November 24, 2014

How to create B2B social media policies

One of the cornerstones of a social media strategy is having a clear set of corporate social media guidelines or policies. The best documents don’t just tell employees what not to do; they also tell them what they should be doing to further the marketing goals of the company. Here are some recommendations based on a cross-section of social media policies from B2B companies, including social media policy examples from some leading B2B companies. (Thanks to Kent Huffman for giving me a great starting point for this post):

Invite employees into the process. Employees will feel much more comfortable adhering to policies if they feel that they have had a voice in shaping them—as IBM’s and SAP’s employees did. But don’t provide them with a blank slate. Develop a draft that corporate and legal are comfortable with to make sure all the bases are covered. IBM and SAP put their draft guidelines on wikis, where employees were invited to make comments and suggestions.

Reference the employee code of conduct, if you have one. The code of conduct is the “umbrella policy” for your social media policy; it does the heavy lifting for the more serious aspects of employee conduct (e.g., obey your local laws, behave ethically, etc.) so that your social media policy can focus on the specific issues that arise from social media.

Determine a policy for direct contact with key influencers. For example, some companies allow employees to communicate generally to the social sphere but require that any direct communications to analysts, the financial market and/or members of the media must be conducted only through corporate communications.

Require a disclaimer—and provide the boilerplate. “This [Choose. Blog, Space …] is the personal [Blog, Space …] of [Name] and only contains my personal views, thoughts and opinions. It is not endorsed by [X corporation] nor does it constitute any official communication of [X corporation].”

Require that any use of the company logo or name be approved. Disclaimers aren’t enough if the blog is plastered with company logos or the company name is part of the blog title. It should be clear that this is a personal effort, not a corporate one.

Have a “don’t be stupid” clause. Guidelines are not guardrails. People need to know that taking personal responsibility for their actions is the best guideline of all. Here’s an example from one company’s policy: “Please be aware that, although [X Corporation] is providing you with these guidelines, the overall and final legal responsibility for any statement made by you will reside with you personally. Therefore, you should exercise caution and thoughtfulness to statements you make online.”

Spell out what stupid means—both internally and externally. Being sure to include the “including but not limited to” phrase, make sure employees know that blogs are not for communicating policies to other employees, negotiating with third parties, or releasing material information about company strategy or financials (or as Sun puts it in its social media guidelines, “it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces”).

Encourage openness, honesty and transparency. The social media sphere punishes people who don’t disclose their affiliations or pretend to be someone they aren’t (e.g., the Whole Foods CEO using an alias to bash competitors or the Wal-Mart bloggers who didn’t disclose that they were being paid by the company). Require employees to disclose their affiliation with the company at all times and avoid using aliases.

Encourage community through sharing and attribution. Social media is not just a place for broadcasting opinions. Employees should be encouraged to become part of the community by doing research and linking to other relevant content—not just their own.

Separate opinion from fact. The best retort to criticism is factual evidence to the contrary. But employees need to check those facts for accuracy and attribute them rather than passing along something they aren’t sure about.

Demand respect in all interactions. When people make nasty comments in social media it’s tempting for employees to respond in kind. But bad behavior inevitably makes its way back to the brand, while good behavior demonstrates that a company is able to handle negative feedback gracefully and builds empathy. Make it clear: no disparaging remarks about third parties—ever.

Remind them of their day jobs. Employees are not doing the best thing for the company by letting social media take over their workdays. Emphasize quality rather than quantity in social media interactions.

Encourage them to write what they know. Employees may feel passionately about the possibility of life on other planets, but unless they work for NASA, it’s probably not worth getting into on a blog.

Provide a channel for questions. No matter how good your social media guidelines are, employees are going to have questions—especially those who are new to social media. The guidelines should include a place to go for advice. For example, Cisco has an e-mail alias called “internet postings” where employees can get help.

Ditch the legalese. Social media is supposed to be fun, informal, conversational and open. Take whatever language legal gives you and translate it into English; otherwise, you risk scaring off or offending employees.

