A packed house at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival came together for tips on how to use social media to further business-to-business marketing, with experts Jamie Grenney, vice president social media and online video at Salesforce; Jason Bartlett, vice president of global social marketing for Xerox; and Jeanette Gibson, senior director social and digital marketing at Cisco Systems, all moderated by Melissa Chanslor, director at Text100. This informative panel gave participants a lot to think about, but four themes seemed to predominate.

  1. The entire company has a role in social marketing. Gibson says every company needs to leverage the people who want to help customers connect with your business and give them the tools to do that. “The entire company has a role in social.” At Cisco — and all forward-thinking companies — all employees are expected to engage with customers. Bartlett says not to “underestimate your employees’ own social networks,” Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Some of the most powerful connections you can make with potential business clients are through strong relationships and trust your employees already have with actual or potential customers. We social media experts in companies must be the change agents and evangelize to every employee about his or her role in sales and marketing.
  1. Thought leadership comes from knowledge of customers and subject matter. Although the entire company has a role in social marketing, not every employee is equipped to be a point person in social marketing. You gain thought leadership by identifying subject-matter experts on issues that come to you through social media channels such as forums and Twitter. Bartlett is trying to identify 15 such experts this year to answer the more detailed questions that have a great deal of utility to business users. As you get more vertical, be careful to identify and provide to business customers true experts on issues concerning them. The preferred method for doing that, Grenney says, is through videos that answer questions. Those videos have a long shelf life and are terrific at building customer loyalty, and a question by one customer is almost always on another customer’s or a potential customer’s mind. Don’t use social media only for product launches — it has perhaps more impact in the practical ways you connect to customers, prove the value of your products and solutions, and help them do their jobs. Gibson agrees that YouTube and other video channels are a standout way of connecting with customers, engaging them, providing value and driving sales.
  1. New social media channels must reach a critical mass. When you open a channel, you need to keep it open and listen to customers and potential customers who engage you through that channel. All new channels should be registered with a central authority, and legal needs to be brought on and made aware of what you are doing. As Gibson says, “We are best friends with legal!” Bartlett says his inside metric is that channels must expand at 6% a month, or Xerox considers shutting them down. A new channel must reach a critical mass, and he asks, “What can I do to promote” this channel and “What resources do I have to commit to this challenge?” He says Xerox has not registered a channel in six months and that the company probably will move from “90 branded channels to half of that” this year. Keep open only channels that are effective in reaching customers and engaging them. If you have zero comments and zero retweets, you do not have engagement. You are wasting valuable resources that could be directed to channels that are working.
  1. Metrics are your best friend and worst enemy. Bartlett admits that “metrics drive me nuts” and that half of each month seems to be taken up by reviewing, preparing or communicating metrics, leaving too little time to focus on making social media work. Don’t be paralyzed by metrics: While some things are nice to know, are they really actionable? Funding comes when you find actionable insight, and that is when budget dollars shift from traditional media to social media. Focus instead on important objectives: thought leadership, content curation and the gap that you are filling. Grenney urges the crowd to “be listening experts” instead of focusing on metrics. We need to be “purposeful listeners,” focusing on people who are true influencers, instead of the chatter.

This post is by Stephen J. Easley, vice president for government affairs and general counsel of F2 Technologies, a company for wireless data and software. He is also an entertainment lawyer, representing clients such as the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation on corporate and intellectual property issues. This was his 27th SXSW conference.

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One Response to “From #SXSW: Charting the road ahead for B2B marketing”

  1. 90 branded channels?! That sounds like a lot. Does that mean different social sites or different brands of Xerox?

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