Social Capital Byte: Institutionalizing Parity in B2B Relationships

Social-Capital-Byte-Institutionalizing-Parity-in-B2B-Relationships-V3-compressor copy

Mine existing gold in the hills and strengthen PR value propositions for your partners and clients

 

Many businesses working to become “social” devote resources in virtual isolation, trying to build their presence and figure out how to garner illusive followers, fans and “positive sentiment” conversations.

Presumably the marketing strategy (if it’s actually been explored at the front end) is to augment profile and enhance reputation (“social capital“), with an objective to increase sales of products or services. Or in the case of not-for-profits, raise funds or attract volunteers, etc.

In scenarios where companies have dedicated social media (community) managers, generally I’ve observed a focus on measuring quantitative, “What can social media do for the company?” (the “ROI”), vis-à-vis interacting with existing, potential or past customers and other stakeholders that search out the properties.

This includes garnering feedback and letting the self-identified “community” know what the organization has to offer, including short-term campaigns and promotions—often highlighting how people have taken advantage of the offers or championed the company’s efforts (on Twitter and Facebook or in endorsement blog posts, etc.), resolving one-off customer service concerns and so on. It’s not surprising (or bad) as a marketing strategy, but it’s somewhat limited, mainly relating to B2C commercial social relationships.

It appears the less-rarely-asked public relations-oriented questions and considerations include:

  • “What can we do for the social media profiles of our existing partners or clients?”
  • “How can we increase our stakeholders’ value proposition through social if we institutionalize practices to recognize them?”

Instituting social media practices and profiles of partners and clients appears to be a “virtually” untapped resource in public relations programs.

There’s tremendous value in a “PR strategy” that works to mine online gold in the hills of existing relationships, particularly in the B2B realm. Yet hardly any companies seem to be doing it! I explored some ideas in my earlier Connections Byte column, but now I’m suggesting more formal and ongoing “institutionalization” of the process.

Where’s the value?

The quality and breadth of products or services sold to end-user companies (and by extension their employees) is complemented when you highlight—through social media—a contracted or ongoing affiliation of B2B.

It’s a newer way of thinking in augmenting relationships, one that both gives and receives more value.

As an example, rather than hand-selecting a few clients or test drivers to write “glowing testimonials” regarding a media monitoring company (traditional or social)—always a bit suspect, as who writes a bad testimonial?—endorsement is implied by an agreed-upon willingness to profile the online accounts of multiple partner affiliations. I was pleased to see my colleague, Bob Geller, highlight a similar concept (from a content marketing perspective) in his recent column; see the section on “Leverage Social and Influencer Equity” (towards the end).

A need to shift practices and widen the focus

Let’s examine the prevailing practice of vendors, service suppliers, associations with corporate members, even subscription-based industry publications. Many organizational relationship builders and content providers (or community managers) are intent on developing reputations as curators of online information (e.g., providing or endorsing relevant blog posts) and/or influencers of opinion, which they share on the company’s social media properties. Generally, it boils down to a newer mode of broadcasting and gated publishing.

Often one person or a few are given organizational authority to make a subjective judgment as to who/what will be invited to write, be profiled or endorse something. And we’re seeing the same handful of people, usually with non-existent or tenuous relationships to organizations (i.e., not regular, paying clients or partners) getting selected for the bulk of the profiles and endorsements, repeatedly.

This results in the sameness to the curation and organizational endorsements in multiple places, often of “Internet famous” social media consultants or principals from boutique agencies. It’s the rare time the representative comes from a large corporation. And too often the connections seem to be a matter of personal liking or fandom from the social media or community manager, rather than a true value proposition for the company or its clients regarding content being highlighted.

This is not an indictment of well-known personalities, who usually are in this position because of being early adopters in social media and producing a consistently good body of work. Rather it relates to the suitability of numerous businesses highlighting the same subject experts, especially when the main driver appears to be their all-purpose (or untargeted) ubiquity.

From whence did this value-proposition concept stem?

Recently I completed research for an NGO group (a unique and laudable blend of the arts, communication skills and at-risk-youth outreach) on relevant social media properties (targeted and local) existing in the sector. My recap report included suggestions for creating a social profile and initial steps for:

Rather than starting from scratch in building social relationships, I recommended the principals determine if existing stakeholders and champions had established social media accounts, even if they were personal ones (i.e., made no reference to this organization).

That’s part of the social capital equation: implied organizational endorsement and public relations because of existing connections.

At this stage I recommended the NGO directly inquire and collect account information to share on its website, etc.

I thought my next-step recommendation was common practice, but when inquiring around to a number of colleagues, it did not seem to be the case.

It was to:

  • Redesign any existing application forms for the various roles to include a section that allows stakeholders to supply professional or personal social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Or online photo accounts where they’ve shared past [X company] photos, etc.

Are you asking your clients and partners to share this information on the initial contract or application form? If not, consider incorporating it, soon.

When registering for the third annual Social Media Week Toronto, I noted the request to provide my Twitter account. I don’t remember this being on the application form the first two years, so I’m very interested in seeing how this information will be used.

(Side note: the most consistently popular PR Conversations blog since it was published is our joint-author post, Using Twitter for PR events.)

Also influencing this Social Capital Byte…

Around the same time as writing the NGO report, I read and commented on a post by Valeria Maltoni (one of Neal Schaffer’s Top 10 Social Media Blogs to Follow in 2012 and a personal thought leader and influencer for me), Does Sharing Mean Endorsing?

Ongoing sharing of existing or past partners’ social media accounts seems like an authentic, no-brainer endorsement of the relationships. Just be sure to get opt-in permission, so it’s not perceived as unauthorized “scraping” of social capital!

