Next Year’s B2B Public Relations Challenge: Is Social Media Just Nice Wrapping Paper?

Who are the best gift-givers you know? They don’t necessarily spend the most money. And sometimes they aren’t terribly creative. They are the best because they are thoughtful.

The same could be said of a smart marketing strategy – whether you’re talking about traditional tactics or testing new waters with social media. It’s the strategy and content (the true “thought” components) that makes a company stand out.

We recently asked 41 B2B professionals (ranging from CEO to PR specialist) in our firm’s annual client survey the question “what emerging B2B PR Challenges Do You Face Next Year?” The most common answers fell in two camps:

  • using social media in a strategic way and
  • finding a way to differentiate their company/expertise

The latter is a familiar marketing challenge. It’s just that now we’re all trying to figure out the best way to differentiate in the midst of evolving news organizations, search strategies and social networks.

This was a clear theme in 2011 planning meetings that I had with several consulting firm clients last week. Everyone is anxious to experiment with social media, but rarely is there budget, resources or support from higher up in the organization to do so. People quickly grow overwhelmed, defeated or both when trying to figure out a strategic approach to social media for a large, complex B2B organization.

What to do? How can you be strategic in the way you approach social media, especially when there is limited or no budget/support for it? Should you? Here are a few considerations we’ve been talking with clients about:

  • Integration is critical. Don’t start with “social media,” start with the main challenge: differentiation. Priority #1 should be having a robust content development strategy. Develop a thoughtful way to share and discuss the issues near and dear to your heart – both online and offline. “Social media” is simply another means of supporting that strategy. Whatever you do online should tie to broader marketing and business goals, and reinforce the expertise that makes your brand different. It becomes much easier to make the case for experimenting this way.
  • Why are you doing it? Does it even make sense for your organization to invest much time and energy against social strategies – maybe you’re not ready? Why are you doing it? Is it to increase brand awareness? Customer loyalty? Different goals drive different behaviors. Knowledge is power:  conduct a social media audit to help you sort through the best approach for your organization.
  • Pick your battles. Where can you make the most noise? Where are there people internally who are willing to test and play along with you? What metrics/results could potentially be the most powerful to share internally? Start there. Gain small wins to showcase to the rest of the organization. Nothing like creating a little healthy competition to light a fire.
  • Make it manageable. Most of my clients must fit social media efforts into existing budgets and resources. Take things slow and focus your energy on doing one or two things really well. Experiment around a major campaign. If you know most of your clients/prospects are gathering on LinkedIn, focus on digging deep there and see what kind of traction you can make.

What would you add to the list above?  Have you struggled with developing a strategic approach to “social media” while overcoming resistance within your organization? 

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To reach Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
LinkedIn: Kellie Sheehan