We have seen a paradigm shift in a lot of content that is produced on the Web. User generated media has become commonplace through avenues such as MySpace, YouTube and Wikipedia. Social media marketing is the rage today, but will it be here tomorrow? The blogosphere has provided an environment where online communities to flourish and grow immensely in a relatively short span of time. Online communities have taken on lives of their own, often playing integral roles in vendor-to-consumer relations. But what impact does social media have on B2B transactions?
How can B2B advertisers tap into social media concepts and this shift in media consumption? To begin to answer this question, we should evaluate the components that make up social media marketing. B2B marketers need to:
Components of Social Media Marketing
Online Communities – An online community is an environment consisting of a group of people with a common interest where the users can share their knowledge and experience in a manner that will benefit the community as a whole. Examples of online communities include MySpace, LinkedIn, and eBay. Online communities are a key component of social media as they provide the audience and process (system) for users to create and share their content.
Communities of Interest - Wikipedia defines community of interest as a community of people who share a common interest or passion, such as music lovers on MP3.com. Participation in a community of interest can be compelling, entertaining and create a ‘sticky’ community where people return frequently and remain for extended periods. Communities of interest are based on the personal and social aspects of the community members.
Community of Practice - A community of practice is an online community that is based on professional interests and is created in the course of members performing their jobs of its members. An example of communities of practice would be MyBloglog or LinkedIn.
Community of Purpose – A community of purpose is a community of people who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective. Such communities serve a functional purpose, smoothing the path of the member for a limited period surrounding a given activity. Examples include, buying a car on autobytel.com, or individual investors on fool.com. Members of the community assist each other by sharing experiences, suggesting strategies and exchanging information on the process in hand.
While there are some similarities between communities of interest and communities of practice in that users of both create the content and determine how and when it will be consumed. Marketers must participate in a way that is welcomed by users. Marketers need to be aware of the differences between the community types.
For the purpose of illustration, we will explore the difference between communities of interest and communities of practice. Communities of purpose often relate to the research phase of the consumer’s buying cycle and tend to be more for B2C than B2B.
Difference between Communities of Interest vs. Communities of Practice
The most significant differences between these two communities is that communities of practice focus on professional topics, are generally more structured, and may have a higher degree of moderation and security. They are a “safer” bet for B2B advertisers. Communities of practice produce content that is more professional. This is often easy to match with the desires of B2B marketers.
For the B2B advertiser, the professional nature of communities of practice allows them to deliver advertising inventory that is equal or similar in value to any other form of online media. Email marketing content, text ads and marketing of white papers that run on editorial sites can also be run in these communities of practice with similar success. Communities of practice offer a unique opportunity to optimize advertising, since topics of interaction within the community often cover products and solutions that marketers wish to promote. It can be a win-win for the entire community.
In the end what does it mean for B2B Marketers?
Social media allows marketers to experiment with creative campaigns with focus on optimizing the unique benefits online communities present, such as targeting and user involvement. The trick for B2B marketers who look to set up a presence in online communities is that for the campaigns to be a success, you will need to integrate ads and brands into the community experience in a way that users respond to and interact with in a positive manner as opposed to cumbersome traditional “place your ad here” approach.
If planned and implemented correctly, social media marketing as part on your total online marketing campaign can be a great way for attracting qualified leads for your products, services and solutions. Online communities offer businesses the opportunity to build a deeper relationship with their customers and prospects by facilitating interaction and feedback. The consumer is in command; so why not build a relationship with them on their terms?
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