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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A different kind of audience

A quick note:

First, thank you to those of you who commented on my Martin Luther King entry.  Please note that neither the King entry, or the Haiti entry was designed to minimize the achievements of a great man, or lessen the impact of the tragedy taking place in Port Au Prince. 

When I first started working in news, I had a news director tell me once, after a particularly disasterous day, that every event is a learning experience.  I believed it then, I believe it now.  For small business owners and non-profits, learning lessons is always best when it doesn't impact the bottom line.  By being able to look at what is happening in Haiti from a distance, or by looking at the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the distance of time, we can learn some valuable lessons hard-earned by other people. 

Careful study of past and present events only serves to make us wiser and smarter, whether it's in life, or as a small business owner or non-profit director.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's get to topic at hand, shall we?

Business to Business:




So far, I've spent an awful lot of time focusing on how small businesses and non-profits can reach out to potential customers and shareholders.  But what if your business doesn't often deal face to face with customers?  What if you're most important business partners are other businesses?  Do the rules of public relations and social media still apply? 

In short, they do.  The biggest difference between the two is the audience, and hence, the media outlets you target.  For most of your public relations and social media efforts you will be targeting outlets that do one of two things; cater to the largest possible audience, or cater to a select, focused audience that will find your product or service appealing.  In this way, you're doing pretty much the same thing when targeting other businesses with your social media and public relations efforts.

From a traditional media public relations standpoint, reaching out to other businesses is fairly simple.  You will still stay true to your message, create your story and pitch that story to producers, editors and reporters.  The major difference will be the outlets themselves.  Instead of pitching your story to outlets such as The Denver Post, KOA radio, Channel 9 News (for the locals reading) or NBC, New York Times and NPR, you'll be pitching your story to a much more focused media. 

Business for Breakfast, The Denver Business Journal (again for locals), MSNBC, Entrepreneur Magazine; all will be at the top of your pitch for business to business coverage.  You don't have to drastically change your pitch for these outlets, just keep in mind their audience.  Instead of pitching a story that appeals to general mass public, pitch stories that interest other business owners.

How does your product or service save them time and money?  How can you help them with staffing issues?  Accounting issues?  Governmental red tape?  These are questions you probably ask yourself all the time, so it stands to reason other small business owners are wondering the same things and looking for solutions. 

It's when we get to the realm of social media and online media that things start to get a little trickier in regards to business to business outreach.

Social Media Impact:

We KNOW, for a fact, that social media is successfull in reaching the masses, generating interest and creating buzz.  The question really is; how much is social media impacting business to business interaction?  Short answer...we just don't know right now.  Certainly there is an active business to business environment online.  But how much does it truly impact the bottom line of small businesses?  It's really too early to tell.  Business analysts agree that social media is impacting small businesses, in mostly a positive way, but how much is still a mystery.

One thing can be assumed, however.  As social media continues to grow and we learn how to use it more effectively, it will continue to have a growing positive impact on profits for small businesses.  Already there are a multitude of online e-zines, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts and sites dedicated specifically to business to business ventures and interaction.  And more are sure to follow.

You can pitch your stories to many of these already existing sites in the effort to get your message out before a focused audience.  But what about sites such as Twitter, Digg, Meetup, Facebook and other social media sites that seem more designed to reach the general masses than specific business entities?

Segmentation:

One of the wonderful, and scary, things about the internet environment is its swift changing nature.  It didn't take long before specialization started to emerge.  Like the segmentation experienced by broadcast entities when digital began to take hold, social media underwent the same kind of change structural change almost immediately.

Groups pages, specialized Facebook sites (such at Petbook and Catbook) began to take hold.  Special group segments on Flickr and and focused search tools for Digg and Google have long been in place.  Even Twitter has group Twitter tools small businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profits can use. 

The point is, social media is just as segmented as most other media these days.  The trick is finding the right groups to become a part of and start being active in those groups.  In many ways, it's similar to the brick and mortar world of business that most of you operate in every day.  Chambers of Commerce around the country now can be accessed through most social media sites.  The same goes for many of the other "traditional" business groups you've probably been associated with, or worked with in the past. 

What is different today is that instead of meeting once a month at a meet n greet, you have access to all the members daily through social media tools.  You can interact with them constantly if you wish, instead of just intermittently.  Use this to your advantage.  You don't have to suddenly abandon the proven business groups you have been involved with over the years.  Instead, use social media to enhance those group interactions.  If a business group you belong to doesn't have social media access, take the initiative and start a Facebook page or Meetup group.  You'll find that not only will the current members likely become more active, but you'll begin attracting new members and potentially breath new life into your group.

Perhaps you won't be able to motivate a flash mob, or create a viral video that will spread like wildfire among fellow business owners, but you don't have to.  Your target is much more focused.  You don't need to dazzle with silly videos or with trumped up online gimmicks.  In some ways your job is easier online with fellow businesses because you already speak the same language.  You already have one important thing in common, and that is your business experience.  Social media simply will allow you to speak that language to more fellow owners at one time than ever before.

Here are some tips to using social media for B2B outreach:

1.  Target your audience - Just as in general social media and pr outreach, your audience matters.  You need to make sure that your message is reaching the right individuals.

2.  Target the correct media - This includes online media and traditional media.  Make sure you're pitching your story to the right online publications if you're looking for business specific story coverage.

3.  Find your niche - Search the social media tools that you use regularly.  Find the segments within those tools that focus specifically on other businesses.  These can be groups, meetups, twitter pages, separate websites, anything that speaks directly to your audience.

4.  Institute social media in existing groups - Social media can help an existing business group grow and help you stay in contact with other businesses that might be beneficial to you.

5.  Look for potential business partners/clients in unique places - One of the great things about social media is that like minds can gather virtually whenever they want.  If your small business does a lot of work with specific charities or regularly participates in or sponsors an event, you might find that other small businesses do the same.  You can find potential business everywhere.  Use social media tools to join groups dedicated to the kinds of charities or events you actively participate in and make sure others know who you are and what you do.  You might find other businesses involved in the same activities and relationships could grow from there.

Non-profits benefit, too:

Non-profits aren't excluded from this conversation either.  Obviously, individual donors are the lifeblood of most non-profits.  But there are a multitude of businesses that are run by owners who believe in the same causes you do.  Find business groups that believe in the same things you do, or have members who participate in the kinds of events or charities that your organization supports. 

In the end, business is about relationships, and social media is about building relationships.  Running a successfull non-profit is about building relationships as well.  It seems like a natural fit to use social media to help grow the relationships to improve the success of your small business or non-profit. 

And the good news is that the opportunities will continue to grow through 2010 and beyond.  Any small business not utilizing social media in their everyday outreach or in their business to business outreach will likely lose out to those that use it effectively within a very short time.

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