This article is adapted from a talk I gave recently at the B2B Corporate Social Media Summit. Did you know that McDonalds views their partnership with Wal-Mart as an opportunity to train new store managers? If you want to be a store manager or a franchise owner, chances are you will spend some of your time stationed at a McDonalds inside Wal-Mart.
Why? Simple. There are fewer moving parts.
- A Wal-Mart McDonalds does not have a drive through. That's one less thing to worry about.
- A Wal-Mart McDonalds does not have a parking lot for which it is responsible. One less thing to worry about.
- A Wal-Mart McDonalds does not have an exterior building facade for which it is responsible. One less thing to worry about.
McDonalds recognizes that the limitations imposed by their Wal-Mart locations are beneficial to their training program. New store managers and owners can train themselves on the inner workings of the store prior to adding complexity like a drive through and parking lot maintenance. It's brilliant when you think about it.
They have taken a known limitation and spun it into an advantage. An advantage that allows for a higher level of focus.
So what does this have to do with social media? When you look out across the social media landscape today you might see nothing but choices. Starting with the obvious ones we have Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Moving beyond that we have Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Bebo, App.net, FourSquare, Blogger. Maybe you have a significant international audience? Weibo, Hyves, Xing. I think you see my point.
It is important to focus your efforts. Unless you have unlimited time, money, and resources then hopefully the points in this article will be valuable. On a side note if you DO have unlimited time, money, and resources then I'd like to talk to you about restarting the space shuttle program. Please come see me after class.
Coping with Change / Fielding the Tough Question
As social media practitioners, we have likely all fielded questions like, "Why is our company not more active on Pinterest?" or "Shouldn't we be focusing some of our efforts on Reddit? I read that the President of the United States is using Reddit now."
When faced with this line of questioning, I would argue that your response should be something similar to, “We should continue to focus our efforts on the social networks in which we have identified an active customer and prospect base while monitoring new networks for early opportunities.” Easy, right?
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: Focus your efforts on those social networks that will net the biggest impact for your specific business.
Let's talk through some of the core considerations you want to keep in mind.
Often times, you will be drawn to a new social network because it offers functionality that you cannot get elsewhere. Pinterest offers us a visually striking way to display creative assets. Path offers a truly private social network limited to 150 connections max. Instagram offers us the perception that we are all professional photographers.
Thinking about the functionality you need should help you make a better decision regarding where you focus your resources from a social media perspective but it will not help you make a decision as the sole determining factor.
Demographics and Audience
Likely more important than functionality, think about the demographics you serve in the marketplace and track their social media habits. Personally, I feel like there is still a large opportunity for B2B marketers on LinkedIn. Their innovative ad products remain out of reach for most but there is no denying that the core user is a working professional. When I watch Sage customers online, primarily entrepreneurs, small and medium sized businesses, I see two trends stemming from the demographics of our audience that might affect the networks in which you participate.
- Thought leadership remains a critical component of how you reach the B2B audience online. In that regard, the market is split between a few networks – primarily Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Beyond that, there are a number of specialized networks out there that cater to a more niche audience. We used to call these bulletin boards or discussion boards. Remember those? Don't forget about them. If there is a niche network that has already attracted your core demographic then I would argue that spending your time there is far more efficient compared to trying to amass Likes on Facebook or be the first to market amongst your competitors on an emerging network.
- With increasing sophistication the B2B audience is showing advanced practices around the use of tools. My customers? As an example, they are using BufferApp and IFTTT. At a high level, this means two things: 1. Double down on the networks you already participate on by being more active and 2. Track early adopters on emerging networks, especially your more active customers. They are a great indication for where your core audience might be headed next.
I call this the "Reddit Risk". Redditors are a fickle bunch when it comes to new active members. They have built their community painstakingly over the years and there are a number of guidelines, both written and unwritten, which you are expected to follow. One misstep - one that you didn't even know you made - can put you on the wrong side of the community. Before you know it, your company is at the root of a popular Internet meme.....and not the good kind. Think about the golden rule when getting involved in a new social network: Listen before you do anything else. Listen and learn to help minimize risk.
Particularly for those organizations that have a heavy investment in content marketing, keep the sharing reach and sharing capabilities of new social networks in mind. This likely helped with early adoption of both Pinterest and Google+. At first user numbers were lower than their contemporaries but the rate at which content was being shared as well as the portability of that content (Pinterest started showing up a lot in Facebook streams as the initial point of awareness) helped to quell any doubts about the need to participate. As an example, while we are all familiar with the reach of Google, Pinterest made a compelling case for participation early on simply due to large amounts of referral traffic.
So finally, here it is. The conclusion. The end of the article. Take this graphic with you when thinking about participation in new social networks. With a bit of critical thinking and some proper planning, you will be sure to keep your limited time and resources on track and focused on those networks which will have the biggest impact for your specific organization.