Thursday, April 2, 2009

Smart Social Networking for B2B Companies

Whether they realize it or not, businesses have been using the "social" power of email marketing for a number of years now. It's just that we've been referring to it as "viral" marketing. Sure, our email campaigns have gone out regularly to house (or acquired) lists, and recipients have been encouraged to forward these e-mails to friends and colleagues. Which actually happened, from time to time. And when it did, it was helpful. But not overwhelmingly so.

The problem, even with broadcast email, is that email that's just "pushed out" is lacking in the interactive dynamics that are essential to maintaining the interest of busy workers who are typically trying to do several things at once. So, while you might capture their attention momentarily, the lack of an immediate and meaningful interaction or a "call to action" means that, at best, your email might get filed in a "To Read Later" folder, or at worst, it just might be deleted outright.

So how do you engage your primary audience -- and, your secondary "network" audience -- more effectively, while still retaining the speed and economy of scale afforded by the web-based medium? A simple solution is to combine your e-mail marketing initiatives with currently-available social networking offerings such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

By including a Social Networking component in your email marketing mix, you enable the sharing of your content not just to an individual or two, but to an expansive network of individuals. This creates an environment conducive to discussion and feedback, all from just the click of a link. By capitalizing on the traffic found on uber-active networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, businesses can reach and engage both decision-makers and influencers, in ways that were never before possible.

Looking to start add a Social Networking component to your marketing mix? Here are a couple of ideas that can help get you up and running, quickly and cost-effectively:
  • First, if you're not already registered on Facebook or LinkedIn, do so now. By joining these web forums -- and by becoming active on them -- you can begin to establish yourself as an authority on both your company and the industry it serves. Once you begin participating on these forums, both asking and answering questions within the many "interest Groups" that are to be found there, you will find that more and more people are interested in what you're saying, helping you to establish yourself as a "trusted source."

    By joining LinkedIn and Facebook groups, then responding to questions and getting involved in discussions, you set your company up as a resource and an expert.

  • Use your Facebook or LinkedIn "status" field to publicize your events, newsletters, landing pages or other initiatives. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all give users the ability to publish information in just seconds, so it's ridiculously easy to begin promoting your initiative, as soon as you have the basic details nailed-down. For example, if you have an e-newsletter set to publish on Wednesday, you could publish a status update a day or two before the drop, to get your audience talking about it. You could even send non-subscribers to your website, so that they can subscribe in time for the "new" edition, as well as giving them impetus to visit and peruse your web site.

  • Add clearly delineated opt-in links to all of your marketing collateral, print or web-based. If, for example, you post a new video on your Facebook page, make sure that video contains a link at the end so that your viewers can opt-in. Once it's shared across your new "virtual" network, you'll be reaching hundreds of prospective new customers. Give them an easy way to request additional information. And if you’re planning to send visitors from a social media site to your web site, or are asking them to download a white paper or view a video, opt-in links must be extremely visible. You don't want to bury the link at the bottom of a page. If someone cares enough to check something out, you need to give them a very obvious way to remain engaged.

  • Use the search power of the internet. You're already (or should be) following your company, products, and industry issues via Google e-mail alerts. You can essentially do the same on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, enabling you to gain valuable market knowledge and insight, as well as timely content for e-mail marketing initiatives. For example, Twitter's search function allows you to follow everything that's being mentioned about your company, giving you real-time access to things you might never otherwise hear -- or hear when it's too late. You can then take both the good and the bad of what's being said and respond appropriately within your e-mail marketing. For example, "Here's a tweet we recently heard about a problem with one of our products, and here's what we're doing in order to resolve the situation."

As you can see, Web 2.0 has provided businesses with many low-cost tools for carrying your brand and message to your target audiences, for a competitive advantage that can pay dividends for a long time to come!

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