B2B companies have traditionally been laggards in social media, unlike their quick-adopting consumer counterparts. One reason is that B2B doesn’t facilitate the instant easy connections with customers or prospects that B2C can do so well. 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 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, though, and 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 social media minds I know about the opportunities for B2B companies on Google+, Aaron Strout, Director, Interactive, WCG, and Steve Rubel, EVP/Global Strategy and Insights, Edeleman. “The potential for businesses to use Google+ is unlimited,” said Strout. “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),” Rubel said. “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 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,” he says. “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 (hey, why not Fast Company and its Twitter feed?) to see when Google+ officially opens up for businesses to joinWhile you wait, keep a close eye on what Ford Motor Company, which has a test account on the site, is doing on Google+. 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+ opens up to businesses, 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 obvious 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 strategy. When you are ready, either hire a person (or a consultant or agency) to help you manage Google+. If you already have someone on staff who 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, a smaller group saying they’ll be equally important. Click here to take my poll. How are you using Google+? Click here to connect with me and let me know!Wendy Marx, B2B PR and Marketing Specialist, Marx Communications
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