What, when? On the whole, B2B list sizes are considerably smaller than those of B2C brands, and the brand-subscriber relationship can sometimes feel more intimate. Loyalty and trust carry a lot of weight, as do subscriber expectations of professionalism. As a result, there may be times when B2B messages feel too niche for the social sphere, applicable only to the particular subscriber base. That's fine! Expansion into social spaces isn't an all-or-nothing thing. B2B brands can start small. Think about the times that your brand wants to get the word out about something -- a networking event, a product release, a webinar or a rebranding effort --and start there. Reaching your loyal subscribers' social networks is an awesome way to get your message out to more like-minded people.
Where? Think about the specific social networking channel -- Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? -- best suited to your brand's initial moves. Inviting subscribers to join LinkedIn groups via email often makes a lot of sense for B2B brands, since LinkedIn is a well-established professional space. Twitter is also becoming more of a natural fit for B2B brands, as Gretchen Scheiman detailed in an insightful post back in April.
More and more, your B2B subscribers are also connected to colleagues from all aspects of their careers on social spaces like Facebook. A lot of people use a Facebook presence primarily as a professional networking tool or as a place to get the word out about business events. In addition, as folks become increasingly conscious of Facebook privacy concerns, even more adult presences on the page may move toward a professional purpose that will make it increasingly hospitable to B2B brands.
Starting with a presence on just one of those sites might be the best way to go. Not only will it feel manageable to your marketing team, but it will also allow you time to build trust with your subscribers (fans, followers, etc.), in a way that will make them more comfortable opening other areas of their online lives to you when you do expand to other sites.
How? A fully optimized cross-channel presence is about driving conversation, not just placing "share" links in emails. That said, adding "SWYN" links, as Microsoft does here, can be a good starting place, and it's one that most B2B brands haven't yet undertaken. In addition to adding SWYN links, consider announcing your social networking presence through a dedicated email inviting subscribers to join your group, follow your tweets, become your fan, etc. In your invitation, make the benefit clear: what will the connection do for your subscribers? When they offer you their loyalty, what can they expect to get in return?
Why? Because the value of a social networking presence is hard to quantify, B2B marketers sometimes aren't sure that it's worthwhile. But it's no secret that the nature of today's inbox is creating a growing imperative for email marketers to foster interaction and conversation. Marketing Sherpa recently released a chart on the influence of social marketing for B2B brands and found it most effective for branding goals. Subscribers increasingly expect to engage with brands in relational ways, and that extends into the B2B sphere. Neglecting to establish a social networking brand presence will make your brand seem outdated. More importantly, you'll miss important opportunities to nurture brand awareness and reputation, increase engagement and add value to your subscribers' experiences.