December 19, 2007
B-to-B mobile social networking is expected to become more valuable as handheld technology evolves. That’s because busy business execs want (and need) access to information and their contacts while they’re on the move.
Like all marketing initiatives, benefitting from such networking requires a comprehensive and integrated strategy. We’ve put together an eight-step plan to help you get the most out of a mobile social network.
Business-to-business mobile social networking is expected to gain even more traction as a marketing tool in 2008. A Universal McCann survey of B-to-B decision-makers last year highlighted the potential for mobile social networking: 69% of respondents said they participated in social networks.
Businesses, their employees, their partners and their customers face greater pressures on their time, so they are demanding access to information and contacts while on the move. Developing an effective strategy to take advantage of mobile social networking as a B-to-B marketing initiative is crucial.
The key benefit of mobile social marketing, of course, is immediate accessibility to potential customers and information. You’re connected to a network of contacts -- one you can interact with in the palm of your hand. These same people can find you or your business just as easily.
B-to-B or B-to-C: Similar but Different
Many aspects of B-to-B and consumer social networking, online or through a mobile device, are similar. There are some key differences: B-to-B social networks are not about entertainment; they’re about finding new contacts, knowledge, customers and ways to market. So, sending someone a Vampire or a Poke might not gain you the right outcome.
On the other hand, sending a colleague a question about a business issue or if they know someone who might know another who might need your services might prove more financially rewarding, but not always. Visibility and brand awareness are some of the other concerns and metrics.
B-to-B mobile social networks need to engage business people in meaningful dialogue, exchanges of information, the organization of offline and online events and content using, for example, instant or private messaging, blogging, etc.
There’s not much difference in its capability, but a cell phone has its own technological limits -- specifically, bandwidths and memory capacity. The experience is nevertheless more convenient and more personal; it’s nearly always with you. Most social networks are accessible via the mobile Internet (WAP) or via an online portal.
For example, to access Xing’s mobile portal, simply enter http://www.xing.com into a smartphone, BlackBerry or PDA and you’ll automatically be taken to the portal. Or enter: http://mobile.xing.com. You then sign in, and download its mobile launcher on your Java-compatible mobile device. This allows you to access the network without having to sign in again.
Here are eight steps to help you engage in B-to-B mobile social networking:
-> Step #1. Define your goals
As with any type of marketing, you first must define your goals. This begins with a customer-centric view of what you want to achieve.
Analyze your customer’s needs and expectations. This includes establishing the right framework for mobile social networking because the means of contact and access have to be defined and understood. Advertisers’ or sponsors’ needs shouldn’t determine this. It’s what your customers and business users will get out of it.
Other considerations should include the purpose of using either an existing B-to-B mobile social network, a customized leader or your own internal creation.
Questions to ask:
- Do you want to improve or build better customer relationships?
- Do you want to increase your knowledge management capabilities?
- Do you want to facilitate sales or recruitment?
- Do you want to increase your personal and corporate visibility to gain more brand awareness or business opportunities?
- Do you want to build a community in which ideas and information can be exchanged and discussed?
- Do you want to hold one-on-one or engage in multiple conversations at the same time?
- Do you want to use certain tools or applications?
-> Step #2. Determine available resources
What kind of resources do you have on hand to build this initiative, and do you understand what it takes? Because mobile technology is a rapidly moving space, expect the unexpected. It might take some time to develop a network that’s a good fit for you.
-> Step #3. Blend with your brand
Next, integrate your mobile social network with your brand positioning and strategy. Consider where your customers and your competition are and whether a mobile social network will improve your positioning and competitive advantage by making you more immediately visible and accessible. You need to make sure it’s aligned with your brand strategy and its objectives.
-> Step #4. Determine how you will get customers to use it
Customers, partners and colleagues will require tools to enable them to interact with you and one another. You will also need to come to grips with what will motivate them to use mobile networking.
- People will need something to talk about. This might require you to begin the conversation, to advertise an event or product, ask a question, set up a competition or encourage interactivity.
- You might have to allow customers to set up their own groups, blogs and community forums within your network based around common areas of interest.
Members of a custom-made B-to-B mobile social network, for example, might want to co-create or share information within an open or closed environment. B-to-B social mobile networks are more sophisticated than consumer social networks. “You want to meet somebody, discuss with somebody in a forum or post a blog” says Thomas Power, CEO, ecademy.com.
-> Step #5. Understand cultural sensibilities and legal obligations
People in different countries interact with each other in different ways. Some accept certain types of content; others don’t. Consider who will monitor and censure conversations and what the legal implications and community guidelines are.
Do you want any kind of interaction with the customer, or are some forms unacceptable? Always be transparent.
-> Step #6. Find the appropriate mobile social platform
You must determine the mobile social platform you want to use. Start by looking at those that complement the objectives you want to achieve.
Which white-label one suits your purposes? Or do you need to develop your own? White-labeling is where an existing social network platform, like ecademy or Xing, is customized in terms of branding or co-branding and affiliate marketing. Some platforms are offered as totally bespoke solutions for companies wishing to independently run their own networks.
You will need to consider whether your platform is going to be text-based and allow for rich media, SMS messaging and instant messaging. Will it include wikis, blog publishing and creation, etc.?
You also could use an existing network. For example, several companies have set up their own groups to interact with one another on Facebook.
-> Step #7. Have a viral marketing strategy in place
What will make people flock to your mobile network? You’ll need to find evangelists who can influence others. Keep them informed about what you are doing. Much business is gained through referrals, so make sure people can connect with you and each other. Be prepared to respond and participate in conversations.
-> Step #8. Integrate with other social networks
Look at your marketing strategies and channels from a tactical perspective: What are you going to do apart from the obvious?
Don’t just work within your own social network, use others that can ring in new members. Sales and marketing integration is key. Mobile marketing of any type can’t work alone.
Are you going to promote your network via a website? Are customers going to be able access it online? Email often plays a role in online social networking, and it can apply to B-to-B mobile social networking as well with certain mobile devices.
Two typical measures are:
#1. Return on investment. How much time have you spent using it and how many sales have been generated, or how much has it cost to create your own in comparison to brand awareness or sales?
#2. Return on relationship. What did you get out of the relationships you’ve created in terms of customer loyalty, retention, referrals and new sales? You need to invest time in learning how your customers, partners or colleagues use the network.
Xing is one of the leading mobile social network spaces. It recently recorded more than 350,000 visits from a mobile device. BlackBerrys and iPhones are fueling its growth.
Other firms that provide B-to-B mobile social networking solutions include ecademy.com, Plaxo.com, Ojeez.com partnered with JuiceCaster.com and 4D Interactive. As mentioned above, there is also increasingly a cross-over with Facebook, MySpace and other consumer social networking platforms.
Cisco also launched a redesigned website with mobile capability and optimized Web pages for mobile devices. This increased site visits from 10,000 to 75,000 per month. The company provides mobile-specific URLs to attract customers, using TV and outdoor advertising.
Useful links related to this article
B-to-B Mobile social networks and platforms -
The Ecademy Ltd.: