Social networks are extremely interesting things. They give an online home to folks with common interests and hobbies – like staying in touch with one another or following Metallica.
They’ve actually been around for a while, under the guise of ‘forums’ ….But this new breed of FaceBook’ish tools that we’re now using are a little more sophisticated in terms of functionality: they provide a bunch of extra widgets to help us throw sheep at one another, give people minute-to-minute status updates and generally stay in touch. In other words, they’re built more strongly around sociability.
So how can this new-fangled stuff work in a B2B environment? Well, you can start thinking about creating more ‘social’ platforms and content as PR tools that can be used by interested parties – staff, customers, partners, etc – for facilitating dialogue, spreading your messages and enabling you to manage your relationships in new ways.
This can be done at both the micro level and the macro level. Here’s some broad brush ideas….
Social Networking Micro-Facilitation
- Make your content easy to link to and/or embed in other people’s sites and online profiles. For example, rather than solely hosting and branding your own video, think of the benefit of using YouTube as well: aside from giving you another potential audience, YouTube outputs code snippets which allow people to feature your content on their web sites. The same goes for images on Flickr, presentation material with SlideShare, and so on…
- Make it easy to bookmark your content on social bookmarking sites by including aggregation tools within your content, like ‘AddThis‘. (In turn, these social bookmarking sites will make your content more available to other people.)
- Render your content assets in a ‘Widget’ format, so that others can access it and feature it on their own sites as (for example) a sidebar feature. There are now a ton of interesting widget-ization services available, many of which are free and do the work for you if you’re creating simple tools: see WidgetBox, for example.
- If you can find the right angle, create more sophisticated widgets or applications to feature on other Social Networking platforms. For example, recruitment is a great social application that’s enjoyed early success on Facebook and others thanks to these platform’s innate viral properties (‘pass it on’, ‘recommend a friend’, etc)..
Social Networking Macro-Facilitation
- Create a ‘user generated’ FAQ section or forum for your site, or create a profile via a hosted service like Get Satisfaction. Allow your customers and partners to engage directly with you and others on support issues.
- Create your own Social Networking platform for specific activities via hosted tools like Ning, or other Open Source social networking tools. Good applications for Social Networking environments include: events management (allow people to meet and greet online); education or training (host your coursework in an interactive space and have people mark it up, amend and improve it); and best practise hubs (share your tips, tricks and insights in information-hungry or ‘expert’ environments)
The above examples show you how easy it is to engage in new dialogues, manage relationships in new ways and to help other people to spread the word on your behalf.
That said, it’s important to identify the right kinds of application for using social media. ‘Build it and they will come’ is a dangerous mantra in this field. Just because you have an audience and a brand, you can’t expect folks to automatically care for your latest social networking marvel. The most successful applications of social networking in the B2B space tend to be those that are focused and designed to support a specific activity or application – eg, events support, customer support, and the like.
So, enough of the theory. Go experiment….! (And please do share your experiences with us!)