How to Use Twitter Seriously in B2B

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Twitter launched its IPO on November 6, 2013 at $26 per share, and TWTR stock rose as high as $50 on the first day of trading. With a market cap of over $20 billion, there must be something to this social media platform – but is it something that B2B enterprises can tap into?

The simple answer is yes. Twitter is a powerful B2B tool, and can be used in a number of ways that are far more substantive than telling the world what you ate for breakfast. Here are a few examples.

Information Gathering

By tracking hashtags and through other techniques, it’s easy to track Twitter conversations and learn what people are saying about your industry and issues that affect your business.

For instance, most firms have a keen interest in keeping up to date with developments in the Affordable Care Act. This list of 17 ACA-related hashtags opens up a wealth of information, insight, opinion and links to recent/influential/authoritative articles. Monitoring these hashtags is a good use of time for any human resources department.

Since most industry conventions and seminars use hashtags, tracking them is an excellent way for firms to monitor key information being shared at these events. Some attendees go so far as to tweet in real time about what they’re hearing at a presentation, a tradeshow booth, or overheard at a hospitality suite reception.

To get an idea of how much information is at your fingertips, look at this comprehensive list of healthcare conference hashtags. And of course this just scratches the surface. More generally, there are hashtags relating to healthcare industry issues covering a wide spectrum of interest. There’s a good chance your industry has similar coverage on Twitter.

Establishing Credibility and Thought Leadership

Some firms scoff at Twitter because they think their customers don’t use it. Even if that’s true, there still may be value in using your Twitter page to share information about important developments at your company and links to content you have created.

First, a review of your Twitter page may be part of your prospect’s vetting process. Some firms elect to have a credible Twitter presence for this reason only, and it makes sense. If a six-figure prospect sees that you are sharing sensible industry observations and have created content that helps them solve problems, you’ve improved your chances of earning the business – especially if your competitors have little or no Twitter presence.

Second, the proliferation of online content has given publishers an enormous appetite for fresh material. Reporters and editors for general interest and industry-specific news websites regularly scour the web for story ideas – including company Twitter pages. Sharing content on Twitter could lead to story placements or mentions that increase brand awareness and credibility. Topics of interest to news sites include:

  • New products or services that solve customer problems and/or create opportunities
  • Major expansions into new markets and geographic territories
  • High level promotions
  • Acquisitions and mergers
  • New strategic partnerships
  • Corporate restructurings
  • Financial results
  • Industry-related opinion and insight

Admittedly, Twitter won’t be the first place publishers and reporters look for this type of information; Google search and a company’s news section typically take precedence. Nevertheless, providing this type of information on Twitter covers an important social media base and may attract the attention of new and different publishing contacts.

Customer Engagement

Caterpillar Inc. does a nice job of customer engagement on Twitter, in part because of its segmented strategy. @CatFinancial shares information about financing options, tax issues, trade-in deals, etc. @CaterpillarInc showcases products and communicates high-level corporate information. @CatAuctions covers the firm’s heavy equipment auction business. A social media page on the company website guides customers to the Twitter page(s) that is important to them.

Caterpillar is an excellent Twitter model for B2Bs, mainly because it separates Twitter content into buckets of relevance. This approach overcomes a couple of problems that cause B2B Twitter programs to fizzle.

The first problem is the difficulty of establishing a Twitter identity. If a firm has one Twitter page that attempts to be conversational and corporate, that speaks to customers, prospects, the media, employees, and everyone else in the world, it will wind up confusing people more than anything else. On the other hand, sharing specific types of information on various corporate Twitter pages ensures that people who follow those pages are really interested in engaging.

This leads to the second problem, that of being fixated on the number of Twitter followers. In B2B social media, quality is far more important than quantity. A firm is better off with 10 followers who are major customers and prospects than it would be with 10,000 followers with no interest in doing business or referring leads. The right approach to community building for B2B should look something like this:

  • Define specific content scope for the company Twitter page(s)
  • Guide customers and prospects to this page(s) with strategically positioned website content, email marketing, and sales communication
  • Use Twitter to ask questions and solicit feedback
  • Respond quickly and thoroughly to Twitter communication and mentions

Conversion

Can a B2B use Twitter to convert sales leads? It may be possible in some niches, but as a rule, thinking about Twitter as a sales tool is a real stretch.  First, Twitter users (and social media generally) have a built-in hostility to overt selling – my theory is that people gravitate to Twitter in order to escape from sales situations. Second, B2B products, value propositions and sell cycles tend to be complicated, making explanation and persuasion difficult in a medium limited to 140-character bursts.

Even so, there are ways to use Twitter for lead generation. Some firms set up a Twitter page just to announce Twitter-only promotions and discounts.

Another, more complex, approach is to employ a B2C strategy, communicating directly to your customers’ customers. For example, a manufacturer of plumbing fixtures can use Twitter to showcase an elegant new kitchen faucet to consumers, offering a Twitter-only discount to people who fill out an online inquiry form. The manufacturer then has the option of handling fulfillment directly or turning over the leads to its local distributors.

Of course, a B2B could ignore Twitter — but why leave all of these opportunities on the table?

About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr has more than 25 years of B2B experience in the packaging industry. He is a writer, blogger and content marketing specialist who has been active in social media since 2005. Connect with Brad on Twitter: @bradshorr.

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