Applied Materials, a b-to-b company that develops manufacturing equipment, semiconductor chips, display screens, and solar panels, hosted its first Reditt conversation in late June, featuring Charlie Gay, president of the company's two-year-old solar business. The online Q&A tied in to its Summer Solstice campaign to roll out its annual solar energy survey.
Today, more and more b-to-b companies are seeking out social media platforms, such as Condé Nast Digital-owned Reditt, as a valuable tool to keep their business partners engaged and elevate corporate reputation.
"We're far up the value chain, so it's our customer's customer who produces the end good, so it's really about mindshare and awareness of the impact Applied Materials has on the tech industry," says Matt Ceniceros, global media relations director at Applied, about its use of social media for b-to-b communications.
The "Ask Me Anything" session with Gay drew 985 comments and 2,319 "up votes" with 63% approval, subsequently increasing Tweet mentions and visits to the company's blog.
Applied Materials first entered the social space through a blog in 2009 to create buzz and explain to customers why it was entering the solar industry, says Ceniceros. Today, the company has a strong footprint for all its b-to-b businesses across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other channels.
"As we were entering the new business, internally there was such a need to get the awareness out," he adds about getting support from upper management. "We worked with legal, our business partners, and key executive management to have their understanding of what we were up to - to let them know there was a plan, an editorial calendar, and that there would be consistency within the blog posts."
The rise of the infographic
Besides social media's use in the b-to-b space, corporate communications is also looking heavily into the use of infographics.
Applied Materials' Ceniceros says a lot of major publications are hiring infographic editors and the company hopes to make a greater push moving forward. The Huffington Post, for example, hired a full-time infographic design editor in March.
"An infographic is not necessarily a traditional media pitch," he adds. "It's a different mindset. How do you tell a story through graphics? What makes for an interesting graphic? The business side loves the infographic because that's marketing and sales ammo, as well as another reason to strike up a conversation with a customer."
Michael Brito, SVP of social business planning at Edelman, who works with clients such as AMD and Adobe on similar initiatives, says b-to-bs are not just simply engaging in social media, but are now using it to solve business problems and find influencers, which is seeing an increased buy-in at the C-suite level.
"A lot of b-to-b companies are creating their own communities," he adds. "They are inviting customers and partners to these communities - and they are actually solving problems. They're having discussions about their software or hardware and getting real-time insights and feedback. They are doing more than just listening. They are taking the collective intellect of the community and innovating their products and changing business processes."
When Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate launched three years ago, CEO Sherry Chris says it hooked into social media at the start, allowing for greater communication with their franchisee and real-estate agent audience, prior to rolling out its consumer strategy. The company's network is comprised of approximately 7,000 agents in 22 states.
"Many CEOs might not want to personally tweet or be active on Facebook," she adds. "They'll need to take advantage of the next level and have a strong social media plan in place because it's not going away. It will only get bigger and become more strategic in time. It's the type of thing where getting in early allows you to have a distinct advantage."
Today, the real-estate company has a b-to-b presence across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and a corporate blog - all of which have become key marketing tools, Chris says.
"It's a way to show potential franchisees and agents you understand new media, are a next- generation brand, and understand how to communicate with the next generation of consumers, brokers, and agents," she explains. "You use it to market yourself, communicate, collaborate with people, and tell your story."