While social media applications for consumers get a lot of attention, there are also some great things happening with B2B social applications. This work ranges from lead generation to facilitating thought leadership and collaboration in supplier and manufacturer communities.
Financial Services: Helping Businesses Build Business
American Express and HSBC are using social technology in innovative and business-building ways, creating programs designed to help their business customers build their own businesses. (Disclosure: I'm a personal and business services client of both American Express and HSBC.)
American Express created its "Open Forum" to serve small business clients. The site offers information on topics ranging from innovation and management to lifestyle and technology, in many ways a financial services parallel to Dell's "Take Your Own Path." Beyond the informational aspects - the site provides plenty of that - Open Forum's "Idea Hub" provides a place for small business clients to focus on the topics of specific interest and to discuss issues with other members. American Express Open Forum includes a business directory to facilitate potential supplier/partner relationships. The idea behind "Idea Hub" has caught on too: active participation is up from 160,000 members in 2008 to nearly 1 million in 2009.
For global entrepreneurs, HSBC offers the HSBC Business Network. Need to move money around the world at the click of mouse? Exactly one bank can do it: HSBC. Powered in part by Capgemini - I conducted a B2B workshop at Capgemini's Mumbai office recently - HSBC and its Business Network community applications focus on business networking. The HSBC Business Network provides member blogs and similar social tools to facilitate connections and the exchange of information between its business customers in ways that help them connect and grow.
Microsoft's adCenter Community: Strong Social Ties
Just over 10 years ago, I built the PGA TOUR's CoBranding online application - a place for tournament directors to preview and order the advertising materials produced at GSD&M Idea City, where I worked at the time. Ten years on, Microsoft's adCenter Community provides similar utility, but with a strong social element: blogs, connections to Twitter and Facebook, and an active listening program positively link the advertising program to the media professionals who use it, helping them to do their jobs more effectively.
Social Technology and the Supply Chain
The applications described so far exist at the interface between business services and business customers. But what about B2B (define) and social technology deeper in the supply chain? Indium - a manufacturer of electronic components - is using social media as one of the pillars in its thought leadership program. Indium's program includes blogging, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Indium's Rick Short summed it perfectly when he talked about the value of a B2B thought-leadership program: "[Being a Thought Leader] is being considered the best, most authoritative, trusted source." For Indium, it also means business: attributed to the program are a 25 percent reduction in marketing costs (so yes, Indium's social media program has an associated ROI) along with major account wins. Adams Magnetic cites similar results from its social media based thought-leadership program: being seen as a leader in terms of intellectual contribution within one's industry leads directly...to more leads.
Element 14: A Community for Electronics Engineers
The B2B use of social media is a global best practice, too: I've written in the past about my work with Austin's FG SQUARED and the thought-leadership podcast series we developed for Shell Global Solutions in The Hague. In India, electronics engineers gather around the applications and solutions community offered by Farnell - now called Element 14 (The 14th element in the periodic table, Si, is of course Silicon). They exchange tips, ideas, novel component uses, reviews of specific catalog items, and more, all of which ultimately drive business for Element 14.
Lead Gen and the Social Web
Take a look back at the list of B2B applications of social media: ideation, shared recommendations and reviews, supplier-partner relationship development, and the use of blogs and other social media tools to build thought-leadership programs. Oh, and did I mention lead generation? That too. Not only are component providers like Indium and Adams Magentic on board, at 2020Social, where I work in India, we're using LinkedIn's API and its ad platform to connect Indian C-level decision makers directly to our consultants that are in their first-degree networks.
B2B on the Social Web: By the Numbers
Running down that list, eMarketer's data on the use of B2B isn't surprising: 81 percent of the B2B companies using social media maintain a presence on social media sites, versus 67 percent of the B2C (define) companies surveyed. Seventy-five percent of those same B2B firms maintain a corporate blog, versus 55 percent of B2C. The stats continue: in monitoring social media for company mentions, use of Twitter for business, and specifically, monitoring competitor activity, participation is a solid 20 percentage points higher for B2B companies than B2C. Who knew? Savvy B2B marketers, that's who.
But wait...there's more. B2B companies are also using social media to build their own organizations: 36 percent of the B2B firms surveyed who indicated they use social media are using it to recruit employees, versus 22 percent for B2C firms. I've referenced Freescale's use of YouTube to showcase life and work at Freescale: this is a great way - not to mention easy and low-cost - to differentiate your firm and attract top people by fishing where the fish are, to borrow a thought from Jeff Jarvis.
So the challenge is on: looking at the stats - as well as the range of applications - I've got to give it up for B2B marketers and the firms they work for when it comes to the use of social media for business. C'mon B2C: what have you got to say in response? More on that in my next column, no doubt.