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Beyond Engagement: B2B Advocacy - How Does It Work?

When you buy a product that more than meets your expectations, one that’s so good you have to tell the world about it, that’s brand advocacy in action. When it’s your employer’s product you’re talking about, you’ve joined the ranks of many thousands of employee advocates, people who turn to their personal social networks to promote the products they design, sell, make and use for a living.

The power of advocacy exceeds that of traditional advertising many times over. One of my clients tells me regularly that he decided to buy a Nissan car because his brother-in-law recommended them over and over, whenever they met. His brother-in-law’s job? He’s a design engineer with Nissan ...

It’s easy to see why it works so well – who better to ask than one of your friends or a family member if you’re about to indulge in a little retail therapy? But what if your business doesn’t sell to consumers? What if your company markets some of the many unglamorous, taken-for-granted – did someone say “boring?” – products and services that other businesses need to keep the wheels of commerce turning?

Does Employee Advocacy Work for B2B Companies?

The short answer is “Yes.” It works just fine, but let’s take a closer look to discover why. In this article, we’ll focus on sales campaigns, but the principles for brand promotion or recruitment programs are the same.

The employee-advocacy ground rules are no different in a B2B environment; your people spread the word to their connections via social media. You just need to know that their efforts are likely to reach the right audience. Since the typical B2B sales cycle is a multi-step, multi-touch process, that means getting your message in front of multiple decision-makers.

Fortunately, you can tick that box. Your customers are already using social media. Better than that, they’re likely to be receptive, which gives you exactly the opportunity you need for success. There’s plenty of research to support the case for B2B advocacy ...

A report published in 2013 by Forrester shows that 100% of B2B decision-makers participate actively on social media – so you’ll reach the right audience; more importantly, two-thirds of today’s buying cycle is digital. Throw in the fact that B2B buyers, acting independently, find three times as many sources of vendor information online as those vendors provide directly, and you see why advocacy makes absolute sense.Decision Makers on Social Media

So Where Does B2B Advocacy Begin?

I’m assuming for now that you have an employee-advocacy program in place. If you need to know more about getting a program off the ground, take a look at one of my earlier Beyond Engagement articles.

Critical to B2B advocacy is understanding your customer’s buying cycle. Only then can you begin to plan the content you intend to provide your customer at each stage of the cycle, and to identify the likely touch points at which the information is passed. It’s good old-fashioned content planning and delivery, targeted at connecting with each member of the buying team at each stage of the process.

I discovered an excellent blog post by Lori Wizdo of Forrester that highlights the convoluted nature of the process. Lori identifies 12 potential touch points with one common factor – social. Cue advocacy.

Success begins at the content-planning stage. Unless you construct clear buyer personas and create content that meets their needs at each step of the cycle, you will fail, no matter how effective your advocates’ delivery activity. B2B advocacy doesn’t rely on repetitive sharing across a wide spectrum of connections – it’s a far more targeted process.

Play to the strengths of your people. Not everyone wants to be the person that starts the conversation, as I noted in my last article. Discovering the story, identifying the angle, distilling it into bite-size chunks and getting it into print, video, webinar, whitepaper or whatever form works for you – that’s a team effort. It’s also where you build in authenticity, vital if your content is to convey your message effectively.

Once you’ve created or curated – you don’t have to develop everything yourself – a library of top-quality, highly relevant content, targeted directly at decision-makers in your potential customers’ organizations, you’re ready to distribute. As you probably realize by now, this is a multi-faceted operation requiring careful planning.

Getting the Message in Front of Multiple Decision-Makers

Here, too, you should adopt a team approach. As Ric Dragon described in a recent article on this site, Dell – which operates in both the B2B and B2C sectors – spreads the workload across the entire organization, with every employee playing a part as a brand ambassador.

As Ric explains, all employee advocates share company-related content across their social networks, identifying themselves as Dell employees as they do so. Where Dell boxes clever is in its deployment of people it designates as “Subject-Matter Experts,” or SMEs.

Attributing “ownership” of authoritative content to SMEs is a great way to establish them as influencers in their individual areas of expertise. Naturally, SMEs share their content across relevant professional networks, but aside from their own social-media activity, individual advocates support the message with more widespread networking.

Finding the right communities for SMEs, ensuring exposure to potential customers at relevant stages in the buying cycle, is all part of the process. Having informative content, targeted to specific stages of the buying cycle, appear in relevant LinkedIn groups, for example, is a proven means of engaging decision-makers. Clearly, some social-media networks are better-suited to B2B companies than others, and maintaining a presence in the right places is vital.

Beware, it isn’t simply a matter of pressing a button and letting it flood out. Dell trains SMEs to operate effectively in relevant communities, to engage appropriately with other members and to establish themselves as go-to people for decision-makers gathering information. It’s a major investment in advocacy, but one that pays off.

Share Your Experience of B2B Advocacy

If you work in a B2B company that has a successful employee-advocacy program, we’d like to hear about it. Tell us what works for you – and what doesn’t. What persuaded your organization to get involved? And how do you measure the benefits? Please share your experience with our readers.

Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.

Image credits:

Business to Business Advocacy: Da Vinci Studio
Decision Makers on Social Media: Forrester Research, Inc.
Column logo by Marie Otsuka

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