Interview: Marina Zayats on the social media potential of B2B companies
Whether LinkedIn, Facebook or XING – for marketing managers, looking at social networks is part of everyday life. Often, sales managers have also recognised the potential of social media and use them for information purposes. But what is the general situation in B2B companies? Do industrial companies use social networks to expand their brand communication? Are they familiar with and up to the specifics of social media? In this interview, Marina Zayats, co-founder of Schaffensgeist, tells us about her experiences.
Ms Zayats, you regularly hold workshops on a professional approach to social media in B2B companies. What is your impression? How professional are industrial companies in their social media communication?
It differs a lot. It depends on the industry, the products, the services and the companies themselves. With many B2B companies that offer services that require explanation, I notice that many think too complicatedly, communicate too confusingly and do not appear with the clarity that is needed for social media. They have upgraded in recent years in terms of their presence on social media, but not yet well enough. The appearance is too technical. The companies mostly act according to the principle: “The main thing is that everyone understands exactly what we offer.” In addition, many still lack the sovereignty to act professionally on social media. You often get the impression that the student worker is sitting there and posting something. And then the employees are expected to share and like it.
However, a social media presence is not only about technology. Many digital natives know how to use social media. But not everyone can automatically handle corporate communication, community management and content.
I see a lot of catching up to do, especially with medium-sized companies in the manufacturing sector. The quality of their products often does not yet correspond to the quality of their external image.
When you talk about catching up, about clarity and simplicity, what do you mean? What content is essential?
Before thinking about content formats, social media is about defining your target groups and understanding how I reach them. It is essential that my target group first pays attention to me and, in the next step, actually engages with my content. To achieve this, I need simple language, possibly also with metaphors. Simple here does not mean trivial at all. Many experts think that you have to write in a complicated way to appear professional. That is not true.
And of course, you must not forget who the sender of the content should be: The renowned Edelmann Trust Barometer clearly shows that the trustworthiness of employees has increased, while trust in corporate accounts has rather continued to decrease over the past years. This is a potential that many companies are not yet exploiting. Social media is much more effective when your own employees are active and communicate there. That is why company accounts are limited in their reach. Social media pushes people and not company presences.
Individuals, and less corporate presences. The term “corporate influencer” immediately comes to mind. What is the difference between brand ambassadors and corporate influencers?
Classic brand ambassadors are people who adopt the company’s brand and report on it: They take news or posts and share them in their network. My colleague, Klaus Eck, also calls people who only share news from their employer unfiltered “clone warriors”. I find that very true. Behind the term “corporate influencer”, on the other hand, are people who represent their own topics, expertise and attitude. In doing so, they consider what parallels they have to the corporate brand and always create the context from personal brand to corporate brand. They usually engage with the company more than ordinary employees. However, they do not talk about the company all the time, but pick up relevant topics from time to time.
What does ” from time to time” mean? Is there a guideline for how often corporate news should be picked up?
As is so often the case, it’s all in the mix. But I always advise my workshop participants to have a ratio of two-thirds own content and one-third company content. Otherwise it becomes too much.
If a company wants to motivate its employees to get involved in corporate influencing, many surely ask themselves about the effort involved: How much time do you have to allow for a post?
Time-wise, I would calculate 3 hours per week for a post. That includes research, setting up the post, posting and then also community management. This means that I respond to comments and posts from my target group.
You have also reported that more and more CEOs or senior management of B2B companies want to become active on LinkedIn. Why?
Quite simply: they recognise the relevance. No one comes to me and says, convince me why I should be active on LinkedIn. I’m approached by the CEO who sees how successful his employee is on LinkedIn, who sees how another CEO has received 400 likes on his posts, and says I want to do the same. This means that some management levels of B2B companies are becoming aware of the relevance, they want to be trained and then be role models for their employees. This is the only way they can credibly convey that corporate influencers are desired in the company. They can take away the employees’ fear of being visible in social networks. It’s about digital sovereignty that is exemplified and communicated to the employees.
And how do you get started as a CEO? What are your top 3 tips?
The most important thing is positioning: understanding what I stand for as a board member and where the connection to the corporate brand is. And also: What do I want to position myself for? For board members, it is usually about clear goals, about economic benefit and not about self-promotion. For example, they want to make the company more visible and attractive to new candidates or increase the acceptance of social selling in sales. Once the goal has been defined, the next step is to analyse the current state. This means looking at the respective profiles on LinkedIn or Xing and analysing what content is available there. Often they are still very orphaned or only filled with corporate content. The personality is missing, which of course makes the whole thing more interesting.
You have already mentioned social selling. The topic has been very hyped in the past year. How important is social selling for you?
For me, social selling is an integral part of everyday sales. It is a tool and also a mindset that every employee should master just like the telephone or face-to-face meetings. Take social listening, for example: before meeting a customer, every sales employee should find out about them via social networks. For me, this is already part of social selling. It is simply no longer possible without it. Around 75 % of B2B buyers inform themselves about B2B sellers via social media. Those who are not present there are considered much later or not at all in the buying process.
What about social selling tools?
There are tools that are total humbug. And there are some that are essential and necessary. In general, however, it is important that sales managers first learn what they can do with the basic LinkedIn account, for example, before they are given social selling tools. First, the basics have to be in place. It is important to understand how to build and maintain relationships online. The other way around, learning tools first, then basics, usually goes wrong.
Ms Zayats, thank you very much for these interesting insights and for the appeal to the necessity of a sovereign handling of social media in B2B companies!
Co-Founder von Schaffensgeist
Marina Zayats is co-founder of the agency “Schaffensgeist” and freelance consultant for Corporate Communication, Digital Personal Branding & Social Selling.
Her book “Digital Personal Branding. Über den Mut, sichtbar zu sein.” is published by Springer Gabler Verlag in August 2020.