Make it public. Nothing demonstrates your openness and commitment to social media more than making your policy publicly available. Big companies like Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, SAP, and Sun, all do it. Invite comments and update the policy as needed. Making your guidelines public also gives you license to borrow from others (ask permission first and give credit where it is due).

Here are links to the best examples of B2B corporate social media policies that I found:

Also, check out the non-profit Social Media Business Council’s Disclosure Toolkit

Sources: Kent Huffman, Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, SAP, Sun.

Post to Twitter

Six factors driving B2B social media marketing adoption

We’re all getting constant advice—hectoring, even—about how we need to make social media a key part of our B2B marketing strategies right now. Two main threads underpin the logic behind these urgings:

  1. Your customers are becoming more active in social media, so you’d better get with it.
  2. Your competitors are adopting social in their marketing strategies, so if you don’t do it, they will.

While I believe that these two threads are accurate, I haven’t seen compelling data to back them up—at least as it relates to B2B. So I’ve assembled some research, from both ITSMA and other sources that examines the case for social media. How strong do you think the arguments are?

Customer factors
Customers (the younger ones, anyway) are adopting social media.
IT and business buyers are flocking to social media more rapidly than anyone would have imagined even a few years ago. Our latest annual survey of 355 buyers of complex IT solutions, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2009: The Importance of Personalization, Epiphanies, and Social Media, shows that the door to the C-suite is opening up. (You can download an abbreviated summary here.)

We found that usage of social media among IT and business buyers of technology rose 50% over 2008 and finally pushed to majority status—55% said they use social media as part of the technology buying process in 2009 versus just 37% in 2008. More importantly, we found that executives in large organizations use social media more than in smaller organizations, and C-suite executives actually use social media more than their lower-level buying peers. Just 15% of CEOs and directors said they did not use any form of social media at all, while 34% of manager/directors and 26% of VPs/Assistant vice presidents said they ignore the stuff.

However, age trumps rank in terms of social media usage. For example, a Forbes/Google survey of 354 top executives found that more than 50% of executives under 40 maintain a work-related blog, Twitter their thoughts, and visit online social networks frequently. Meanwhile, fewer than 5% of executives over 50 share their thoughts via social media and a whopping 38% said they have never been to a social networking site.

Search is becoming increasingly dominant in the buying process. Even for buyers who fear stepping across the social media threshold, search will draw them in through the back door. ITSMA research shows that 63% of buyers proactively seek information about providers themselves, and the Forbes/Google survey found that 79% of executives perform at least three web searches per day. The pool of information they are sifting through contains an increasing amount of social media content.

The trade press is dying. Trade magazines are imploding as marketers continue to pull out of print advertising. Revenues for B2B publishers for the first five months of 2009 were down a total of 26.3% and ad pages by 30.3%, according to American Business Media, a B2B trade association. Meanwhile, revenues from online advertising are doing little to stanch the bleeding. For example, when you add in digital revenues, total advertising revenues for the first half of 2009 are still down by 19%.

B2B magazines are shuttering by the hundreds–literally: 137 in 2007, 120 in 2008, and 130 through the third quarter of 2009—twice the rate of new startups (yes, they still do start print trade magazines), according to MediaFinder, a database of magazines. Those titles that remain have cut staff and have many fewer pages to fill.

Online-only publications don’t have it much better. The need to maximize page hits means that trade journalists are being pushed to create more shorter stories that appeal to the largest possible audience—not a fertile ground for in-depth analysis of complex B2B products and services. Customers and prospects looking for content are going to see more of it coming from social media by default.

Marketing factors
Social media requires fewer hard dollars.
In ITSMA’s social media survey in April 2009, 42% of marketers cited “reduced cost of marketing” as a top benefit of social media—second only to “increased website traffic.” Though the degree of cost savings of social media is controversial—many of the tools may be free but the labor to manage them certainly is not—marketers tell us that social media costs less to manage than most other programs.

