Social media has been a boon for consumer facing brands like Whole Foods, Starbucks, Zappos, and more. Afterall, it’s not a stretch to assume that some of the customers who get great products or service from these brands will post their positive experiences to Facebook or Twitter.
But what about business to business (B2B) companies — is there a place for social media in their marketing mix? Will buyers of industrial equipment actually take time to upload pictures of that new grapple grommet, for example? Is it possible to use social media to build excitement around a brand that’s products and services are not necessarily top of mind with the general public?
We spoke with Corinne Kovalsky, Director of Digital & Social Media for defense contractor Raytheon — a well-known company within the sphere of the military, government, and defense sectors — about how the typically consumer-focused marketing platform of social media can be used by a specialized, B2B company like hers. In the case of Raytheon, its target audience is largely government employees, politicians, political insiders, and so on. One might think that such an audience might not be that active on social media, or would be a hard audience to reach and engage with on platforms like Twitter or Facebook.
In this Q&A session, you’ll discover that whether you’re selling frappuccinos or missile guidance systems, the basic principles of effective social media marketing are the same: find, connect and engage with your target audience “where they live” in order to build awareness, interest, and loyalty around your brand. Take a closer look at this fascinating company, and its equally impressive social media strategy to gain insights into how you can use social media effectively, no matter what business you’re in or what target audience you’re trying to reach.
Defining And Reaching Your Target Market on Social Media
R: (Raytheon): Raytheon is a company with 15,000 contracts and 8,000 programs. We do business in 80 countries around the world, so our customer set is vast. If you are talking about the U.S. market, the Department of Defense is our biggest customer, but we also do extensive business with government agencies and other types of businesses.
In terms of social media, we use it to educate and inform key audiences, including [Washington, D.C.] Capitol Hill staffers, reporters, employees and prospective employees, investors, members of the local communities where we operate, and influencers in the D.C. area.
SI: How did you decide that social media might be a good fit to reach your target audience?
R: Digital and social media are the newest channels in integrated or “surround sound” marketing. You need to reach people where they spend their time, and we’ve seen research that suggests the people we want to reach are using social media to source and share information about brands. We want to be part of the conversation!
Develop a Content Strategy That’s Relevant to Your Audience
SI: What kind of content do you post to your social media sites? Do you apply different tactics, strategies and content on Twitter than you do on Facebook? Are you on other platforms as well?
R: We run an internal news organization overseen by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the Associated Press. Since he’s taken the helm, we produce fewer stories, but they are more newsworthy. Our focus is on a combination of enterprise feature stories that spotlight capabilities and technology interspersed with spot or breaking news about contract wins and tests.
Our social media manager and audience advocate, Stephanie Schierholz, has different strategies and approaches for each of the channels. Under her guidance, we use Twitter to drive our news. Facebook is about sharing photos and multimedia, and LinkedIn is all about recruitment and retention. We are also experimenting with Google+.
SI: Have there been unique challenges, opportunities, or even interesting anecdotal experiences marketing specialized defense products and services on social media?
R: Because of the nature of what we do, we must have a strong partnership with IT security. We also need to be careful about the amount of information we share. We work closely with our military customers to ensure they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.
In terms of anecdotes, we love engaging with the troops who use our products and rely on our capabilities. Social media creates an intimacy between the brand and the user, and we welcome the opportunity to talk with people who count on what we do to help keep them safe. We have also invited some of our fans to in-person events and seen a deeper understanding of what we do as well as higher engagement, as a result of getting out from behind our avatar.
SI: How many people are on your social media management team? Do you use any social media management tools to help you deal with your platforms?
R: We’re a small, but mighty team of between eight to 10 people. We do use social media monitoring, management and measurement tools.
Recommendations to Achieve a Positive ROI
SI: What has been the response/results of your social media efforts?
R: The sales cycle is long when it comes to aerospace and defense technology, so it’s hard to point to any one factor as being the reason that a sale was made. That being said, our work in social media, like our work in all of our communications channels, is about sharing what Raytheon stands for and how we’re different.
We want to help you better understand our brand and lay the groundwork for you to learn more if you are interested. We’ve seen evidence that our approach is working. Our social media followers and fans, some of whom are our customers, tend to be among the most engaged in our peer group.
SI: What advice would you give to other B2B companies thinking about using social media in their marketing mix?
R: We would actually characterize ourselves as “B2G” (Business to Government). Social media makes sense for us, because we want to be part of the conversation about our company that’s taking place on social media channels. We’re proud of our people, our technology and our commitment to our customers, many of whom rely on our equipment while they are in harm’s way. We want to share those stories with fans and followers to educate them about Raytheon and what we do.
Do your homework before you start a social media program. We did. We conducted a very thorough eight-month research project that looked at how our peer group, our customers and best practice companies were using digital and social. When you work for a company of engineers, you can’t just express an opinion. You need the data to back you up, especially if your company is conservative and/or risk averse.
It’s okay to lead your leaders, but don’t get so far out in front of them that you become disconnected. Find a champion or two in senior management to help embed and spread the program throughout the organization. We’re very fortunate that our chairman and CEO and our chief communications officer are advocates. I honestly believe that without their leadership and support, we would not have been able to move out as much as we have in such a short period of time.
Special thanks to David Desilets, Corinne Kovalsky, and the entire Raytheon Company team for providing their insights and expertise for this article.
[Image credit: Raytheon (FB)]