Social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn have become key hubs for B2B buyers to consume content and seek out relevant information. Vendors and their partners, as a result, are striving to leverage these channels to connect with them — and each other.
According to the Demand Gen Report 2015 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report, executives use social media to:
Now, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally, according to SiriusDecisions’ 2015 B-to-B Buying Study, which means buyers are spending more time researching solutions independently, rather than connecting directly with sales reps. To truly connect with buyers during the digital buying journey, experts noted that vendors and their partners must invest more time and energy in social media.
“Social media has become an integral part of our personal identities and a significant means for communicating on an individual level,” said Heather K. Margolis, Founder and President of Channel Maven Consulting. “From there, it was a natural leap for B2C brands to use social media to engage with buyers, and finally B2B has joined the progression. Through groups, pages, sharing content, tweet chats and other social media driven connecting points, B2B organizations have a better chance at addressing an audience no matter where they are in the buying process.”
For vendors and their partners, the benefits of social media are amplified. Social networks enable more real-time communication and information sharing, which helps forge stronger relationships between vendors, their partners and end-users.
“The rapid response times and high engagement rates of social media offer vendors and channel partners the opportunity to present strong, cohesive messages in nearly real time to customers and prospects,” said Louis Foong, CEO of The ALEA Group. “You can now talk to prospects in the moment when they have a question or even begin to think about their need; you have the power to respond in real time to prospects and customers.”
Social networks also offer vendors a direct and personalized channel alternative to email marketing, observers noted.
“Social is a great way to communicate without bombarding email inboxes,” Margolis explained. “For example, private LinkedIn groups provide a place for vendors to communicate directly with partners, post content and announce relevant news away from prying eyes. We also always suggest that vendors make their channel executives more accessible to their partners through social.”
Although the benefits of social media have become more known and pronounced in recent years, the complicated nature of channel relationships can lead to a number of challenges. Vendors, resellers, managed service providers and other players sell multiple solutions from several brands. The more partners a company has, the more difficult it may be to develop a sustainable, long-term social strategy.
In addition to navigating multiple partnerships, Olivier Choron, CEO of purechannelapps, noted that channel players face challenges revolving around:
Microsoft discovered, through a survey of its partners, that most partners lack the time (80%) and content (68%) to share valuable posts on social media. As a result, the company implemented socialondemand, a platform designed to help partners easily access and share relevant content across all social accounts. With the implementation, Microsoft has seen a boost in partner engagement and overall social exposure.
“Partners are sharing the content through their very own personal social networks as well, showing they are engaged with their vendors, generating a thought leader status, just by sharing vendor content,” Choron explained. “This not only benefits the vendors, but it also benefits the partner who receives increased exposure, thus leading to social selling and increased revenue.”
Because the social media landscape is always changing, and B2B trends and best practices are constantly evolving, vendors and partners need to participate in ongoing, practical training.
“Training keeps partners involved and keeps vendors’ strategies and messaging top-of-mind for them,” according to Foong. However, training programs vary based on partners’ overall maturity with social media marketing and engagement.
“Typically there is a huge range of capabilities from the laggards to the advance partners in the social media space,” Choron said. “In our research, 60% of partners have one or more social media accounts and have posted content. The main thing is, you want all of your partners to really be on the same level and fully understand the power social sharing.”
To achieve this, vendors can establish online training and workshops tailored to specific needs, Choron explained. Topics for these educational sessions can vary significantly — from setting up a LinkedIn company account, to determining the most effective content to share across networks.
Vendors who offer training via workshops, videos and webinars are more likely to see improved partner engagement on social media, according to Margolis. “From my experience, buy-in comes with analytics. When we show numbers that reflect increases in reach, engagement and web site traffic, buy-in is automatic.”
Beyond training, vendors can provide social syndication within partner portals and “create ready-made social posts to automate some of the social media processes for partners,” Margolis said.
Foong noted that having a library of micro-posts, images and on-message content can help partners “easily leverage and customize information based on their particular location, prospects or customers.”
To ensure ongoing social success, vendors and their partners need to consistently track results and test new messages and offerings. Testing can help inform marketing through additional channels.
“Put out content that you think is relevant to your audience, test it and see what kind of engagement you get,” Foong said. “If you’re seeing good results, keep at it! That’s the great thing about social media: There are so many opportunities to test. For example, Twitter offers a great opportunity to test out headlines. You can see which ones get the best click-through and engagement rates before you carry it over to a campaign or a piece of print media.”
Marketers also must track social feedback to monitor what prospects and customers are saying. Using this intelligence, marketers can ensure their outreach and corresponding content are relevant.
“Ask yourself what your prospects are talking about, complaining about or bragging about, and what they already know,” Foong said. “Then be valuable to them by filling them in on something they may not yet understand. If vendors are constantly testing and creating content, they can share the best performing pieces with channel partners to augment the message.”
Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.