Social networking increasingly important in b-to-g market

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Without a doubt, the influence of social networks in business-to-government marketing has grown exponentially over the past two years. According to market research company Market Connections, the social networks making the biggest inroads in business-to-government are LinkedIn and Google+. Other studies show that companies leveraging social networks are growing faster than those that don't. My observations in the b-to-g arena support this. When federal policy on allowing social networking started to shift in early 2011, use of social networks by the feds was low. Since the relaxing of the initial policies, federal presence on social networks, especially LinkedIn, has increased dramatically, with almost all federal agencies showing LinkedIn member numbers in the thousands, some in the tens of thousands. Due to the federal budget crunch, sequestration and revelations about misspending at government conferences, there has been a radical downturn in attendance at many conferences and other events by federal managers and influencers over the past 12 to 18 months. The lack of federal attendees at industry events—a mainstay of b-to-g marketing for decades—has contractors scrambling to find ways to get messages in front of buyers and other influencers. Enter social networks. LinkedIn has more than 10,000 groups focused on some aspect of “government,” and hundreds, if not thousands, more focused on various business niches that overlap industry and government. About 200 groups discuss various aspects of government contracting. These represent communities of business professionals and government managers, and offer an open venue for idea sharing and discussions. Social networking platforms allow contractors to position themselves as subject matter experts in virtually any, and every, business field you can think of: ergonomics, productivity, IT, telecom, engineering, training, security, facilities management and healthcare. Government managers and influencers use the groups and other facets of LinkedIn to evaluate contractors and weigh options when looking at potential sources for products and services. Some of the big issues for contractors on LinkedIn are understanding that it is a marketing and positioning platform, not a sales platform—then recognizing that a profile on LinkedIn is not a presence. The first issue deals with those who feel the constant need to push their product or service regardless of the venue. While there is a place for these activities, that place is not social networks, where overt sales are viewed as spam. The second issue is somewhat more subtle. Having a profile and accumulating 500-plus connections does not take much effort, and many do so in short order. But they often do so without a strategy, without setting realistic goals. Those b-to-g companies leveraging LinkedIn with an overall strategy and set goals are generating quality leads, positioning themselves as subject-matter experts, sharing pertinent content and making valuable connections. Those without a well-defined strategy often sit there wondering why leads are not falling into their laps. Mark Amtower is a partner with Amtower & Co., a government sales and marketing consultancy.
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