In a recent article in the Australian Financial Review, Agnes King asks what a social media campaign could possibly offer to clients of an accounting firm. Her claim is that Facebook and Twitter are effective business-to-consumer (B2C) communication tools, but that they have no place in a business-to-business (B2B) strategy.
Reading the article, I was struck by Ms King's narrow view of social media. Sure, if you're using Twitter to distribute a press release to journalists - or reporting what you ate for breakfast - no one would deny that your presence has limited value. However, there is so much more to Twitter and other social media tools than distributing your own content.
B2B communication may be about business, but it's still an interaction between people. And in an ever more digitised world, people think, feel, talk, network and listen online and through social media. The fact is that accounting firms and other B2B providers often have well-established brand identities in the so-called offline world. So why not online - especially given its growing prevalence? For them, the social media space is about enhancing that existing brand and reputation in a new form of conversation.
Ms King is correct when she says that you need to have something interesting and relevant to say and that this can be a challenge for all businesses on social channels, not just those communicating B2B. However, from the point of view of their clients, accounting firms have a wealth of interesting business content to impart. In fact, many such businesses have a staggering volume of material on their websites. The question is: why wouldn't clients in search of information simply visit the website, or even Google?
True, a great deal of content is available using these channels. But finding it relies on active searches and knowing what to search for. When, to put it simply, you don't know what you don't know, how are you going to find it? And then you get to the question of which clients want to know what information? Because they have many different interests.
That's where social media can really come into its own.
It enables a business to reach out and understand audiences, and to direct them to in-depth material that interests them. It also has the added benefit of being a two-way conversation, with content responding to and, in some instances, even guiding the mood and needs of the audience. That is something that a website and Google certainly can't give you.
The upshot? The key to success for B2B communicators is delivering engaging content. Content needs to be timely, relevant, thought-provoking and straight to the point. Accounting firms (and their spokespeople) on Twitter are engaging right now in conversation about policy, regulatory reform and business strategy, in ways that enhance their brand and establish them as leaders in their field. They are not afraid to lead the pack and show some personality.
Then comes another big question. Even if your content is great, does social media really work to spread the brand, establish leadership and ultimately, to promote the business? For many businesses, even those that have embraced social media, the question of reach, impact and how they can tell if they are achieving their aims remains.
It's a question that need no longer remain unanswered - or wildly stabbed at - thanks to the range of ever more sophisticated analytical tools available. Businesses can now actively monitor and evaluate, tweet-by-tweet if they like, the response to their social media initiatives.
Ultimately, what businesses say to other businesses through social media channels does matter. It can engage, build brands and relationships, establish businesses as leaders and experts: in short, add to business performance and reputation. But that will only ever happen if they remember that it's the content that counts.
Tamera Lang is currently undertaking an internship with BlueChip Communication
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