What good examples are there of connecting with business and trade organisations using social media?

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Matt from the Environment Agency asks:

I’ve just tried to think of successful social media campaigns aimed only at business/trade and I can’t think of any – any help appreciated.

Well, they’re certainly a whole lot harder to find than those aimed at consumers.

Three years ago, in a former job, I commissioned a bit of fairly solid quantitative research looking at how businesses were (then) using social media, and the barriers and opportunities they saw. The results weren’t terribly encouraging, though there was a clear pattern of those who had tried using a bit of social media being more enthusiastic about its potential.

Here’s one of the interesting patterns we found:Business v personal use of social media

My hunch would be that in 2012, there’s still a gap of fairly significant proportions between the uses of social media for personal benefit (chatting to friends, following celebrities and hobbies, getting recommendations for hotels and holidays) and for business benefit – sometimes because the tools are blocked from behind corporate firewalls, frowned upon by corporate policies, or simply seen as a leisure pursuit, not a professional tool.

Most businesses, like most government organisations, haven’t quite figured out yet who is entitled to speak on their behalf online – and of course, organisations don’t tweet, people do.┬áSo engaging online with people in businesses is a tough challenge.

Still, there are a few good examples on this site and elsewhere:

  • UK Trade & Investment has, for a while now, run a successful LinkedIn Group for businesses interested in exporting. It’s an ideal topic for LinkedIn, which has more than its fair share of opinionated, tech-savvy entrepreneurs and is something where peer support is as valuable as official guidance
  • LinkedIn has also been used as a platform for ministerial engagement: perhaps because people are commenting using their real names (as in Facebook), linked to their CVs, the discussions there are often grown up and sensible – if a bit self-serving – so it’s a viable place for senior politicians and officials to ask for feedback and ideas
  • A popular kind of digital engagement with business in recent years has been around trying to get businesses to diagnose problems with regulation and legislation – it started under the last government with the Better Regulation Executive’s online service, and became a higher profile campaign under the Red Tape Challenge and follow-up Focus on Enforcement initiatives. Both have had some success by being targetted and thematic in their approach
  • There’s also a strand of work around presenting and promoting ‘learning’ type content through social media, such as HMRC webinars on various topics and FCO in India’s on opportunities within that market. The content can be a little dry, but it’s a serious audience and potentially valuable, expert advice on offer

If there are some lessons (or more accurately, hypotheses) to draw from these examples, they might be that:

  • Many entrepreneurs are enthusiastic networkers, and social media is a good place to harness some of that appetite (and sometimes, moderate it)
  • Business owners get frustrated and are willing to help share and talk about what they would do differently
  • Business owners have specific questions and challenges they need to deal with – like getting in export, taking on staff, understanding VAT etc – and respond to good, grown-up content when it’s made available to them
  • People within larger businesses have some of the same challenges as civil servants in accessing social media, seeing the relevance of it to their professional work, and making time to do it well – there’s an education job to be done
  • Businesses are people too

If you’ve got any good examples of business engagement online, link ’em up in the comments!

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