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Name an irreversible trend that your business cannot ignore.

What technology offers expression, stickiness and competitive advantage?

Many of my clients still ask me, why is Social Media so important? Is it really relevant for business to business? And, how did we get here so fast? These questions come from people on both sides of the fence and most have dabbled with at least some of the available Social Media (SM) tools. I had planned for this posting to continue with steps in the series we had begun in a May 2010 blog post: Plan social media strategies like any other major initiative, but I thought twice. Perhaps these kind of questions should be answered first, before I can actually expect you to hold your interest on the topic any longer. Read on, I will try to answer some of the questions that all of us had to deal with at some point in the last couple of years.

Why is Social Media so important, and is it relevant in B2B?

In the book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies the authors describe the trend of people connecting with and depending on each other online as a [relatively] sudden gathering of force. The term “groundswell” refers to change events that occur on their own, so to speak, without leadership or overt expression. The book urges us to get on board, “understand the [gravity of the trend], where it comes from, and where it’s going.” What’s becoming increasingly clear is that this groundswell trend is not a flash in the pan. Therefore the technology of social media (no matter how it evolves, and it will) is an important and irreversible way for people to relate to companies and to each other.

The technologies of SM have begun to influence B2B decision-making and sales in the same ways it has permanently changed the buying habits of consumers. Wise prospects shop their every move online. They fully expect to quickly learn about your business before any engagement with you is considered. As well, social networks are used to acquire opinions and reviews. Salespeople can access information on companies and specific prospects from online database sources and social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And of course, prices are easily compared which brings me to my last point. This stuff will make doing business easier for B2B’s. Business buyers are not chasing optimal solutions as much as they are seeking the easiest one. They want to reduce the time and the risks inherent in establishing a new relationship. And finally, contemporary successful relationships that make efficient use of SM technologies promise a stickiness known only by likes of Loctite users.

Summary of importance and relevance:

  1. Irreversible trend in how we build and maintain relationships
  2. Speeds the transfer of information, increasing competitive advantage
  3. Makes doing business easier, relationships stickier

How did we get here? When did it move from corporate marketing to Social Media?

Temporary novelty aside, my guess is that the sudden rise in social media is a reaction to a world overfilled with controlled marketing messages facilitated by the ease of captivating new technology and fueled by a tenuous economy with the lure of cost effectiveness. People have been craving more control, more expression since the beginning of time. SM technologies connect, engage and empower people like never before.

Think about your target market. Your current customers could sell YOU ten times better than you can sell yourself, any day. And, empowered with SM technologies, other members of your target group can more efficiently market to each other than you could hope to. Customers trust the opinions of friends and (most) peers about products and services far more than they’ll ever again trust you or your corporate marketing communications. The push for corporate transparency is a direct response to that trend. We no longer believe the words in corporate brochures, we’d rather rely on word of mouth. We want honesty and authenticity. Think about in-the-flesh social situations, when it’s just you and someone else. Here you have all the transparency built in—you can look into their eyes; hear the subtle tremors in their voice, and later read between the written lines of their email. Social media is the same, it’s word of mouth on steroids and it comes with a wiring harness you cannot believe.

One caveat. It’s human nature that people will bother to recommend something because they believe in it and they want you to know. The product works for them, and they believe it can work for others. But research shows people are also about five times more likely to talk about a bad experience than a good one. Given the power and the network of SM, managing bad word of mouth becomes a corporate imperative. These are some of the reasons for the groundswell to SM.

Summary: How we got from corporate communications to Social Media:

  1. Captivation with the technology
  2. Answers human need for control and expression
  3. Promise of transparency, authenticity
  4. Ease of use and power of the network

Get on board, watch for future posts where we continue with the series, Plan social media strategies like any other major initiative. And always, let me know what you’re thinking.