactive. “You can be a thought leader, entertainer, educator, philanthropist—more than just whatever you sell.” For example, he said, placing a link to a blog on a website can be an excellent way for the marketing team to deliver messages to its customers. However, a blog can also be a place where the company maintains a dialogue with customers and where relevant information is easily sharable.

“How can we get [information] on 13 websites and not just my website? The website becomes a springboard and not just the pool,” Breed said. The viral nature of social media, he added, sets it apart from other marketing tools because social media can widely disseminate information without a company having to do the work itself.

Once a company develops a social media program, it must invest in it, making sure there are regular blog posts and updates to keep followers aware of any significant news. “The potential for integrating social media into a website is enormous, particularly when a company sets up a really great social media program and follows through with it,” said Marybeth Sheppard, principal at Zer0 to 5ive Media. “A website is definitely not a "set-it-and-forget-it' kind of medium. That's really critical with social media; it's not short-term. Don't [start a social media program] just because some execs thought it was a good idea. It needs to be maintained.”

One of the biggest advantages to integrating social media and the website is that it provides actionable feedback that can be used to improve a business' relationship with its customers, AA Cargo's Pemberton said. One of the biggest mistakes, however, is neglecting the relationship. “The minute that you start tweeting 500 tweets a day, and they're not meaningful to your audience [or] your brand, you're going to become less relevant to people and they're going to pay less attention,” Sheppard said.

Finally, social media should be incorporated not only into the website but also into the overall marketing strategy, Figallo said. A company that adapts to social media technology and is prepared to accommodate new ways of interacting with customers will reap the most benefits. “It's about transforming your business, not just bolting on social tools,” Accenture's Breed said. “[Companies] need to accommodate social [tools] and technology around the way they do business and the way they interact with distributors and suppliers.”

Taking into account all factors that result from the integration of social media on a website is what builds an effective program, Sheppard said. “By putting the right investment of time and energy, b-to-b companies can really gain a lot from these tools.”

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