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Facebook for B2B? Absolutely.

Not even the most entrenched Luddite in corporate America still questions the value of social networks for reaching the consumer market. How and what may still be up for debate, but it is no longer a question of if, merely when. Even small and local businesses are experimenting with Facebook and Twitter; the ubiquitous F and T are now found on even the smallest websites.

Business-to-business marketers, on the other hand, are still wondering whether consumer social networks like Facebook and Twitter have any place in the marketing plan.

B2B marketing generally organizes on vertical lines — even when products are horizontal. It’s just easier to understand and engage the customer when things are organized on the simple commonality of industry. As a result, it’s not that hard to make the leap to using social media tools within the company online presence by adding things like blogs, forums and wikis to the website. The B2B marketer gets the value of increasing customer engagement and loyalty.

Broad consumer social networks though? It’s not as easy to see how these might be useful in the business-to-business marketing context beyond personal connections and networking. That’s in part why the B2B answer to social networking is often “We are all on LinkedIn (or Twitter)”

In my opinion, B2B marketers should take a second (or third look) at Facebook as an element of their marketing plan. Here are a few reasons.

Go where the fish are
According to Facebook, the network has 300 million active users. About 50 percent of whom log in every day. Odds are that some — many — of your customers, prospects and other stakeholders are using Facebook. Perhaps not in a business context, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in following your company news on Facebook. This is particularly true if your firm is a significant employer in a community or particularly active in an issue or cause. Your stakeholder is already “there” and the Facebook platform makes it easy to share the information with others.

Facebook Connect
Facebook Connect lets you use Facebook user credentials for secure areas on your site. One less password for the customer to remember. You can also allow the user to share back content on your site with his Facebook friends, exposing your material to the user’s friend base. Granted, Facebook isn’t the best place to share detailed product information and other material that just won’t be interesting to a broad base of consumers, but social initiatives, corporate materials, employee/community relations information. Why not Facebook?

Facebook Fan Page and Fan Box
You can use the Fan Box to display your Facebook Page activity on your website. This adds a dynamic social element missing on most B2B websites, which often resemble nothing so much as a corporate brochure.

Am I suggesting that every B2B marketer go out and set up a Facebook Fan Page? Not at all. But you should definitely do a little digging:

  • Are your customers on Facebook? Your competitors?
  • Are people discussing your products, your company, your issues, your competitors on Facebook?
  • Is your product a horizontal offering? Does it have both consumer and B2B applications?
  • Is your company a major employer in the community?
  • Does your company support a major charity or issue of interest to the community at large?

If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, and you have or can create shareable content that lends itself well to the Facebook format, you may want to consider adding a Facebook Fan Page to your marketing mix.

Ignore Facebook at Your Peril

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

I’d thought of Facebook as a fun, entertaining time-waster, which would distract me from work I should be doing to take quizzes on what’s my favorite breakfast cereal or what kind of “Mad Men” character I would be. But I became impressed by the power of social media on June 25, the day Michael Jackson died.

On my Facebook News Feed popped up one post from a friend with a link to a report on the gossip site TMZ.com that Jackson was dead. Soon I was clicking my mouse with one hand and the TV remote with the other looking for confirmation. Mainstream media like CNN and MSNBC weren’t reporting he was dead; the only other Web sites reporting his death only cited the TMZ.com report. My News Feed soon filled with messages from others trading information on Jackson. It was like people gathering around radio sets when Pearl Harbor was bombed or around TVs when President Kennedy was assassinated. Only it was interactive.

I’d also heard that the initial reports of that airliner that splashed down in the Hudson River Jan. 15 came from Twitter.

So, the value of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms is clear; they can be a powerful way of disseminating information and, where a business is concerned, managing it.

My e-mail inbox is regularly filled with invitations to online webinars or real world seminars on marketing and PR via social networking. For instance, the Web site Mediabistro.com, which follows media news and offers professional training, invites people to view a panel discussion, “Social Media Essentials for PR.”

There is also evidence that embracing social media can help head off PR crises. The Wall Street Journal, in an Aug. 3 article titled “For Companies, a Tweet in Time Can Avert PR Mess,” recounts how three major companies – Ford Motor, PepsiCo and Southwest Airlines, averted PR problems by responding quickly on Twitter.

In the Ford case, the auto maker was being criticized online for forcing a fan Web site – TheRangerStation.com, dedicated to its compact Ranger pickup – to close. Ford’s director of social media, Scott Monty, immediately posted a Twitter message that he was looking into the matter, the Journal reported. He learned that Ford lawyers believed the site was selling counterfeit Ford parts bearing the company’s famous blue oval logo. Monty got the lawyers to back off forcing the site down if the site agreed to stop selling the fake parts. Problem solved.

And you don’t have to be a giant public company to use social media strategically. The New York Times reported July 29 on “Managing an Online Reputation” about how small businesses can set up Google Alerts to send them a message each time their company is mentioned in blogs or other Web sites.

To track Twitter mentions of the business, the Times story mentions TweetDeck, Twendz or Twitter’s own search function as resources.

While social media are still growing and evolving, their value is becoming clear, so scouring Facebook and Twitter may not be a time waster after all, but time well spent.