Channel head to head: social media

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This article appeared in the October issue of CRN magazine.

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Channel head to head: social media

The words social media have managed to insinuate themselves into the business vernacular with alacrity. But less rapid has been the ability of businesses to understand what they need to do about it.

Sure, the subscriber numbers are impressive. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest. But the other less palatable numbers about Facebook concern the disappointing results of its IPO.

Rarely has such a large and high profile public listing gone so badly. Of course this is largely to do with concerns about Facebook’s ability to sell advertising and whether this would turn users off. But it would also seem to cast doubt on the platform’s potential as a B2B tool, specifically its ability to disrupt traditional forms of business communication and increase the reach, quality and speed of commercial interaction.

Companies are unable to buy social media strategies out of the box. First they need to make an audit of their operations including customers and other stakeholders in order to establish a set of core objectives. These objectives then need to be considered when deciding what social media platforms to adopt and how.

What information should be made available? How often should it be updated and by whom? What level of customer interaction should the company strive to facilitate? Only once these questions have been properly addressed can a company determine how much time, money and effort is required and to then weigh that up against the potential rewards.

For many companies, a social media strategy could simply offer no real benefit at all. In this CRN head-to-head, Australian tech industry experts Tony Gattari, from the Achievers Group, and Moheb Moses from Channel Dynamics, offer different opinions on social media’s role in the business world.

For Gattari, former Harvey Norman tech boss, there’s no clear path for success via social media. He says many companies are wise to avoid investing in it altogether for risk of achieving poor ROI.

For Moses, co-founder of Channel Dynamics and respected partner consultant, social media offers a world of opportunity for all, especially when considered with its broadest definition, encompassing the evolving forms of blogging, podcasts, wiki, picture sharing and crowdsourcing.

Tony Gattari, founder and chief energy officer, Achievers Group

The jury is still out on whether social media is an opportunity or burden to business. Whether social media can work for your business largely depends on whether your business has a social angle. Online social chatter is the same as in the real world– it revolves around topics like sports, fashion, music, TV and food. If your business products or services are ones that people like to talk about you will have a much easier time acquiring social media interest, fans and followers.

If you run the local petrol station or manage a chain of hardware stores, social media is still largely a gamble. Social media platforms are about users having fun, connecting with their friends and exploring their interests. Your brand needs to enable users to achieve these social goals.

If your products or services aren’t social, then your marketing needs to be. A great example of a successful social media-driven business is the Dollar Shave Club. Not many products are less social than razors. But the club, offering razors to your door for a $1 a month, created a hilarious video that went viral and has been viewed by millions of users.

But there is no formula for creating remarkable content on demand. To stand a chance, you need to engage in ongoing content creation and delivery on social platforms, in the hope your efforts will gain traction with users, and accept that most will fall at the first post. Are you up to the creative challenge?

If you have developed a social media campaign, the difficulty remains in how to effectively measure ROI of your social media spend. For businesses that are tracking social media metrics such as likes and fans on Facebook, most have not found that these metrics have any meaningful relationship to sales. It is crucial to find a way in each campaign to effectively measure the ROI of your social marketing.

Typically this is achieved by measuring the specific action of a user, such as a visit to a website landing page, or in the real world, for example with a printed coupon or offer. Track these actions and compare the sales results to your social media marketing budget. Is it paying off?

But social media is about brand building, and effective ROI measurement is not the end of the story. Social media may supercharge word of mouth but it may be impossible to measure.

If building a connected brand is important to your strategy, social media has to be part of your plan.

Moheb Moses, director and co-founder, Channel Dynamics

Social media is more than just social networks – it also covers things such as internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, video blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts, crowdsourcing, instant messaging, pictures, video, rating, social bookmarking, as well as a myriad of technologies still being developed.

So if you don’t like the social media revolution, I have bad news fo ryou – it’s not going away. And the simple reason is this: your customers believe what your other customers say about you more than they believe what you say about yourself.

Whereas in the past you relied on customers going to your website (or reading your brochures or talking to your sales reps) to learn about your organisation, today they have many other means of finding out what other people think about you.

Their decisions are being influenced by what they see and hear. So the opportunity for business is that social media offers a level of reach, immediacy and customer engagement no other media has ever given us. And where we might have had to conduct surveys to guess at what our customers think, today they are all too willing to tell us if we give them the vehicle to do so.

But let’s be clear about what social media can do, and what it can’t. In the B2B sector, social media does three things extremely well:
• Increase brand awareness and grow your reach.
• Build customer loyalty through greater engagement and support.
• Position you as a subject matter expert or thought leader.

But as far as directly generating revenue, today at least, social media is frowned upon as a sales tool (as opposed to the consumer space, where some companies have built very successful revenue streams from their social media campaigns).

In B2B, people don’t want to watch a video or read a blog that sounds like an ad. So don’t use it to sell. Use it to achieve the goals above, and then let your sales people convert the interest into a sale. And that means:
• Generate interest. Pick your vehicle of choice (ie. don’t try to do everything. For example, I personally don’t tweet, but I’m happy to write articles for publications and contribute to our blog).
• Follow up. Track and measure responses; respond to comments; thank people for connecting/following, maintain regular communications; and make contact outside the social medium (ie. make a phone call) when you’ve established a dialogue.

Social media is about relationships and growing trust. That means contributing, answering questions, providing information, and acting as a trusted resource. These will grow your business, but it will be a slower, more gradual (and potentially more rewarding) approach than traditional short-term incentives.

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