Will 2014 be the year social becomes mainstream in B2B markets?

Tinu Cherian Abraham, Digital PR Manager, UST Global, Rimjhim Ray, Head of Social Media, Tata Consultancy Services, and Amrit Ahuja, Client Engagement Director, B2B & Technology, MSL Group Asia discuss the rising use of social media by B2B companies in India and its impact on PR.

As digital PR moves to the heart of public relations strategies in India, B2B companies are also riding this trend. Social media experts say they have seen a rise in B2B engagement on social media – however it differs from the way B2C companies go about engaging online.

Tinu Cherian Abraham, Digital PR Manager, UST Global says that the strategy at UST Global takes into account the different interests of our key stakeholders - (a) employees, (b) clients, and (c) media. He adds that: “The content mix that we have found most effective in attracting and sustaining interest in digital channels is a combination of pioneering human resources initiatives, such as our program to empower 10,000 disadvantaged youth with tech skills, executive interviews on trends, and highlighting areas of business innovation. UST Global is active on all the major social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Slideshare, Google+ and YouTube channels.”

Amrit Ahuja, Client Engagement Director, B2B & Technology, MSL Group Asia points out that in B2B, the focus is first content enrichment: “So the business customer has no shortage of content before incurring his capital expenditure. The next step then remains engagement, where more B2B focused platforms can be optimized for creating relevant conversations.”

PRmoment.in Founder Ben Smith agrees that the potential for social media in B2B is much easier to implement and returns are simpler to measure than for B2C. Ben adds that: “If you can get your B2B communication experts to produce interesting content –it doesn’t have to be complicated content – that can be fed to your networks. This will help draw attention not only to your product or offer, but will also help to develop your new business pipeline and also to drive recruitment.”

Are B2B companies increasingly using digital media?

Social media experts feel there is a rising trend in the use of digital channels for B2B companies.

Rimjhim Ray, Head of Social Media, Tata Consultancy Services says: “In an age where you get your news first on Twitter and then read it in the papers or see it on TV, social will become a primary channel for dissemination of PR. PR and branding are largely shifting online, where most of the conversations and engagement occur and most of your target audience are present.”

Tinu Cherian Abraham agrees that B2B companies in the IT space are increasingly leveraging digital media – both owned and earned – to reach their target audience. Abraham says: “Like all good marketers we are following our readers and they are certainly among the early adopters of these channels.  With the worldwide decline in print media, many trade magazines which are a critical element of an IT company's PR strategy have become pure digital and so the transition is a must.  Moreover, channels such as LinkedIn, Slideshare and Glassdoor offer plenty of opportunities to create our own communication channels and reach our audience without the intervention of traditional intermediaries like publications. As the penetration of these platforms rises they will become an ever bigger element of a company's communication strategy.”

Amrit Ahuja says that the trend points to an increasing realisation among B2B companies, from tech and non-tech industries, that by employing digital practices it could help them in their business. “Businesses are realising the potential of online to reach out to their stakeholders and hence we work with them to employ the best route.”

Ahuja advises that digital PR practitioners should understand while devising campaigns that there's no one size fits all. Every B2B company needs to outline their objectives of employing social media. With many of our clients in the B2B space like Schwing Stetter, EnterpriseDB and Dell, we're using social to increase footfalls to their stalls in trade shows, for enhancing the reputation of the events by seeking customer/ visitor testimonials, for lead generation and so on. Also social comes more easily to tech companies as they have a better understanding of the internet and customer insights as these are all technology based platforms.”

What should digital PR experts do to ride the B2B and digital media trend?

Rimjhim Ray advises that: “You need to understand the sector. The sector is more focused and specialized. Understand the industry and the target market. In B2B the communication can be more specialised and there would be industry jargons and communication protocols that you have to be aware of. Finally understand the multiple digital/social channels and understand which channel would be the best to reach your target audience.”

Abraham says that while B2B is a bit different from B2C in terms of messaging and content creation, it is still an individual that the practitioner is talking to. Abraham advises that: “We must find a way to personalise the communication and make it relevant to their business situation."

Abraham adds: “Given that the space is highly technical, the PR person must put greater effort into communicating the differentiation either to a journalist or even the in-house content specialist. Most organisations are very specialised so rather than try to understand the topic in immense detail, the PR person needs to acquire the skill of asking the right questions to the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).  This is a key difference from a consumer marketer who usually can absorb the technicalities of the product they market within 3 months. “

Amrit Ahuja has a succinct suggestion for those who want to help B2B companies perform well on social media: “the professional himself needs to be build his social assets, (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Blogger) as if he is a publisher on social media and is having a conversation with people present on several social platforms. Digital presence is about building and maintaining relationships and involving people to become part of a campaign."

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