Digital marketing has reached the budget tipping point—with help from the recession. B2B marketers have been shifting dollars away from offline programs (mostly trade shows, print advertising, and print collateral) to digital marketing in eight of the last nine years, according to ITSMA’s Annual Budget and Trends survey. But digital has always been a relatively small component of the overall marcom budget—until now. By the end of 2009, marketers predict that digital (which, besides social media, also includes more traditional categories like e-mail newsletters and the website) will become the largest category of their marcom budgets at 13%.

And the recession is speeding up the shift to online. For example, in early 2009, 44% of marketers said they were responding to the recession by shifting dollars online. By October, 77% were using online as a recession fighter. Overall, more than 77% of marketers say they plan to increase their online spending in 2009-2010, according to ITSMA’s Marketing Pulse survey.

Marketers are building online communities—fast. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of B2B marketers that say they’ve built online communities themselves or through third parties such as LinkedIn and Facebook. In ITSMA’s social media survey in April, 43% said they had built their own communities and 54% had built group pages on Facebook or LinkedIn. By October, the percentages were 70 and 79, respectively.

Does this research make the case for social media in B2B marketing, or are you skeptical?

Post to Twitter

Social media strategy for B2B: what’s required and what’s optional

Despite all the breathless hype about social media these days, what I hear most from B2B marketers is frustration. Most of the marketers I talk to are trying to reach a few top executives in big organizations who make buying decisions about big, complex products and services. For these marketers, the pool of customers and prospects is small and many of them do not want to engage publicly in social media or are simply ignoring it altogether.

ITSMA research shows that there are other ways to reach these people that are much more effective than social media, such as small, thought leadership-based events, content-rich websites that are optimized for search, and robust reference programs, to name a few. For these target executives, peer relationships are everything, but for now anyway, most of those relationships are happening offline.

For many companies, this translates into a wait-and-see approach to social media.

I think that’s the right decision—up to a point.

For these companies, there is little reason to twitter into the wind. If you’re strapped for resources (who isn’t?) and you can invest in other things that are more effective for reaching your target audience.

But the mistake I think many companies make is assuming that if there is no reason for actively marketing the company through social media then there is no reason to invest in a social media strategy.

I think that’s short sighted.

Here’s why: In marketing, we have a traditional bias towards being active. After all, that’s how we’ve always done it. We push messages out and try to stir up attention. We could control the public conversation because our audience had few public outlets for giving or receiving information. But social media is a vast public platform where eventually the conversation is going to get around to our companies—if it hasn’t already.

So even if there is no reason to have an active social media strategy, there is every reason to have a passive one. By that, I mean monitoring the cacophony of public conversation on the web to determine whether any of it is applicable to your company—and if it is, what you should do about it. This is why every B2B marketing leader needs a social media participation strategy even if he or she does not intend to actively market through social media.

I divide participation strategy into three pieces (I go into each in more detail in this post):

  1. Monitor. Listen for conversation about your company or about relevant issues for you and your customers.
  2. Engage. Develop a strategy for responding to customers and influencers who talk about your company or relevant business issues.
  3. Manage. Decide whether to take an active role in creating conversations and fostering a community.

Though I will probably get some arguments about this, I think the participation strategy is a linear process—i.e., you need to know how to monitor well before you can engage well, and you certainly need to know how to engage well before you can start building community.

We have reached the point where monitoring is an absolute requirement in any B2B marketing strategy. Even if it doesn’t seem that your customers and prospects are actively conversing on the social web, you need to confirm that fact. And even they aren’t talking, there’s no doubt that someone is having a relevant conversation about business issues that are important to your customers—and that you should be monitoring.

This week, Jeremiah Owyang published a great framework of things that marketers have to do to listen well—including a list of vendors who help marketers listen. The only disagreement I have with his framework is that it is about more than listening. Stages 1-3 of his framework are true passive listening and every B2B marketing group should be doing them—regardless of whether they decide to actively market through social media.

But moving from stage 3 to 4 is moving from passive to active participation. There’s a chasm there that many B2B marketers are unwilling to cross. It seems companies are comfortable (in theory if not yet always in practice) up to Stage 3 but beyond that they are terrified. They see the resource commitment ramping up and the potential for mistakes (risk) amplified because now they have to actively engage with people in social rather than just track and listen.

