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B2B Social Networking | What’s In a Name?

b2b social networkingI frequently find myself thinking that the dumbest thing we Internet marketers ever did in social networking was to rename it social media.  In the early days of Web 2.0, there was no such thing as social media. Everyone was just working to make software more social, whatever that meant. Then for a while, the terms “social networking” and “social media” were used almost interchangeably.  Today, it’s all social media, the Web 2.0 heir apparent of Web 1.0 new media. Social networking is largely reserved for describing the purest of social networks like Faceook and LinkedIn, or the more technical discussions about social graphs and the like.  Personally, I strongly prefer the term “B2B social networking”; because once you recognize that the smart way to use B2B social media is to drive B2B social networking, your fundamental understanding of the potential opportunity shifts.  Just for fun, I did a quick Google trend analysis on the terms to visualize the issue.

social media - social networking - trend

As it has grown in popularity, the term “social media”
has clouded our thinking about social networking with advertising concepts.

So, what’s the big deal Joel?  After all, it’s just a kind of new media, only social, right? The problem is that the term “social media” clouds our thinking about social networking with advertising concepts.  In particular, when it comes to B2B social networking, the term “B2B social media” misses the mark entirely.  It makes me cringe when I hear statements from B2B marketers and salespeople such as these:

  • “Social media is more relevant to B2C than B2B.”
  • “B2B customers aren’t on Twitter, so we don’t see the relevance of B2B social media.”
  • “I started a blog, but no one followed it and I really didn’t have the time to keep it up.”
  • “LinkedIn is full of unemployed job seekers, not business buyers.”

B2B social networking is not the descendant of new media, like a banner ad, only social. B2B social networking is the new technological enabler of face-to-face meetings, industry events, phone calls, email, sales calls, field marketing and public relations, because it’s the networking, not the media that counts!  Would you ever expect a B2B marketer or salesperson to make statements such as these?

  • “Networking is more relevant to B2C than B2B.”
  • “B2B customers don’t network, so we don’t see the relevance of networking.”
  • “I started building my network, but no one would meet and I really didn’t have time.”
  • “My network is full of unemployed job seekers, not business buyers.”

Cast in this light, these statements are obviously and completely ridiculous. The fundamental purpose of B2B social networking technology is to facilitate B2B networking through automation. In plain English, the purpose of B2B social networking is to increase the frequency, velocity, and quality of business referrals and references.  When applied to sales and marketing, this translates into accelerating the B2B purchase process and driving viral revenue growth within an industry.  At the core of a referral are two things: a positive, trusted relationship and useful information. Now that sounds just a little bit like sharing a blog post or a comment on LinkedIn.  At a minimum, B2B sales and marketing professionals should be using B2B social networking to increase the frequency and velocity of referrals throughout the sales process.  At a maximum, B2B social networking can be combined with search, Website marketing and marketing automation to completely automate the B2B purchase process of the new breed of B2B buyer.

b2b social networking

Business referrals are the mature B2B cousin of B2C word of mouth marketing.  Much of what I propose here in regard to B2B social networking also applies to B2C social networking with the one caveat that B2B social networkers are there to do business, whereas consumers use social networks for personal reasons, so B2C brands must tread carefully on their social turf.  In the case of B2C, the term “social media” may serve as a useful reminder to B2C marketers that consumers on social networks are not there in the service of their brands.  On the contrary, B2B marketers should find B2B social networking more relevant and more straightforward than B2C, provided they view it as networking and not advertising.

I also did an experimental search on Google for the term “B2B social networking” and Google decided what I really meant was “B2B social media.”  It’s really incredible how Google handles synonyms. Thanks for nothing Google!

social media - social networking - search

Even Google treats B2B social networking and B2C social media as synonyms

The is the first post in a series designed to help B2B marketers create better B2B social strategies by thinking in terms of “networking” over “media.”  Future posts will tackle the following increasingly complex B2B social networking challenges.

  • Professional networking with B2B social media
  • Social Networking for B2B Sales Enablement
  • Leveraging Social Media for B2B Demand Generation
  • Social Networking for B2B Public Relations

So, stay tuned for more!

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