Can business-to-business communications work on Facebook?
With a user base approaching 670 million, Facebook has been successfully exploited by some organisations looking to target consumers. But is Facebook any use as a platform for businesses wanting to attract other business customers? New Media Knowledge asked around. By Chris Lee.
By Chris Lee
Facebook is enjoying phenomenal growth as a consumer-focused social network with membership approaching 670 million worldwide, according to CheckFacebook.com. Some companies which target consumers, such as t-shirt firm Threadless and technology retailer Best Buy, have built up successful stores on Facebook using social media word-of-mouth.
But for such a consumer-focused channel could the site be of any benefit for a business-to-business (B2B) organisation?
The plus side
One large organisation using Facebook for business is computer manufacturer Dell. Dell’s Laura Thomas told NMK that connecting with current customers on Facebook allows brands to extend the conversation and stay engaged with them between the longer B2B buying cycle.
“B2B has always been more about relationship marketing than transactional marketing, so social media such as Facebook is perfect for extending those relationships,” she said. “We know from many sources that businesses are spending more time and money on Facebook, so the audience is known to be there – the challenge for brands is how to connect with them while they are there.”
Thomas said Facebook enabled Dell to inform customers when new products and services are coming, as well as having an opportunity to ask questions that can feed into planning processes.
“[Facebook] can serve as an early warning system if your customers are unhappy and provide a public forum that shows potential customers your business takes customer feedback seriously and strives to ensure satisfaction,” she added.
For Greg Stock, chairman and CEO of software firm Vovici, which has built a social media visibility tool for Facebook, supported Thomas’ view, adding that; “Social media opens a new communication channel that is driving limitless dialogue. Cultivating fans, adding valued customers to discussions and multi-dimensional communication are critical steps for any business.”
For Pete Hendrick, managing director of PR agency Rocket Communications, Facebook is not the best tool for B2B brands and believes they should focus their efforts elsewhere in more targeted online communications.
“Executives from the target market for most B2B brands will be on Facebook, but the majority will use the site in a personal rather than a professional capacity and so will be less receptive to being targeted through the site,” he warned. “Typically, a B2B sale has a higher unit value than a B2C [business-to-consumer] one, so there’s no need to target millions of people. By focusing on smaller communities with a higher percentage of their target market they’ll achieve better and more lucrative results. B2B brands need to engage in the right conversations with the right people online and not feel pressurised into putting time into a Facebook strategy that won’t make a difference to their bottom line.”
Top tips for B2B Facebook marketing
Michael Ord, founder of online marketplace Frooly, recommends the below top ten tips for business-to-business marketing via Facebook.
1. Be open and transparent. Allow others to make comments and interact with the brand, and show your consumers that you care what they have to say
2. Be human. Show your fans the people behind the business, and make it clear that consumers are interacting with those people
3. Give more insight and access than fans can find on your site. They want new perspectives and a reason to be your fan
4. Don’t sell to your fans. Nobody wants their feed to be full of your latest range or product announcements. They will feel used and will either “unlike” you or choose to hide all your posts. They are sold to in all other aspects of life. Facebook is a place to engage them
5. Post updates and news outside of normal business hours for maximum engagement
6. Create ambassadors. If you use Facebook correctly, you can make customers feel part of the community. Giving people a sense that they have a say will help you to create brand ambassadors, who will do your marketing for you
7. Build a content strategy around topical issues and events, and let it evolve according to feedback from your community
8. Make use of Facebook Questions to gauge consumer opinions on things, and to even guide product development
9. Keep a close tab on comments and posts, and check your wall regularly. Responding to activity promptly helps to stimulate further activity. It’s not a once-a-day job
10. Be careful when it comes to complaints or disputes, as it requires particular skill to
11. Neutralise negativity in a public sphere. Having said that, do not simply delete negative comments. Respond to them in a way that comforts the consumer and shows others that you’re committed to customer satisfaction