And there’s good reason to be terrified. As effort increases, resource allocation and ROI become issues. Larger companies can shift budget from dying categories like advertising and trade shows into social media without affecting other programs, but many smaller companies never had much budget in those areas to begin with. So social media becomes a larger strategic decision that some would just rather not make right now—so they don’t do anything.

I think we need to parse that decision more. Listening is a requirement, but active participation remains optional.

What do you think?

Post to Twitter

Want to understand your customers’ business needs? Give them an award.

Like most marketers, I spend most of my time desperately seeking to understand my target audience (B2B marketers) and delivering content that they find relevant and engaging. It’s a struggle.

But once a year around June, my life gets a little easier. That’s when I get to sit back and watch the submissions for our Marketing Excellence Awards (MEA) roll in. It’s a beautiful thing. Marketers from around the world tell us in great detail about the campaigns and programs that have netted them the most business results.

We have five different categories for the awards that cover important areas of focus for B2B marketers. The number of entries we receive in each category and the quality of those entries give us a sense of marketers’ shifting priorities from year to year and reveal general strengths and weaknesses of the profession (for example, we’re great at sales enablement and demand generation; we suck at metrics—just not in our blood, it seems).

Everybody wins with the MEAs. For us, it’s an opportunity to build a closer relationship with the winners and generate some great thought leadership. The winners get serious recognition for their work that helps their companies and their careers. If you haven’t considered creating an awards program for your target customers, you should.

I wish I could take credit for the MEAs, but it was developed long before I got to ITSMA. I also wish I could take credit for the excellent eBook that oozes with best practices from this year’s winners. You have to check it out. It was developed by my ITSMA colleagues Pam O’Rourke and Maria Lindberg.

However, I can share some of the best practices we’ve developed for separating the wheat from the chaff in the MEAs. The guiding principles we use to determine the winners are the same ones that guide the success of any marketing program: innovation, execution, and business results. We ask a series of questions designed to reveal how well the entrants have fulfilled those three key principles:

  1. What is the story? We humans are wired for stories. What is the narrative that explains what you are trying to accomplish with this program? Creating the narrative helps project members focus their efforts and will help sell the effort to others inside the business and with customers.
  2. What are the motivating factors? Successful marketing programs always have a compelling call to action. But marketing programs are themselves calls to action. There should be an important business justification that causes marketing to create the program. That justification can come from inside, such as wanting to enter a new market or shore up sagging sales, or outside, such as a new competitor entering the market.
  3. What is the customer need? The depth and creativity of your research can be the deciding factor in whether the program rises above the noise in the marketplace. Research provides the supporting evidence for a new insight into customer or market needs. For example, segmentation could reveal a market that you never knew existed. Role-based research can help personalize your message to the needs of the specific buyers and influencers involved in the purchasing decision.
  4. How do you quantify the need? Research also provides the quantification of the need and the benefits of your solution that are most worth highlighting for customers, such as:
    • Improve efficiency
    • Increase customer satisfaction
    • Increase profitable revenue
  5. Where is the innovation? To be sure, one of marketing’s primary roles is to support sales. But marketing should also be helping drive the business strategy and execution of the company. One of the ways to do this is through programs that challenge the current ways of doing things, both internally and with customers. Marketing programs should help the business stand apart from competitors in the segment. The best signal of success is when competitors feel compelled to respond.
  6. What are the constraints? Of course, all marketing programs come with constraints. Budget is the overriding limiter, but it’s important to quantify as many constraints as possible because the limiters help define the ambition of the project.
  7. How do you measure success? Establishing clear metrics before you start provides guard rails for the project and makes it easier to provide progress reports. Of course, knowing the metrics before you start also makes the data gathering process much easier.

Do you have an awards program with your customers? If you already have one, are you asking the right questions to find the best of the best (and make your life as a marketer easier)? Please comment with a link to your awards program and tips for making the most of them.

Post to Twitter

Get Adobe Flash player