This part 2 of my interview with B2B marketing pioneer Dr. Ben Hanna, VP of Business.com.
Click here for Part 1: Twitter for business: Four breakthrough insights

Ben, your company evidently took a very well-thought-out and measured approach to embarking on a social media campaign. But even the best plans usually go awry. What have been some key lessons you can pass on to somebody starting their own B2B social media initiative?

Whether we’re talking about eCommerce, online communities, display advertising, search marketing, blogging, micro-blogging, social networks or other channels, most B2B marketers shoot themselves in the foot the first time they use it for a couple related reasons.

First, they use available data to convince themselves and others that success is inevitable in order to drum up support for the campaign. Unfortunately, the base rate for success with newer media is highly distorted in B2B because it’s primarily the rare successes which make the B2B marketing headlines, not the complete failures or inconclusive results.

Second, focus on the campaign over future scalability. OK, so you put your best people together for six months and ran a successful campaign, but did you learn what you needed to get 3-5x the return next time?

Third, even with the best talent and creative, there are simply too many variables that will interact in unexpected ways during an initial campaign in a new online channel to expect a home run.

Here are a couple key things we picked up in our learning phase:

Start with listening broadly, and then join the conversation – It’s critical to get a feel for the ebb and flow of online conversations around your brand or other brands in your industry, and to do so by observing, not just online thought leaders but also the comments, tweets, posts, etc. of the occasional, peripheral social media participant.

This definitely takes time but it’s time well-spent if you REALLY want to understand the potential of social media for your business. It’s both patently obvious and somewhat sad when a B2B company just dives into the conversation without listening first – you see the flash of activity using tightly-controlled marketing-speak, little response from the online community, and you know that company is now thinking “well, we tried it and social media certainly doesn’t work for us.” That’s like playing golf for the first time with a baseball bat and then deciding golf is impossible. You need to watch and understand the game first to give it a fair shot.

Focus is absolutely essential – In B2B social media, with lots of hype, a broad range of tactics, and no clear best practices playbook, it’s very easy to take on more than your team can handle. We chose to focus initially on blogging, both with our own blogs and micro-blogging via Twitter. Even managing these initiatives well seems like twice the work we expected. Have a great idea for an integrated social media campaign across a new company blog, Facebook group, Twitter account and YouTube? Table that until you establish a firm presence in each.

No one is a social media expert today when it comes to your business – This is a bit of an overstatement to make a point: don’t expect that anyone has the recipe for a successful social media campaign for your company right away. B2B social media is too new, the platforms and users are evolving too quickly, and there is too little objective data available for anyone to say “If you do A, B and C in this social media campaign, you will generate $X in new business.” The apparently hard-and-fast rules in this domain are constantly being written and re-written so the best approach is to learn what you can from the pros and try things in a variety of ways.

For example, we have two Twitter accounts (see graphic above) that we approached differently: @whatworks for general business and @B2BOnlineMarketing for B2B online marketing topics. With @whatworks, we’ve been much more interactive with the Twitter community (more replies and direct messages), followed and retweeted more of the twitterati, did more “what’s happening now” type of posts like live tweeting events and just generally followed more of the standard rules for building a Twitter following.

On the other hand, with @B2BOnlineMarketing we’ve taken a more broadcast-focused approach with less interaction, more scheduled tweets and tweets covering useful but less timely B2B online marketing info. The result? Follower growth (graph), and clicks/tweet for tweets including links are much higher for our @B2BOnlineMarketing account than the @whatworks account where we took the more traditional approach to Twitter for business.
Tomorrow, Part 3: Ben’s perspective on hands-on B2B social media management
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