It’s called social media for a reason,
but for many B2B marketers,
becoming social with customers online can be challenging. For many, setting up and managing a branded customer community has
proven essential for B2B social marketing.
DNN Webinar with Forrester Research
To examine the trends and best
practices associated with branded communities, DNN turned to
Kim Celestre, a
senior analyst at Forrester Research to lead a webinar called “Why
Branded Communities are Essential to B2B Social Marketing Success.”
In the hour-long webinar, Celestre walked participants through
the compelling findings released in a recent Forrester Research report titled
"Benchmark B2B Social Marketing Efforts." The results served to
inform us about how B2B marketers are currently using social media to connect
to their customers, their experiences and what the future of B2B social
marketing may hold.
B2B SOCIAL Media marketing
Overall, B2B marketers are generally optimistic about social
media marketing in 2014, even though a majority of them are only investing 1-5%
of their budgets on social media efforts. Still, within the next twelve months,
many expect to increase it, even if only by 10%. Not only does this signify a
healthy growth in marketing budgets, it also shows that for more and more
companies, social media marketing is becoming a priority.
While B2B marketers are optimistic about the future, they
necessarily satisfied with the ways they’re using social
to generate leads, increase sales and improve customer loyalty. Their dissatisfaction
may speak to the social platforms across which they are most active.
73% of B2B marketers
surveyed by Forrester are using Facebook, while 59% are using LinkedIn and
Twitter. 53% use YouTube; and 36% are making the most of Google
Plus. Just as budgets are forecasted for growth, so are the networks across
which marketers intend to extend their reach: 21% say they plan to use LinkedIn next year.
LOW Satisfaction with Social Marketing
To learn more, Forrester compared marketers’ adoption of social media against their
satisfaction of the tactics used across networks. The results fell
neatly into four main categories:
- Optional tactics (low adoption/low satisfaction)
- Essential (high adoption/high satisfaction)
- Overvalued (high adoption/low satisfaction)
- Undervalued (low adoption/high satisfaction)
According to Forrester, most B2B marketers
haven't achieved meaningful results with marketing on YouTube or posting updates to Twitter and Facebook. In addition, paid ads on Facebook have not resulted in much success. The
tactics that have proved essential to most marketers include branded blogs,
building communities and marketing on LinkedIn.
Why Branded Communities are Essential
Most interesting, however, is
the one item plotted as undervalued: “customer ratings
and reviews on our site.” Celestre said it’s
worth noting that of the essential and undervalued tactics, most, if not all are
elements that can be incorporated into online
communities. Therefore, as B2B marketers look to develop new ways to connect
with customers, they should approach communities more holistically, so they can
offer a variety of ways to engage customers across all stages of the customer
Communities Serve the Customer Journey
Speaking of the customer journey, Forrester has determined that
the stages of the customer journey: Discover, Explore, Buy and Engage overlap quite nicely with the company’s
Marketing RaDaR model, which looks at the world the way customers do: as
an ongoing sequence of reach channels, depth channels, and relationship
Customer communities are relevant throughout each stage of their
customer journey: to gain information about new
products and to ask questions of other users during the Discover and Explore
phases. In addition, customers can interact and develop relationships with sales
representatives during the Buy and Engage stages.
In fact, when asked, buyers cite support and discussion forums as
a primary source of information when researching and evaluation technologies
and services to purchase. Yet,
marketers indicate that hosting a branded community or forum are only minimally
relevant to building brand awareness, brand preference, driving direct leads or
sales, increasing customer loyalty and providing customer service.
To help B2B marketers better understand that the benefits of
communities often justify the investment, Celestre outlined the qualitative and
quantitative benefits that they can bring. While the success of any initiative
can never be guaranteed, companies can increase leads and conversion rates, deflect support calls and improve the quality and functionality of products and services through ideation.
Examples of Branded Communities
Putting concepts into action isn’t always easy. So,
it was helpful that Celestre provided examples of successful branded
communities. Each example helped us to see the different ways communities can
be implemented, managed and sustained to promote customer engagement.
Who: Hotcakes Commerce Community
What it does: The e-commerce platform company’s branded community lets users ask
questions, submit ideas, participate in upcoming events and stay up-to-date
Why it works: The community helped Hotcakes generate
leads, which allowed them to reduce overall marketing costs, while increasing
revenue and improving ideation. As customers became more engaged, it was easier
for Hotcakes to interact with them online in a supported space. When customers
shared ideas for new functionality, the company was able to improve their
product, which resulted in more sales.
Who: Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Bridge Social Community
What it does: While not a B2B, MSOE’s experience is
very relevant. The school was looking for ways to transform their admissions
experience to be more engaging and connect with a generation that lives on
social media. MSOE partnered with 7Summits to develop a rich online
"owned" community and integrated application tool that engages
prospective students in an ongoing discussion. The robust online community,
Bridge, creates a space where students, parents, and counselors can share
resources and engage in conversation.
Why it works: The MSOE Bridge Admissions
Social Community has been transformational for the school and its admissions
process, providing real business value and a number of benefits including
reaching their application and acceptance goals months ahead of schedule, while
decreasing summer melt, and helping admissions counselors foster relationships
with prospective and enrolled students.
MSOE was selected as the winner of Forrester’s 2013 Groundswell
Awards for Social Depth Marketing (B2C).
Building the Business Case for Your Branded Community
If you’re convinced that a branded customer
community is the right tactic for your company to focus on, you’ll
probably have to build the business case for community. Celestre recommended
that, in addition to the information already provided, companies should follow
Confirm that your buyer’s social profiles are a good fit
Not all social media users are the same and as result, not all of
them may want or use a community. Take the time to understand their behaviors
so you can best engage with them in the right way.
Define community objectives
If a community makes sense for your customers, define what it is
exactly you want to do and get from it in return.
Choose a community strategy
There are many different ways companies can implement online
communities. Communities can be:
- Owned (branded and supported by the company)
- Sponsored (not branded, but discretely supported by a company)
- Member and
promoter (not hosted by the company, but rather by third party solutions, like
Celestre recommends either using an owned or sponsored community
as they allow for the most control and can be leveraged the most successfully
for customer engagement.
Identify key design elements
Once a strategy has been selected, a company will need to figure
out how it will be managed, determine workflows and other various controls.
Determine costs, benefits, and risks
Companies must determine how much time, money and effort into
creating, managing, promoting and sustaining the community.
Communicate proposal to key stakeholders
After outlining each of these elements, it’s time to present
to key company stakeholders. Be sure to keep information relevant to their
individual’s goals and objectives. For example, how you sell the idea
of a branded community will be different when talking to IT or the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
Now that you why branded communities are essential to B2B social
marketing success, it’s time to start reaping the rewards of
branded communities by driving lead generation and revenue, as community
members influence both prospects and customers.
To get started with your own branded community, have a look at an
Online Community Playbook.