Besides, McCarty says, “It’s become clear that the risk of not participating in social media is much greater than the risk of participating.” Other B2B marketers also are concluding that social media works for them, both as an educational tool for their customers, as well as in support of marketing efforts.
Transplace, for instance, is a Dallas-based manager of freight-transportation services for retailers and manufacturers, ranging from AutoZone to Del Monte Foods. CEO Tom Sanderson personally writes a blog about the many issues that impact the logistics industry, ranging from economic growth to gasoline prices to regulatory pressures. Transplace also uses the blog to lend out handy graphics about many of these topics.
“Our customers are free to take any chart we have online and use it in one of their own internal presentations,” Sanderson says. “If the vice president of logistics is meeting with his CFO, he can take one of our graphs and tell an accurate and informed story inside his own organization. And when I speak at industry conferences, people come up to me [every time] and say howmuch they love the blog and graphs.”
Meanwhile, American Express is relying heavily on social media to expand its Open online platform for helping its small-business cardholders with a wide range of advice. Open really started getting traction after the company used a Facebook page to launch “Small Business Saturday” in 2009. It designates the Saturday after Black Friday as an annual rallying point for consumers to support local merchants.
The brand has used social media continually as a way to expand this B2B event. American Express uses the Open platform to publish case studies of Small Business Saturday success stories and to spread the word about effective business tools of all sorts. And Open members can get a $10 credit on their American Express cards by participating.
“We do Small Business Saturday to inspire consumers and help business owners leverage that day to get the message out to them,” says Scott Roen, until recently the vice president of digital marketing for American Express. “It would be extraordinarily difficult to get out that message without social media.”
Toyota has launched a “social syndication hub” that allows its individual dealers to access pieces of the company’s “branded content”—ranging from think pieces on environmental affairs to results for Toyota-sponsored teams in NASCAR races—and to appropriate it for the dealers’ own social media. The company posts a handful of articles and video clips each day to participating dealers’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, and it appears to online shoppers that the material is coming from the dealership itself.
“It’s important to us on the dealership level because we can use these tools to get consumers engaged in product knowledge,” explains Brent Wofford, Internet sales manager at Alexander Toyota, in Yuma, Arizona. “And they believe that they can go to Alexander Toyota for answers about products.” Wofford can schedule as seldom as once a week what content appears, and when, each day. “It doesn’t look like an automated system,” he says. “Nothing is getting posted at 3 a.m. It looks like someone is at the dealership and posting them every once in a while.”
Domino’s Pizza has come to rely heavily on an ever-burgeoning social-media network as a key nexus of communications with its 1,000 U.S. franchisees, who own most of its stores. The company’s “discussion boards” provide a means for franchisees and their managers to communicate continuously and securely with one another and with Domino’s to address just about what- ever topic they want.“Domino’s can’t be successful unless we communicate effectively with franchisees,” says CEO J. Patrick Doyle. “And it’s critical that we reach them through avenues that are both modern and simple to execute.”
Crucial to the success of this effort is ensuring that Domino’s provides a contextually and culturally relevant experience to franchisees who, of course, typically are using social media in many other facets of their business and personal lives. For instance, franchisees on an internal Domino’s network can “microblog” a message that can be accessed only by managers and employees at their stores—a function that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn make available to users in the “outside world.” Domino’s is developing ways for its own employees to share photos and videos internally as they already do in their personal lives on Instagram.
At the same time, the speed of change in social media—many youths already are abandoning Facebook, for instance and one of the hottest new things has been Snapchat, in which messages disappear after a while—requires B2B marketers constantly to be evaluating potential new platforms.
“Social media gives us ideas and concepts we can use to better connect with our internal base, so we can utilize what exists today, as well as constantly [keeping] our eyes open to what’s next and [to] be ready to evolve,” Doyle says.
In similar ways, thousands of B2B companies are plunging deeply into social media, says Paul Rand, CEO of marketing agency Ketchum, “because they’re seeing phenomenal success from lead generation to product development to customer service to flat-out marketing. If it isn’t part of the arsenal of any B2B company, it will have to become so very quickly, or they’ll find themselves at a real disadvantage.”