Social Media Basics: The Best of the B2B and B2C Playbooks

Mandy Movahhed
May 11, 2015

Ever since the advent of Facebook and Twitter, there’s been much hype about social media––so much that you’re probably getting tired of hearing about it already. Recent “hot” topics include how social media is different for B2B than B2C, how they are becoming the same, how they are already the same, or even how they both deserve a trendy new acronym like H2H (human-to-human). The fact is that social media is one sport with two sets of slightly different rules. Compare American and Canadian Football, for example. The American field is smaller while the Canadian team has an extra player. B2C customers have shorter attention spans while B2B customers have more skin in the game. Which set of rules should you apply? The bad news is that deciding can be difficult. Fast-moving technology and competitive markets are causing B2B and B2C customers to walk, talk, and act an awful lot like each other these days. The good news is that there are a set of social media basics for both sets of rules. We’ve organized them here for you as a 4-step guide to building a basic social media strategy. We’re also suggesting some key differences regarding how you can expect the game to play out under the set of rules you choose (or find yourself in). Set, hike!

Social Media Basics

1. Know your customers’ stories and what matters.

B2C: Getting to know B2C customers can be tricky. Transactions are frequently one-off with very little feedback if any. The consumer speaks with his or wallet to say “I care enough to drop $75 on these shoes,” and if you’re lucky, you might get a positive online review somewhere. B2B: Wholesale buyers and sellers tend to know each other well, as there are almost no one-off transactions. Volume is high, sales might take weeks or months to close, and relationships are just plain “stickier.” What to do: Keep an ear open for the types of information your customers are interested in and think systematically about the types of information you are interested in learning from them. B2C marketing may involve “social listening,” which involves monitoring social media channels where consumers are active in order to get a sense of what people are saying about your brand, your products, or your industry as a whole. By getting an idea of what kinds of messages people respond to and engage with, you can better devise your strategy. B2B marketing, on the other hand, would involve more of a direct conversation between buyer and sales rep.

2. Translate those stories and that information into social media content.

B2C: If you don’t have a story you know customers will “bite on,” you’ll have to do a lot of guesswork. If those guys on Mad Men are any indication, marketing can be a stressful job. B2B: As outlined above, wholesale marketers have a far tighter grip on what exactly it is that their customers want to know. Having closer access and ongoing relationships like that means:

  • Less guesswork and more focus on “fun stuff” like packaging, market analysis, and presenting other stories that are of interest in the space.
  • More opportunities for long-term social media relationships. In other words, a customer negotiating deals with you on a regular basis will be much more likely to follow your blog posts about changing industry trends, for example.

What to do: Figure out where your customers prefer to consume digital information, e.g., reading blogs, subscribing to email newsletters, or following Facebook pages.  After you choose a format, try to deliver the most valuable content that you can put together.

3. Publish that content.

B2C: Today’s B2C consumers have sometimes impossibly short attention spans. On the one hand they require increasingly clever ideas to keep them entertained but they also have a tendency to bounce around between social media platforms (e.g. from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, etc). B2B: B2B customers love clever ideas just like everyone else. They are, however, more willing to read through detailed information, more forgiving of not-so-glitzy presentation (as long as the information is good), and less prone to bounce from platform to platform. What to do: The platform where you publish content largely depends on the format you have chosen. If your customers like to follow Facebook pages then, you’ll obviously want to communicate through Facebook posts. Here’s a quick summary of where to consider publishing:

  • LinkedIn is generally considered to be “the social media platform for business” so that’s a good place to start for B2B customers. You may already be a member of LinkedIn groups, in which case you can check out how to start posting information there. But nothing beats asking around and seeing where and how your customers take in and share information online.
  • Twitter is a good place to start for B2C customers. Remember that everyone, especially in B2C, has shorter attention spans than they did a few years ago. You may find it useful to send out quick “heads up” style notifications pointing to your blog posts, for example. B2B customers are B2C customers at home, of course, so there is some degree of crossover.
  • Quora is a website where users can publish answers, sometimes quite insightful and thought provoking, to questions from other users. It may be a good place to gain recognition from specific types of B2B customers, for example.

4. Evaluate results.

B2C: B2C social media evaluation is an area governed by unforgiving statistics and yes-no scenarios. Success is measured in terms of whether people viewed this or that, clicked here or there, or purchased this or that. Businesses live or die by raw figures. B2B: Tracking progress in wholesale social media is more about finesse than brute force. Just a few key page views per month can make a significant impact, for example, if they lead to deeper relationships with key accounts. Wholesale social media is about the relationship; B2C social media is the relationship. What to do: B2C marketers can monitor website views (check out Google Analytics, for example) and social media platforms will generally let you keep an eye on who is viewing your content posted there. B2B marketers are probably better off trying to measure actual feedback from your readers such as the number of new account enquiries you have coming through your website or how many of your blog posts generate comments. If, after reading this post, if it seems like the rules of B2C social media allow for more unnecessary roughness and and fights on the field, you would be right. B2B social media is a rather more relaxed and gentlemanly pastime. That being said, the challenging nature of B2C social media leads to some great creative innovation from those pushing the envelope. One example is Buzzfeed, a website that tries to identify (rather than guess) what B2C customers are interested in by closely monitoring popular topics across the internet. They then “spin” the topics into clever marketing messages, publish them in as many places as possible, and run algorithms on the viewing data to see what works and what doesn’t. You don’t have to push the envelope like that to get results from social media, though. Just get started, get something out there, measure results, and repeat what works.