Are Facebook or LinkedIn pages more effective for B2B suppliers?

Widget.co.uk’s Mark Needham examines social media as a tool for the B2B sector


Like many business owners, I’ve been wondering how I can use Facebook and LinkedIn to achieve real benefits, as a business to business supplier. I understand how Facebook can help consumer brands interact directly with the public, gain feedback and attract new customers – but my business sells only to other businesses.

In fact, we sell exclusively to retailers and resellers, who sell the brands we supply on to the public. Of course, the companies we sell to employ individuals. We sell to people within retail organisations, and any way in which we can develop our relationships with them has to be a good thing.

Facebook

So I started with Facebook – since we already had a group for past and present staff members. I created a ‘page’ and persuaded about 20 people to migrate from the old group format to the new page. Everyone who liked our Facebook page became a follower and then any content which I add to our page pops up in their news stream.

These 20 followers were enough for Facebook to decide it was worth giving my business’s page its own URL. This in turn made it easier to promote the new page to friends, business contacts and through our monthly emails to customers. Our number of followers built steadily, to 101 at the time of writing. However, the stories we publish on the page get up to 300 views.

Since many employees are followers, the page has proved a useful way of disseminating information within the company. But, beyond employees and personal friends of the staff and management, our Facebook page has not appealed to many professional contacts. After all the security scares, data on Facebook is fairly well locked down, so unless a name is personally known to me, it is actually hard to find out why our followers followed.

For most of our followers, I can only see their names, photos and – if I am lucky – a few basic facts about where they live. From those facts, it seems that many are students from developing countries who thought it would be a laugh to follow a UK distributor. Sometimes we get two or three joining from the same university on a Friday night. (Presumably when the college bar closes, they head back to their dorm, and get out the laptop.)

One of them, who followed recently, listed his occupation as being manager of Liverpool FC. In your dreams, son! Yet even these jokers seem to help. Facebook clearly has algorithms working out which is an up-and-coming webpage, and this attention seems to promote our importance to our real followers, as the random followers add to our numbers.

LinkedIn

As part of last month’s Internet Week Europe, I went to a seminar on the marketing benefits of LinkedIn. While LinkedIn made its name as a home for headhunters, it is now keen to plug the benefit of its company pages. Unlike Facebook, where you have to create a page, if you have more than a few staff members on LinkedIn, you will find that LinkedIn has already created a company page for you.

To my surprise I found that my business’s page already had 80 followers, and – unlike Facebook – I was able to look at those individuals’ full profiles. While there were still a few spammers buried at the bottom of page eight, I was pleased to find that in general these followers were more ‘on-message’ than our non-staff Facebook followers.

Looking at the company pages of other distributors, it is clear that our competitors are slowly working out what to do with their LinkedIn pages too – but only very slowly. The largest distributors in the UK have provided some basic company information, but otherwise are still viewing LinkedIn as a recruitment platform. One mid-sized firm has listed a number of the services it provides, but I wonder if – like me – whoever has put their page together has found the editing tools really difficult to use. As far as I can make out, once you create a service, it is impossible to re-edit or delete it.

The best distributor page I have found on LinkedIn is a distributor of hand-held data-reading products from York. Twenty-eight of its employees are on LinkedIn – which must be nearly all of them – and their products page lists the principal product groups they distribute, along with email address of the salesperson responsible for that range. The owner of the company assures me that it is all done in-house, by his marketing department.

The email links to the salespeople are a particular sign of genius. Proving that any marketing activity has a direct impact on sales is always difficult, and even with these links, I would imagine that it is hard for the firm to connect a sale triggered by an email to activity on LinkedIn. However this is a start, and something I intend to emulate on my own business’s LinkedIn page.

Many sales people – my own sales director included – believe that real sales only come from a proactive sales force getting in contact with their customers, and that using Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn is not real work. While we are still a way off the first major sale which can be directly attributed to social media activity – and I would not for a moment discourage our sales force from getting out there and selling stuff – I hope that soon when they get through to a customer, that customer might say something along the lines of, ‘Oh, yes, I’ve heard about that on LinkedIn.’

Mark Needham is the founder and chairman of Widget.co.uk, a specialist B2B distributor of consumer electronic goods

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