Social media should be a vital component of any company’s marketing strategy, and need not just be the preserve of consumer-facing companies – it can also be a powerful tool for B2B businesses, says Matthew Chapman.
The explosion of social media has created a complex marketplace that can appear difficult to navigate, but there’s no need for it to be daunting – and if a business is B2B, there’s no reason to miss out. It may be harder to spark social media engagement for B2B businesses, but the micro-targeting offered by digital platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, means social media can be an extremely effective tool for cultivating sales leads and promoting thought leadership to provide cut-through in a commoditised market.
Many different agency models offer some form of social media proposition, but they vary greatly. Agency models range from the out-and-out social media specialist to a media or PR agency that bundles social media services into an overall package. In recent years, a hybrid agency model has also emerged: this offers the capabilities of an agency, which are then embedded in-house at the client’s headquarters.
Yet some companies may even find that outsourcing is not necessary at all, because all their social media services can be carried out in-house. In this complicated landscape, how can procurement help determine the best course of action?
Marketing procurement consultant Tina Fegent believes procurement teams play a vital part in helping marketers decide the best option.
“Procurement plays a good role in sitting down with the marketers and understanding what the requirements are,” she says. “They will then start to understand and make their requirements more specific. It is very rare a client starts with X requirement and ends with X.”
The agency search
Different agency models offer contrasting specialisms. For instance, a PR agency that offers social media services would probably be best placed to help a company that places a strong emphasis on crisis management. Even specialist social media agencies will have their own particular strengths.
Lars Silberbauer, the former senior global director of social media and video at Lego, says the social media agencies hired by Lego “each had their own skillsets”.
“Some agencies we had did advertising campaign activation or long-term brand building work, and others we would use for event planning,” he says.
The first place to begin is to consider whether it is worth outsourcing social media at all. Hiring an agency is not for everyone, especially smaller companies. Deciding on whether to in-house or outsource is a process Fegent terms “make versus buy”.
“From a procurement point of view any sourcing process should begin with ‘make versus buy’,” says Fegent, who was recently surprised by a client that had tasked their media agency with social media when the client had the capabilities to do the work in-house.
Fegent believes they were “naïve” because they trained the client how to use their social media operation, and even provided them a “creative studio”.
On average it’s three times as expensive to outsource to an agency, according to Fegent – but this is not to say that there is less value in outsourcing social media, she says.
“You outsource to get their expertise and knowledge,” she explains. “Agencies are probably more strategic, and have access to new technologies. They would know what the latest trends are and what is happening in other markets, such as with TikTok in China.” (Chinese versions of the video-sharing app, Douyin and Kwai, have proved extremely popular. Between them they receive more than 400m daily active users.)
Establishing contracts and metrics
One company that has recently chosen to opt for embedding a social media agency team, known as ‘in-housing’, for its UK operation is food company Intersnack.
Henry Wisdom, group procurement category manager at Intersnack, has hired Dare – the social media arm of the Inside Ideas Group – to run social media from its Slough office.
“We needed to move at pace, which is why I wanted to on-site because it meant I could get a really experienced social media team in house as quickly as possible,” says Wisdom.
Wisdom has eschewed a ‘payment by results’ approach in favour of focusing on ensuring the right strategy is put in place.
“The first year is much more of a strategy phase and for that reason it is more qualitatively reviewed,” says Wisdom. “At the moment I’m not holding them against reach or any other metrics. In the second year I can begin to put in metrics like that.”
Suki Thompson, co-founder at Oystercatchers, a company that connects advertisers with agencies, says social media contracts tend to be based on return on investment, strategy, people and outputs.
“It is a good thing to put into a contract what you are expecting and how you will work together on it,” says Thompson.
However, Silberbauer warns against the potentially “disastrous” consequences of remunerating agencies based on the number of likes or shares.
“On social media, some results can be average and other times you hit the right moment and things go viral and you have amazing results, but you cannot replicate that,” says Silberbauer.
Not to be overlooked is the addition of a clause about out-of-hours work, especially in the event of a crisis management situation, according to Fegent.
Choosing the right platform
Industry commentators agree that key consideration when developing a social media strategy is the target demographic. A B2B brand targeting industry professionals in most instances would be better off using LinkedIn rather than the latest fashionable social media platform such as TikTok.
“You need to figure out where your target demographic is and go after them,” says Silberbauer.
In the first year of its new social media strategy, Wisdom says Intersnack will be running a “test and adjust” phase to “find the right tone of voice and experiment with new ways of working”. This will include determining the best platform to tap into fans of each of its brands. For the most effective results, it is essential any social media partners have an in-depth understanding of the brand and the company’s culture.
“I would recommend having chemistry meetings with agencies and concentrate on the three Cs: culture, capability and chemistry,” says Fegent.
Another key consideration in the procuring of social media services is accessing analytics tools to measure effectiveness. Many agencies will already have access to such tools, but procurement needs to ensure the agencies are transparent about the cost of the tools to the agency. “It could potentially be an area where they could make money,” says Fegent. Indeed, Thompson and Silberbauer agree that throughout the procurement process, transparency is paramount to deliver a fair deal for all parties.
“Procurement works much more sympathetically with marketing now,” says Thompson. “It is not just about the money, but about everyone being treated fairly.”
When all sides are transparent, the previously difficult process of procuring the best social media partner and services can become a straightforward and rewarding process.
The right fit for Lego
The Lego brand often inspires love among its users and it has built up a strong and innovative social media presence to interact with fans. Social media specialists We Are Social and 1000heads have now worked with Lego for a number of years.
They were appointed after a comprehensive hiring process which involved inviting a number of agencies in for a test to demonstrate they had the right capabilities.
The agencies were paid for the test, which was designed to see if there was chemistry between the teams. After the agencies were appointed they were invited to the Denmark headquarters for “brand DNA training” to help them truly understand the Lego brand. According to Silberbauer, procurement’s involvement helped ensure the entire process was run by the book.
“They kept things honest and transparent,” he says. One social media project Silberbauer was particularly proud of was launching a Lego clothing line virtually on Snapchat during London Fashion Week.
“As We Are Social had worked with us for several years they knew exactly what we wanted out of it,” says Silberbauer.
See Can procurement help marketing beyond savings?