By Linda Forrest
Last week, Chrysler experienced a PR crisis when a Tweeter at its social media agency posted a Tweet that not only used an expletive, but was completely off-brand. From a marketing perspective, this came at a very bad time for the company, which had made a splash with its “Imported from Detroit” campaign launched at the SuperBowl. The company issued the requisite apology, which it later explained in more depth. The employee was fired from the agency, and the agency lost Chrysler’s business.
I’m loathe to suggest that this very public PR disaster will scare B2B marketers away from adopting social media, citing lack of control over market-facing messages and the potential for such a misstep as their reasons for not utilizing Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media channels. But I do fear that’s exactly the kind of response some B2B companies will have. To assuage the concerns of B2B companies either looking to ramp up their social media activities or taking their first steps into this realm, this post will outline the state of B2B social media and how companies can avoid these sorts of disasters by developing and enforcing a social media policy.
B2B social media: state of the union
I was pleasantly surprised when I began to research this post at some of the statistics I found. B2B has a reputation for being slow to adopt social media. This is not entirely true. The good news is that “86% of B2B firms are using social media, compared to 82% of B2C outfits.” The bad news is that “B2B firms aren’t as active in their social media activity with only 32% engaging on a daily basis compared with 52% of B2C firms.”
So, B2B companies are using these channels, just not very effectively. Those that are using Twitter effectively operate largely in the technology realm, according to a top 10 list compiled by Socialmediab2b.com in January 2011:
1. Hubspot (@Hubspot)
2. Forrester (@Forrester)
3. eMarketer (@eMarketer)
4. CME Group (@CMEGroup)
5. comScore (@comScore)
6. Cisco (@CiscoSystems)
7. Gartner (@Gartner_Inc)
8. Oracle (@Oracle)
9. radian6 (@radian6)
10. Intel (@Intel)
LinkedIn has been singled out in a recent study by HubSpot as being the most effective customer acquisition channel for B2B companies, with company blogs not far behind:
Now that we’ve established that B2B organizations are using social media and that it’s bringing them customers, let’s examine how companies can avoid PR disasters like that which befell Chrysler.
Myth: If I want social media done right, I have to do it myself
The real shame about the Chrysler example is that it can affirm the myth that social media must be done in house. SocialMediaToday did a well-constructed examination of in-house and outsourced social media that appeared on the site last fall. The piece contained the following, which sums the conversation up nicely:
A good agency that’s worth its salt will understand what works in your sector and can help jump start your creative process. Whatever you do, please be judicious in selecting your external partner (do your research, listen to social media word-of-mouth, ask your network). After selecting one, establish visibility into what they do and make sure you are tracking, measuring and course-correcting constantly.
There are aspects of social media best left to internal resources – customer support, for example – but as a rule, social media does not have to be done exclusively in-house or be outsourced in order to help your company meet its goals. (You do have goals, metrics and a social media policy in place, right?)
Social media policy
Whether your organization is officially engaged with its marketplace on social media or not, your employees, stakeholders, customers, partners, prospects, vendors, and every other affiliated body is using social media to some degree and thus has the ability to impact the reputation of your brand on these channels.
Therefore, it’s integral that an organization have a social media policy that governs how the organization and its representatives represent the brand online. This needn’t be a complicated, long, complex legal document that nobody within your organization has the interest in reading fully. As Socialmediab2b outlines, it’s best if this policy covers three key areas:
- What your business will and will not do online
- What your employees can and cannot do online
- What the public can and cannot do with your content
In order to draft your policy, review existing policies that relate to communications, confidentiality and employment or any other existing policies that may play a role. Your policy should manage the online activities of internal and external resources responsible for official social media participation and influence that of employees and vendors as part of their contract.
Take a look at the social computing guidelines of IBM. It’s a regularly updated, easily understood, user-friendly, concise policy that leaves no room for interpretation. If IBM can produce an effective policy of this length, given the relative size of the organization, your policy should be brief.
There are plenty of good examples online from which you can draw inspiration, or barring that, there are even engines that will generate a policy for you! The quality of auto-generated policies is not something I’m going to comment on; just ensure that the result meets your needs.
Policy generation can be as simple as incorporating desired behaviour into employment agreements and covering guidelines in training, or as complex as posting and circulating an exacting policy, while doling out harsh punishments for those in breach. This is most definitely a scenario where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
SocialMediaB2B.com is an excellent resource on all things social media for B2B. If you’d like to examine this topic in more detail, it’s a valuable resource. Neither Francis Moran & Associates nor inmedia Public Relations is affiliated with the site.
Image: Marketing Pilgrim