B2B companies have traditionally been a bit of the laggards in social media unlike their consumer counterparts. Tne reason is that B2B doesn’t facilitate the instant easy connections with customers or prospects that B2C does so effortlessly. Consumers for instance frequently define themselves by a brand. You have only to think of Apple’s cultural litmus test ads: I’m a Mac, I’m a PC. Can you imagine a business customer waxing ecstatic about Company X and its latest business process management software? Not exactly the stuff of the latest viral hit.Then there’s the issue of how B2B companies sell. As digital company White Horse noted in a 2010 report of B2B companies’ use of social media, "B2B companies remain fundamentally ‘handshake’ businesses, reliant on one-to-one connections between sales reps and customers," and haven’t perceived social media to be fertile ground for lead generation.In other words, B2B is still firmly grounded in a more traditional meet-and-greet, sales-driven culture.Yet, social media contains within it the seeds to evolve, if not transform, the way B2B companies do business. Think about it for a minute. B2B selling, as the White Horse report notes, is all about building relationships. For B2B companies, the sticking point in social media has been that the current kingpins — Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – haven’t made engaging in the type of slow courtship preliminary to a B2B sale easy.That, however, will likely change with the recent launch of Google+, the search giant’s latest foray into social media. Indeed, I strongly believe Google+ has the potential to transform the way B2B companies engage online.The business platform for Google+ is not expected to launch for another few months and businesses for the most part have been restricted from posting business profiles. That doesn’t prevent individuals from a company from participating — in fact, that’s a great way to kick the virtual tires of Google+ before the business side goes live.To better understand the potential of Google+ for B2B companies, I recently spoke with two of the savviest B2B social media minds I know about the opportunities for B2B companies on Google+, Aaron Strout Director, Interactive, WCG, and Steve Rubel, X of Edelman. For Strout, "the potential for businesses to use Google+ is unlimited. It really brings the best of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook together. And it should be very business friendly to boot."Google’s secret sauce for Strout is the potential integration of all its products within Google+. "Think of all the tools that Google has provided us (many for free)," he says – "Google Maps, Docs, Analytics, Picassa. Right now those are inherently unsocial. But with Google+, you can now invite people from your network to view, engage and collaborate. That should help businesses become more productive because they can more seamlessly connect the dots."Rubel is placing his bets on Google+ hangouts and the role they can play in corporate communications.Hangouts will allow companies to create robust thought leadership programs that either are broadcast far and wide or just shared with a small, engaged group, Rubel says."The technology is nascent right now. But once it gets going it will be a terrific complement to other services like Slideshare and YouTube. The key difference maker, however, are Circles and how these can be constructed to build optimal relationships." Circles are Google+’s way to effortlessly follow, target and engage people. Rubel provides an example of what makes hangouts so powerful.Last month I hosted a "Hang 10" hangout with Mike Elgan (a tech reporter and Google+ maven). We rotated people in and out of the room - 10 at a time or so - to give people a chance to ask Mike questions. One of our attendees was a YouTube video partner. He was able to instantly broadcast out the Hangout on YouTube Live - which exposed the content to a much broader audience. That experience was truly an eye opener, yet rare right now.Listen to Rubel’s analogy of hangouts as a match and you’ll get a sense of his enthusiasm."Google+ is a social network that sits on top of charcoal - the GMail and Google Apps address book -and Hangouts are a match. We at Edelman are excited about the forthcoming business profile launch and in particular the role that Hangouts can play in corporate communications.If you’re still on the Google+ sidelines, or gingerly testing the waters, here’s some advice from Strout to get you ready for the advent of the business platform:• Pay close attention to publications like Fastcompany (they have a great Twitter feed btw) to see when Google + officially opens up for businesses to join• While they wait, keep a close eye on what Ford Motor Company is doing on Google+. (Ford has a test account on the site). While Ford is neither B2B nor small, the company is good at innovating and understanding how to best use new social media channels.• The day Google+ does open up, be sure to claim your business/name so that you don't get boxed out down the road (remember when people didn't think Twitter would stick in 2006? And now many businesses are having to choose clunky Twitter handles because someone else got the good ones)• Keep a close eye on other small businesses (particularly in your industry) that take the plunge early. Take notes on what they are doing well/not so well and use those to formulate your plan.• When you are ready, either hire a person (or consultant or agency) to help you manage Google+. If you already have someone on staff that does Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, etc. you can consider asking them to take this on but make sure it doesn't add too much to their plate. Managing a social media channel correctly takes time.For a totally unscientific look at Google+, I’m taking a poll on LinkedIn on "Whether Google+ will eventually overtake Twitter." While it’s a close race, so far Twitter has the lead, by a hair, 18 to 16 with 7 saying they’ll be just as popular. Click here to take my poll.And love to hear your thoughts about Google+. How are you using it?
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