Piers Finzel, Founder/Owner of Finzel Public Relations, Madrid, Spain.mail the author
Face the Facts About Facebook’s B2B Limitations7 years ago
Even the most hardened technophobes must now be aware of the rise of the social networks and many are beginning to realise, just as we PR practitioners did some time ago, how important they’ve become as part of many an integrated communication strategy nowadays.
In Spain, for example, it’s said that over 13 million people currently use them and that 26% of content in the web is user generated. Which is why, during periodic review meetings with clients or during new business pitches, we are hearing the comment "I want us to be on Facebook" progressively more often.
It’s hardly surprising of course, given the rivers of ink written about social networks in the media at the moment and the plethora of devices available to access them instantly such as the iPhone, Blackberries and Smartphones, but are a B2B client’s interests necessarily best served by us dedicating paid time to working content and dialogue on Facebook or LinkedIn, etc.?
Value for money
We have, ever since day one, always had to explain to B2B clients, on numerous occasions, that they get far more value from their often very limited PR budgets if we, as their appointed agency, use our expertise and consultancy time looking for and developing opportunities, such as a one- or two-page article in a specialist publication rather than a brief press release repro on the front page of a national daily – a surprisingly common expectation in some cases.
And more recently with the proliferation of web-based media over the past couple of years, we have had to educate clients as to the increasing importance of online coverage when compared with print. That’s because, like as not, their personal evaluation of online media as a channel has not kept up with the reality that today more people use the Internet as a source of information than read magazines, that more individuals within a given target audience (those potentially interested in the subject matter but who aren’t subscribers to the publication) will have access to the coverage about the client, and that said coverage will have a much longer shelf life than a printed page could ever hope to.
We are now facing a new, yet almost identical scenario where we are frequently having to bring clients’ expectations back down to earth and gently steer them away from the hype and craze about social networks.
Who could conceivably imagine, for example, a maintenance manager in a factory, who may well be a Facebook user at home, and have a LinkedIn profile created around his professional background, using these platforms to access information about a new range of machine lubricants? What are the odds of a purchasing manager joining fan groups of each and every one of the suppliers he deals with? And would a communications network manager follow a cable manufacturer on Twitter to get news of the latest product in the fibre optics range?
These are perhaps extreme and over simplified examples. Nevertheless they aren’t a million miles from the kind of misunderstandings that we are coming across about exactly what social media are, how they work and who uses them.
Clients are tending to see them as ‘must haves’ because they are drawn in by the surrounding hype. Perhaps they are enthusiastic users themselves at a personal level, without realising that in a B2B context they are often inappropriate options as PR tools.
User generated content
Having said that of course, nor is it a question of a blanket ‘no’ to any suggestion that a B2B campaign could benefit from the opportunities to create user generated content on the web as a whole, as well as certain aspects that social media have to offer. Whilst creating a fan group on Facebook, or its Spanish equivalent Tuenti.com, may not be the best use of resources, there are a number of ways these platforms can be used to support clients’ communication objectives.
Joining or even creating and administering discussion groups on their behalf in order to drive debate online about key issues in their business field is a relatively easy step forwards to start with. At the other end of the scale exists a bigger budget option, such as I came across in a new business pitch recently, and that is the creation of a whole new social network built up and developed exclusively for the community of users of the clients products or services, where members of the community can share comments, tips, best practices, templates, and documents.
So with knowledge of the way social media work combined with an understanding of a client’s business, one can always find a bespoke solution even in a B2B context that satisfies the client’s desire to explore this potentially valuable communication tool. But it probably won’t be creating a fan group on Facebook.