Both LinkedIn and Facebook are obviously trying to become more attractive to B2B marketeers, and yet both are still a bit awkward when it comes to promoting your B2B brand. Some thoughts on (B2B) branding on social networks.
LinkedIn and Facebook are architecturally the same: they’re about promoting people. LinkedIn was structured as a way for people to promote their careers, Facebook as a way for people to promote themselves socially: to seem more interesting, be more popular, meet more people (or as ‘The Social Network’ put it: “to have sex”).
Originally, LinkedIn saw companies as little more than an empty tag, that was meant to say something about an individual and nothing more. Much like the school the individual graduated from. Branding companies by bringing the company ‘tags’ alive was just not possible.
Recently, LinkedIn changed company pages. First, it became possible to ‘follow’ company pages. In LinkedIn update streams, you can now see ‘Company X has 17 hires, 5 departures, 3 job openings.’ Unfortunately, that’s about it - like a guide book to Paris that limits itself to listing the number of Parisian births and deaths last year: it doesn’t tell you much about how Paris feels.
So LinkedIn went a little further, and made it possible to add ‘Products and Services’ to company profiles. It’s a nice idea, that solves one of the more obvious problems of LinkedIn company pages: until recently, contacts could only recommend people, but not companies. Now, it became possible to recommend a company – or at least, products or services by that company.
The problem at this time is one of critical mass: only a handful of companies have gone through the trouble of adding all their products and services to the LinkedIn company profile. Another problem is interactivity, connectivity and conversion. Most companies already have a website – one where they can interact with visitors and convert them to leads (newsletter subscriptions, rss, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages). There’s no incentive to lead prospects to your LinkedIn page(s), because LinkedIn products & services pages just don’t offer these kinds of benefits.
Moreover, people seem very skittish about recommending people, products or services on LinkedIn. On Facebook, a ‘like’ can mean anything – it can express a range of approval from ‘I smiled at this’ to ‘I will ask you to marry me next time I see you’. On LinkedIn, people seem to take their approval pretty seriously. Not many ‘recommendations’ are passed around. There’s a few people out there with dozens of recommendations, but I’m always a bit skeptical about these – especially because it’s obvious that these people ask recommendations on a “tit for tat” basis: write one for me, and I’ll write one for you.
When you’re in a bar with friends (Facebook), it’s okay to talk about the crazy party you went to last night and the stupid thing your cat did, and how much you like the Nespresso ads with George Clooney. When you go to a job interview, you keep the more eccentric behaviour to yourself. You won’t be as forthcoming and spontaneous about what you like and dislike. LinkedIn is suffering a bit from its own, stern brand: LinkedIn is a permanent job interview, where everybody is always dressed in pinstriped blazers and shoes are always shiny.
Facebook, on the other hand, was long regarded as a bad place for B2B marketing, because of the frat party atmosphere. Now marketeers are not so sure anymore, because Facebook seems to be doing so many things right (having a 500 million user base doesn’t hurt, either). B2B marketing became a bit easier when people could ‘like’ your company page instead of becoming a ‘member’ of a company group. Liking something is more of a spur of the moment thing, and it feels like less of a commitment than becoming a member of a closed group.
On top of this, Facebook allows companies to publish a free, branded content stream – a feature that is not yet available in LinkedIn. On the FINN PR page, for instance, we post links to interesting PR stories from around the web, our case files and blog posts, and our YouTube clips.
It’s a very nice way to make your brand come alive, and it offers opportunities for branding and content marketing. The problem here seems to be one of context: Facebook is still the place where you hang out with friends - after work. People don’t seem to want work related content in their Facebook stream. For B2C brands, this doesn't matter much, because they can bring fun and games to their Facebook marketing. For B2B brands, it's just genuinely hard to offer fun content - not because B2B brands are boring, but because fun factor is mostly irrelevant to B2B buyers.
It’s obvious that LinkedIn is still the best candidate to get B2B marketing right – it has everything in place: the infrastructure and the players. It just needs to bring relevance to the experience of marketing B2B brands. For that, it must carve out a place for brands, next to individuals. The solution is easy: just follow Facebook's lead.
With the introduction of the new Facebook "pages" (Feb. 12, 2011), it became possible to comment and post to other pages as a page. It looks like a small change, but it's actually pretty significant: it's the first time a brand can actually engage in a conversation outside its own page, instead of the administrator behind the brand. It looks like Mark Zuckerberg is really determined to eat LinkedIn's lunch... More on this later, when the new pages are rolled out in Europe.
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