Much like the ebb and flow of a churning ocean, the evolving nature of social media presents challenges to businesses that are used to a more static landscape. Many misconceptions and challenges come into play in this disruptive space as companies grapple with how to incorporate social into their marketing mix in an intelligent and collaborative way.

 Social Media Crosses Boundaries

If you think social media is confined to the realm of consumer products, think again. According to a study by eMarketer, 54% of B2B marketers said they have generated leads from social media.

A prime example is the Danish cargo and freight company, Maersk Lines. They have 1.1 million followers on Facebook, an Instagram feed on Tumblr, visually beautiful boards on Pinterest with intriguing names like Maritime Living, The Nose Job and Faces of the Sea. By taking an industrial service like shipping and highlighting human elements such as environmental issues and captain’s blogs, they have challenged the status quo of an arguably staid industry, captivated viewers around the world, and from one campaign alone (#wintermaersk), generated 150 unique sales leads, quite an accomplishment in the shipping industry.

Many websites, particularly those in the B2B space, are outdated, static, and crammed with product features and benefits. Social media is the ideal landscape to repurpose content and educate consumers in an innovative way. A white paper could be summarised in an infographic and posted on a blog and LinkedIn. Key points from the text provide a constant source of tweets on Twitter. Video footage or podcasts can go to YouTube. Integrated marketing communications that address customer concerns, offer value-added information and engage consumers in a consistent, two-way conversation are key to generating and converting leads.

 Key Influencers in Deals are not Always C-suite

Deal making now comprises many more groups of stakeholders, especially in a business-to-business scenario like the technology industry. While C-suite may sign off on the overall budget, research, testing or vendor selection is usually now passed down the corporate chain to actual users or technical staff. These individuals are from a generational group that interact using technology and social media, have high expectations of convenience and are considered key influencers in the decision-making process.

This disruption of traditional business models is forcing many firms to look closely at organisational structures and at whom they try to engage in conversations both internally and externally. One way to do this is to develop relevant and insightful content that addresses customer challenges early on in the sales process and syndicate it through the right channels. When a firm publishes an article on how new regulation will affect banking, or the implications of the Internet of Things for the healthcare industry, they tap into this influencer market and establish themselves as empathetic thought leaders who understand market trends and the issues their customers face.

 The Crowd Culture is Leveling the Playing Fields

Even where social media is thrown into the mix however, a large corporate with a household name brand or enterprise business can no longer be guaranteed the same high levels of awareness and growth as before. How often are we witnessing completely unknown individuals and products appearing out of nowhere and going viral, reaching an audience with the power and speed beyond a marketer’s wildest dreams?

Social media has facilitated this growth in the “crowd culture” movement and is also instrumental in leveling the playing fields of brand awareness. A small business that lacks the big advertising budgets of a corporate can benefit from the impartiality aspect of social media. The only way a large firm can succeed in this intensely competitive environment is if they think on their feet, and develop an integrated communication approach that is without bureaucracy and slow decision-making, but instead agile, responsive and interactive.

 Emerging Subcultures Expect a Seamless, Personalised Experience

The notion of culture naturally spawns subcultures. This is not a new phenomenon – consider Spandau Ballet’s New Romantics of the 80s or Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners. What is different today is how they behave and where they “hang out”. Rather than a physical location like a local pub, they pursue their interests as a group online, moving seamlessly through traditional media, websites and other forms of communication.

Millennials are not considered a subculture. The group is too diverse and large, and exhibits core behaviours that overlap with many other parts of the population. Many marketers, especially those in B2B, still think of Millennials as a single group. It is imperative to break down this increasingly large proportion of the workforce into segments and subcultures. They readily share data and analytics publicly, and this can be used to personalise their sales experience at the most granular level. What is common amongst this group though is the expectation of ease of use, instant gratification and access to trusted, valuable material. This paves the way for an integrated campaign that tells a useful and interesting story.

 Your Story is Unique, but Others can Tell it Too

One of the most important aspects to a meaningful communications campaign is to be yourself and tell your own story, but to be open to other opinions. Telling anyone’s story other than your own will come across as fake and resonate with fewer readers. Although controversial, the Dollar Shave Club’s irreverent campaign has achieved this with great success.

Before social media was a recognized promotional channel, brand managers leading traditional campaigns told their story by allocating a percentage to print, TV and outdoor, with a small amount of segmentation for different publications or geographic locations. Feedback would come in the form of customer complaints to a help desk (if there was even one) and a smattering of annual market research.

With the social environment today, a broad, downstream strategy like this will merely skim the top of the ROI iceberg and miss many opportunities for growth and nurturing of leads early on in the sales process. Social media opens up two-way communication more than any other form of marketing. Your leads and customers are able to research reviews of your products and services, write comments about their experiences on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as interact through your website and blog.

Being poised to monitor and manage this feedback from all sources is critical to developing a long-lasting relationship with your target audience. Reviews and comments paint a picture of problems and challenges your customers may face, and should form the basis of your online and social presence in the form of content, how-to videos, or podcasts.

Social media goes far beyond the occasional tweet or posting of a corporate event photo on Facebook. This fascinating, fluid form of consumer psychology disrupts our traditional way of thinking and elicits instant, accurate and useful feedback that is invaluable in developing deep and lasting customer relationships.

For an original and customised approach to social media that integrates fully with your traditional marketing communications, please contact us to help you craft your own online story.