Social Business for a B2B

Posted on December 28, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Most think of the social as a consumer space play in part because social media applications dominate.  For companies with a large consumer base, brand management, relationship development, engagement and marketing all benefit from investments in social IT. But what about in the B2B space?  Certainly the value proposition is not the same—there are a limited number of customers, the business model is much more focused and there isn’t any need for the kind of brand extension we see in social media today.   How should executives in companies without direct ties to consumers think about social business?

Investments in social IT can be just as beneficial, or even more beneficial, to a B2B.  Social business is not just for engaging customers to sell more products or services (although clearly this is a big opportunity for many companies).  Social business is about using new tools and platforms (which we call social IT) to support collaboration, engagement and innovation.  We wrote about these ‘big 3’ in an earlier blog.

So how does this play out in a B2B?  A B2B has customers and those companies are still businesses made up of people.  And we’ve seen even the most technical people engage in communities.  That means there is opportunity for value from investing in a social business strategy.

Leading edge B2Bs can take advantage of social IT and begin to create a social business in several ways.

Internal collaboration: Building a robust platform for connecting individuals within the company.  We’ve been chasing the knowledge management holy grail forever.  Using a social network within a company provides a way for employees to both find experts, share documents and collaborate on projects.  But the added features present in social IT allows individuals to create and organize their own space in a manner that better aligns with their way of working.

External collaboration: Social platforms provide that needed link between employees and customers.  Technical support for customers is one example.  The B2B builds the platform for collaboration where customers and employees both share experiences, answer questions and engage in dialogue that supports the entire community.  We’ve seen examples on Twitter, where customer support monitors and responds to tweets from customers, and customers support each other over the same space.  We’ve seen examples in LinkedIn and Facebook, and in private communities created just for the B2B and their customer base.  We’ve seen branded communities that grew out of listservs where those with technical expertise respond to and collaborate with other customers just because they are members of the community.

Innovation process: B2Bs use social IT platforms to solicit and prioritize innovations, features and next generation products. Innovation platforms give all members of the community an opportunity to suggest enhancements to existing products and comment on enhancements suggested by others.  Members of the community can ‘vote’ on innovations they like.  Innovation platforms prioritize the ideas giving managers valuable information to incorporate into the decision-making process on which features to incorporate into the product and contribute to the community with information on how they will proceed.

Customer Engagement: This is where social really shines for B2Bs, but in an unexpected way.  Community members of the B2B are invested in the products/services offered by their suppliers.   Often they have become specialists in the use of their suppliers products/services, and the community is a unique way to share and be recognized for that expertise.  Further, we have seen engagement in the B2B community contribute directly to recommendations, repeat purchases, and new purchases because the more active someone is in the community, the more satisfied and loyal they are.

Leaders in B2B companies can find significant value in social IT investments.  Like all information systems investments, leaders must insure alignment with business objectives, compatibility with existing enterprise systems, and a clear strategy that insures value is obtained.  It’s still early days for social IT, but it’s not the bleeding edge any longer.  B2B leaders must join the social revolution and reach out to their communities on social platforms.  Their competitors are already exploring the possibilities.


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[…] discussed the CIO’s role in social business in several blog posts (see here, here and here for some of this discussion).  Recently, the former editor of eWEEK and executive editorial […]

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