With the rapid development of science and technology, the approach of business-to-business (B2B) marketing has been widely supplemented by the various digital channels in addition to the traditional marketing. As people now have multi-directional channels to know a company, a brand or a product, as Hennig Thurau described in his literature, traditional marketing resembles bowling, while digital marketing resembles pinball and implies substantial changes for the management of customer relationships (Hennig Thurau et al (2013) Marketing the Pinball way).
Though digital marketing is developing rapidly these years, it is not separated with traditional marketing; both are supplementary and supportive. Under such a new circumstance of marketing environment, consumers / customers no longer only accept the information that brand owners deliver, they to a large extent participate in this kind of marketing communication and information exchange. Just like the pinball game, the balls may go to various directions with the action of bumpers (information channels), and the brand owners can no longer control the final information that arrived at the customer. Customers may get information from various channels not controlled by the company and also they themselves can play the role of information spreader and join the circulation of the ball in the game.
Under such situations, content creation in social media becomes more important than ever because of its nature that digital channels are no longer under control of the marketers to make it positive or negative. Marketers must carefully study and watch all related information, including all user generated content (UGC) and word of mouth (WOM), and master necessary skills and establish a logic system to monitor and guide these information resources. In this article, we will first analyze the groups of social media users to understand who are our audiences and players, then look into the types of content that each group may bring to social media. Finally, we will get the conclusion of how we shall handle, survive and win in today’s complicated B2B marketing environment.
Social media users
Social media, as implicated from its name, faces to the whole society. Most of the previous research on users of social media has focused on consumer context, but in B2B marketing, we will divide the whole user group into internal users and external users, because both groups are vitally important promoters for a company or a brand.
In this study, the term “internal user” refers to a user who works for a company. From the perspective of a B2B marketer, internal users are colleagues, according to Lee et al. (2006). We divide internal users of social media into two sub-user groups: corporate users and employee users, who use social media not only to communicate on a personal level (Ryan and Jones, 2009) but also as a traditional mass communication medium (Lee et al., 2006). A corporate user can be the company itself or its B2B marketers. An employee user, on the other hand, can be identified and connected to her or his employer.
We take Atlas Copco Group as an example. The marketing and communication department is the corporate user who shall closely watch and manage the corporate social media platforms, and officially release product information and data. All other employee users can either be the influential employee users, professional employee users (Analysis of content creation in social media, by Lauri Huotari and Pauliina Ulkuniemi) or the general individual employee users, depending on their functions, awareness, stand of viewpoint, personality, or their relationship with external users, etc.
In B2B marketing, a marketer must consider the broad range of external stakeholders (Bruhn et al., 2013) of their firm. External stakeholders are entities that don’t belong to your organization, but are impacted by or impact your performance. For the Atlas Copco Group, we can sub-divide the external users into: corporate users, professional users and civilian users.
Corporate users may be our customer companies or potential customers or those who have relationships with us. These corporate users always pay close attention on us, whether on industrial development, products, branding or from other prospective, and may be mutual supportive with us. Their interactions, comments and feedbacks are always directly related to our business.
Professional users may be industrial authorities, industrial experts, individual professionals, etc. These people normally will have more than one social media platforms to get necessary information or share and spread their ideas, and they are always active in our industry as well as our competitors. So the accurate data and information, as well as the professional tone of communication with this group of people is quite important, which may give them a direct impression of the brand owner.
Civilian users are considered neutral, only represent themselves. For Atlas Copco, this may be potential employees, friends or family members of internal or external stakeholders, or general web surfers, who have comparatively indirect relationships with the Company but their WOM sometimes may also be influential.
Social media content strategy, control it or guide it?
When 22% of the world’s population uses Facebook, more than 450 million LinkedIn profiles exist and 93% of Pinterest users access their account to make purchases, as a marketer in B2B organization, we can’t afford to miss out.
Unfortunately, one of the broadest implications of the pinball metaphor is that companies have, at least partially, lost control of marketing activities. (Hennig Thurau et al (2013) Marketing the Pinball way), so how do you survive and win in such complicated environment?
The conclusion in this study is: Control yourself and Influence others.
Step 1: Establish Social Goals That Align With Business Goals
First, as the marketer, you are always the corporate user and creator in the social media of your organization (Analysis of content creation in social media, by Lauri Huotari and Pauliina Ulkuniemi), if you want your social media content strategy to have a real impact, you need to make sure your campaign goals align with the ambitions of your company.
- Improving brand awareness: Look at the follower count on each of your social profiles, your mentions, retweets, shares and other engagement metrics.
- Generating new leads: Inspect things like downloads for gated content, new leads developed through social media and clicks on your lead-generation social posts.
- Driving traffic to your website: Check referral traffic coming from social media in your Google analytics dashboard, along with things like clicks on social posts and bounce rate for social traffic.
Step 2: Design Your Content Creation Process
- Find your voice: Content has more volume when it’s fine-tuned to a tone that resonates with your business. Think about what you want your personality to be like and try to make sure it aligns with the platform you’ve chosen. For instance, a professional tone is more appealing on LinkedIn, while a playful tone might work on Snapchat.
- Tell a story: Stories also create or enhance connections with the brand by providing a theme to create conversations between consumers and brands and among consumers themselves that allow them to fit their own experiences into the brand story. Thus, stories can help build awareness, comprehension, empathy, recognition, recall, and provide meaning to the brand. (Singh and Sonnerburg-2012 Brand Performances in Social Media)
Step 3: Influence, guide and facilitate other users.
Word-of-mouth messages from friends and colleagues are almost always better received than blasts from corporate accounts. Our study suggests that employers train their employees’ active participation and content creation. Encouraging employees to share their company’s social media updates –when done properly– can dramatically expand a company’s total following, extending the reach and impact of its messages.
Kozinets et al. (2011) also described two principal alternative means for influencing content creation without direct participation by marketers:
- The beginning of a conversation can be organic; and
- A company can indirectly influence other parties.
Social media is conversational. Don’t talk down to your audience. Don’t bury readers in jargon. Don’t get angry and defensive.
Do start conversations. Do what you can to help others. Do what you can to represent a friendly face on behalf of your area and the institution.
With the marketing environment becoming ever complicated when digital media channels join, it becomes so necessary that we develop actions to make the voices in the market keep in line with the brand awareness we would like to deliver to customers. Though we are now unable to fully control the marketing message as we did in traditional marketing, if we can make good use of the influence that we can exert by various marketing activities on customers and society, we may achieve much more than before with much less cost in marketing. It’s also possible that one slight mis-action may cause irrevocable negative impact or even destructive results on the company’s reputation. Therefore, it will be a long way for us to carefully study, understand and investigate in the new age of digitalization.
- Singh and Sonnenburg 2012 ,Brand Performance in Social Media ,Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
- Hennig-Thurau et al. 2010 ,The Impact of New Media on Customer Relationships, Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, Edward C. Malthouse, Christian Friege, Sonja Gensler, Lara Lobschat, Arvind Rangaswamy ,http://jsr.sagepub.com/
- Armelini and Villanueva 2010, Adding Social Media to the Marketing Mix, Available online at www.harvard business.org
- Huotari and Ulkuniemi 2017, Analysis of content creation in social media, http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JBIM-05-2013-0118