B2B Social networks VS Online communities – what is the difference and where should you be?
Professional communities and networks are transforming the way technology brands can reach and engage with their buyers and it is now estimated that a massive 67%* of the customer journey takes place digitally. But what is the difference between the two channels and where should you be focusing your digital budget? First, let’s just make a clear distinction as it is really important for brands to understand the differences as the objectives and strategies set and used for both should differ - social networks are not online communities. Networks are large and anonymous whereas communities are small and intimate. Networks are artificial, in a sense that they rarely form organically whereas communities are organic and independent as they are essentially made up of a collection of individuals bound together by shared interests or geographical locations.
Source: Spiceworks 2016 - Networks VS Communities
However, although they are completely different channels and should be approached differently, they both do share some common ground as they:
- Both exist online and are accessible from just about anywhere via smart devices/computers
- They are places where people turn to for content, product reviews, problem solving etc
- They both sit under the ‘social business platforms’ umbrella
Changes to the buyer’s journey
B2B customers gather pretty much all their information within the digital space - whether it is on networks or communities. It is becoming increasingly important to make contact with potential customers early in the buyer’s journey, it’s crucial for B2B technology companies to be present and active in these online communities.
Source: Sirius Decisions, The Marketing Organisation in 2017
But which channel to choose?
At a recent B2B in Tech event organised by B2B Marketing Magazine, John Webb, EMEA Marketing Director for Spiceworks, a professional network for the information technology industry, said the average time B2B decisions makers in IT spend a day on social networks is 13 mins - which seems like a reasonable amount as many of them can only access social networks during non-working hours due to the platforms being blocked at work. But when that is compared to the one hour they spend on online communities – social networks automatically take a back seat. This is a huge difference and it clearly indicates which direction B2B technology companies should be heading with their digital focus.
But something to bear in mind once a brand has chosen their online communities is that traditional marketing won’t work here. Online communities are not a place for direct sales but perfect platforms to engage and form real relationships with your customers or prospects, resulting in deeper relationships and greater customer advocacy. When marketing your brand in these communities, you should take the following into consideration:
Don’t always post, you are not there to market or sell but to engage and build better relationships with customers/peers. Make sure you share knowledge, insights and interact with other community members any way you can – whether it’s to offer them a solution to their problem or give an opinion on a post they have recently published.
2. Be human
Have fun in your communities, being human will result in fellow community members responding to your posts. Also make sure to show your brands emotional side – what is your brand passionate about?
3. Let them in
Online communities are a two-way relationship – therefore as well as gathering information make sure you give back to the community. If there’s ever only going to be a one-way relationship, your days in a community are numbered.
Online communities are a great opportunity for online-offline relationship too. Once you’ve created strong relationships with members in your community, invite them to any industry events your technology company is hosting or taking part in. Build the trust offline for a stronger, deeper and lasting relationship.
In the B2B engineering space online communities are not as developed as they are in the IT /Software developer market but there are a number of well-established online communities such as: IET, Engineering UK, Engineering Exchange and IMECHE, to name a few. So if you haven’t explored online communities for your brand before - these are a good places to start.
*Sirius Decisions, The Marketing Organisation in 2017
Sylvia Laws, Managing Director, Technical Associates Group