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LinkedIn: Facebook for ugly people?

Recently we’ve been talking a lot at Velocity about the importance of social media to our client heartland, B2B tech. In tandem, as we build our new company, I’ve been re-visiting old contacts and trying to create new ones as part of the process of finding Velocity-shaped holes. What’s been amazing is how many people still use LinkedIn (once described to me as the site for people not cool enough to be on Facebook…).

A few years ago, as an experiment, I joined LinkedIn because lots of the people we worked with seemed to have. But I stopped receiving invitations about three years ago. Now, suddenly, I’m being deluged by them again.

And as part of that process an old friend, Tony Morris, popped up (we first worked with him at one of our oldest clients, Argogroup). Tony’s a serial entrepreneur, strategy consultant, and private investor working exclusively with technology-based growth companies. Serendipitously while we were all musing on social media, he pointed out Guy Kawasaki’s pretty compelling list of 10 ways to use LinkedIn to increase its value. It’s a good list, but for B2B firms, improving your Google page rank and enhancing your search engine results feel the most important. Over eight-and-a-half million business people use LinkedIn, including people from each of the Fortune 500 (and 499 of them are represented by director-level managers).

That’s a pretty good resource. Albeit one that only works today one-to-one. It’s when you start to think about what B2B firms (as opposed to individuals) should be doing with social media that it starts to get confusing. On the face(book) of it, social media should already be really important: experts everywhere from Seth Godin to Richard Branson tell us that future winning brands will be the ones that can build innovative or novel online relationships with customers. No doubt there are real attractions and benefits in communicating with a prospect group online in ways that competitors haven’t tried yet. Particularly when most B2B buyer segments run to a few thousand companies at most and many are no more than a few hundred (think about companies selling into mobile operators…).

But before we all run off and start building widget utilities that allow clients to relay time sensitive, high value information to business customers via Facebook or iGoogle (see Roger’s recent blog on that), consider how most tech companies communicate with customers today.

Most times I yearn to eat my own spleen rather than read another sentence from the press release announcing a company’s latest piece of highfalutin’ middleware or the product brochure about the sexiest wireless gizmo on the planet. Imagine the impact on a company’s reputation if they were to take this type of deathless prose onto Facebook?

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