I think often of the response in his PRoust Questionnaire by Italian PR guru and thought leader, Toni Muzi Falconi, to the question, Who do you think has great public relations?

“In most cases successful organizations do not have overt public visibility. Or, when they do have a high profile, they don’t betray their anxiousness or obsessive need to be liked.”

But if it’s the vendor (or other B2B company) that initiates an offer to profile the business, objections aren’t likely to be raised. After all, what is being proposed is cultivating apublic relations culture of meritocracy, not mediocrity, by institutionalizing the parity process and offering up some online real estate space to clients.

I believe this would be a tremendous, creative use of social capital for all parties. And the quality of the information (or not) will be reflective of the quality of the partners and client organizations.

Four implementation suggestions for social capital and partner parity

1. For display on your company’s website or blog, institute an (agreed-upon) running feed of affiliated (partner and client) Twitter business accounts. Monitor the feed and RT/endorse the most relevant and useful client tweets and links from your own corporate account.

2. Consider hosting regular Twitter chats focused on your core business areas; directly invite clients each time to participate in the chats. Maybe even invite your star partners—i.e., those who have an existing affiliation—to guest moderate. Alternatively, let your client organizations’ representatives determine (by consensus—maybe an online poll) whom they want to see moderate and/or topics to cover. Build in a formal, institutionalized process for both, including a way to nominate moderators and topics. (For examples of Twitter chats targeted towards business needs, see 50 Best Twitter Chats for Business Students.)

3. Establish a corporate LinkedIn Group and invite your clients and partners to join it. Make it an Open or Public Group, but be proactive in having your existing stakeholders involved at the front end (e.g., I was personally invited by their “owners” into Social Media Strategies for Business, Solo PR Pros and the Art Gallery of Ontario LinkedIn Groups at the launch stage). Also, continuously monitor and remove overtly promotional postings of unrelated content, especially from non-affiliated organizations or consultants.

4. Institute a wiki where partners and clients can voluntarily share best practices (traditional or online), particularly when there is a correlation with the product or service your company provides. So the wiki serves more like a partner intranet and is not spammed by non-affiliated marketers, it’s best to share directly the URL, publishing instructions and suitability guidelines. For the most part, wikis appear to fly under the radar of spammers.

I continue to muse on how the primarily personal use and/or B2C social media platforms such as Facebook (Like us!) could best be used to highlight and endorse partner businesses, instead of merely the hosting company. With its highly developed SEO aspect, Google+ does holds promising possibilities for public relations programs, especially as an “anchor” vehicle in cases where client companies do not have their own blogs–but I haven’t ascertained all ingredients yet for a creative +1 “secret sauce” for consistent public relations to highlight B2B partners.

Do you know of any case studies or have any ideas for extending this concept of two-way B2B public relations in social media properties? If yes, I would appreciate hearing about them in the comments section.

Conclusion

I’m of the opinion that direct public relations in social media with your business partners and clients comprises a relatively unexplored area of creativity, possibilities and opportunities, meaning the success stories are waiting to be written.

I do know that when working in-house, I gained organizational profile, PR reciprocity and goodwill (not to mention enhancing my personal reputation), by turning the thinking around from “What can our partners and stakeholders (or the media) do for us?” into “What can we do for our affiliated partners that they can’t get anywhere else or where they aren’t getting the same opportunities or profile?”

Exploring social capital by ensuring parity in your B2B relationships really is an exciting PR2.0 value proposition.

Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita

@jgombita

Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
Unreal! RT @prconversations: According to @JakeD of @MONEY: Janet Yellen makes less than over 100 other Fed staffers http://t.co/6Kfi4GCqEt - 14 hours ago
Judy Gombita
Social Media Marketing World - Save $550

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for the props @CraigMJamieson:disqus . @nealschaffer:disqus and I had a discussion earlier today (on Google+)  about how closely aligned, in many ways, were public relations and sales when it comes to the whole concept of long-term “relationship building.” That’s something we discovered comparing notes over the past two years or so. And I also think that practices in different countries (especially when it comes to social business) probably don’t vary that much. I’ve been pleased to see this post RT’d by people in several different countries.

    Definitely all departments are in it together. Some just work more overtly to drive sales. But a “healthy” company (financially, plus reputation and issues management) is in all employees’ best interest.

  2. says

    Thanks for mentioning this post on ConversationAgent today, Judy. This is exactly the sort of thing we’ve been after for at least a year at our end. Meritocracy over mediocrity, parity, and shared real estate are exactly what we offer to our partners. Our angle, if you will, is teaming up to better serve our mutual customers together. Many hands make light work, after all. 

    Ironically, though, it seems many businesses aren’t prepared to do much more than write checks to market themselves. In our market, there’s no shortage of businesses forking over cash for easily ignored/blocked banner ads, yet when we offer to work with them to get more results for their advertising dollar through engagement and relationship-building, they tend to balk. 

    Still, this is the future and, as much as I’ve hashed out our program, I definitely took some notes on this post for inclusion in our program moving forward.

    • says

      You made my day with your comment “I definitely took some notes on this post for inclusion in our program moving forward,” @briandiggs. As I told Neal Schaffer, I thought this was one of my most thoughtful (and creative) posts, pointing business people to unexplored areas….but it really didn’t get that much take up.

      Sigh. Write something about crappy news releases or Pinterest and people are all over it. Create something original…and it barely makes any headway.

      But YOU reading and commenting has more than made up for the earlier snub(s).

      Very happy to have “met” you on Valeria Maltoni’s blog (you probably saw that I cite her in Social Captial Byte as one of *my* influencers…and we’ve even met and talked IRL!). Would enjoy hearing how you progress with your partnership arrangements in the social sphere.

      Best,
      Judy

Please Leave a Comment!