Get Organized For B2B Community Marketing

After testing the social media waters through much of 2009, I see B2B marketers waking up to the fact that successful social execution requires more than setting up group pages on LinkedIn, opening a corporate Twitter account, or posting videos to YouTube. To have the greatest impact, marketers will need to focus social media marketing efforts at the tail end of the customer acquisition and selling process — at creating long-term, vibrant customer relationships — not on building brand or generating leads. To turn social opportunity into marketing advantage requires marketers to adopt a community (in contrast to broadcast, direct, or one-t0-one) marketing mindset. It also requires new organizational structure, roles, processes, and incentives to help your company “get smart” about how it interacts with prospects and customers online.

Unfortunately, B2B marketers treat social like yet another media channel, not as a fundamental change to how business gets done. 

Source: Forrester Report “Organizing For B2B Tech Community Marketing” February 3, 2010

In research I published last week, I explore recent Forrester survey results where we asked over 300 B2B marketers how they are gearing up for social interactions with customers. Most say that their social organizational structure and governance is ad hoc or managed by different business units with little oversight (see the figure).  

While decentralized and ad hoc are good adjectives to use when describing any approach to social activity, the lack of oversight and governance creates (real or potential) risk for those blazing new trails in the social landscape.

To execute social strategy in ways that build deeper customer relationships and foster more transparent communications — without panicking executives or legal overseers — requires firms to create more flexible, decentralized ways of engaging with buyers that shake up traditional reporting structures but give employees the tools they need to be successful. To help marketers think through these changes, in the research report, I advise:

1) Organize for flexibility, not bureaucracy. Getting organized means creating some form of central governing body chartered with establishing shared resources and fostering communication. It also means distributing social execution responsibility — and accountability for results — widely in business units or regions. Rather than commanding and controlling, the central team guides activity, spreads best practices, and monitors progress continuously while giving product teams and customer-facing functions leeway to manage social activity in a local, transparent, and relevant manner.

2) Align social objectives with business goals. To mature social processes from ad hoc activity to consistent disciplines, marketers must specify what they expect to result from engaging with customers socially, and then make the functional areas involved responsible for achieving those goals.  Easier said than done, but picking the right objective is a core tenant to the POST methodology I’ve use to help many client get social media marketing right. To make progress quickly, start with social plans where you can limit the impact to one or two functional areas. This keeps internal competition on external social channels to a minimum and compels departments to collaborate as they experiment with social activity in a coordinated manner.

3) Run initial social forays like a corporate program, not a campaign. Social transformation requires dedicated budget, change management, and cross-functional coordination on a scale similar to other major programs, like sustainability or outsourcing. Some firms need temporary executive assignments and staff to hit major social milestones, such as establishing a listening process, creating a thought-leadership agenda, or inviting customers to engage in new community activity. This core team should also validate the business case for each social ”program” undertaken.

4) Open boundaries to facilitate internal collaboration and external outreach. Social requires employees to step outside their functional comfort zones and work with outside partners and influencers. Rather than opening borders completely, top firms progressively allow more access to resources, opportunities to interact, and incentives to do so by establishing a community hub. The community hub (aka community portal, social networking site, forum, etc.) creates structure, but offers enough flexibility, to allow social interactions to evolve. Encourage employees to collaborate with each other first because this will foster the skills, norms, and creative thinking needed to make the transition to external interactions go faster and remain permanent. To see how one marketer is wrestling with this today, take a look at Paul Dunay’s blog post titled “Fire Your Director of Social Media!”

What does all of this mean?  That B2B marketers should advocate for a social core team, under their leadership, to foster new process, structure and — ultimately — culture that supports online interaction where it matters most — at the touchpoints that customers choose to use daily.  Take a look at the research and let me know what you think.

(P.S. I am backdating this post to more closely correspond with the publication date of the research. Hope you don’t mind!)

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