There has been much debate about whether social media and B2B (business to business) marketing mix. Can “Likes” help make a “cold” B2B sale?

According to research by B2Bento, over 90% of B2B buyers are using social media to research and execute purchases. LinkedIn has been the most popular social media platform for B2B, thanks to its professional focus, according to this report, particularly in the US. This of course does not mean that B2B owners hesitate to experiment with current technology trends: the majority of US executives not only use mobile web to buy items for work, but also use both free and paid B2B apps at least occasionally, while some B2B companies try augmented reality solutions for their marketing, like Asia’s IT Service Provider Datacraft.

At the end of the day for every sale, B2C or B2B, numbers apart, the x factor is always human connections. Social media help B2B companies establish relationship with prospective clients, something that can prove very effective considering the long sales cycles for B2B products, that can count years. According to an eMarketer study, B2B online marketers focus on lead generation (38%), retention (34%) and awareness (28%).

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Lets take a look at the ways B2B companies choose to involve social media tools in their marketing process:

B2B customer communities: Many companies have chosen to set the table for conversation around their business. Branded online communities have flourished the past few years, like the well known American Express Open Forum that aims to help small business owners on their way to success and The HSBC Business Network supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs to share their business experiences with each other. The communities mentioned above are open to everyone interested and not customers alone.

On the contrary some companies prefer building targeted communities like GE’s MarkNet, a private community for GE’s global marketing professionals. MarkNet fosters collaboration among the 5,000 GE marketing professionals in a global level, while serving as a direct communication channel with senior leadership. Another branded B2B community for sharing ideas, focused on a specific audience, is the Archer Community. Counting more than 5700 community users, through Archer Exchange the company provides an online marketplace for applications developed by customers or by Archer. The platform has enhanced product development apart from from deepening the relationship with Archer’s customers through a continuous dialog and ideas exchange.

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Branded Entertainment: Humorous videos and fun interactive apps as means to raise brand awareness in a B2B world? Why not? Branded entertainment has proved highly effective for B2C companies seeking to engage with consumers on a deeper emotional level, and many have followed suit. Kinaxis, a Canadian supply chain management company, has produced not one, but seven video series aiming to spread fun and informative content around their business, like Suitemates a comedy video series starring actors Kevin Pollak and Ray Wise. Kinaxis also runs a more “serious” channel, KinaxisTV featuring analyst, customer and company videos on best practices for supply chain management issues, trends and solutions.

Promoting Products/Services: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have served companies for product launches, spreading the word and sometimes saving them money at the same time. Cisco reportedly saved more than $100,000 on the Aggregated Services Router (ASR) launch through a rich social media campaign. The campaign was balanced across different platforms and the ongoing discussions were complimented by branded entertainment efforts like a live Second Life event. UPS launched a new logistics campaign with the moto: “We love logistics” with its Facebook and Twitter accounts complementing the content on The New Logististics mini-site. Social media in some cases has worked as a catalyst of fast-growth, with the rapid financial growth of the company increasing in proportion to its social media growth, like in the cases of Hinda Incentives and ShipServ.

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My favourite B2B case study? Dunder Mifflin, as personable as it gets!