We are a small startup from Germany. As exploreB2B is an online-platform for B2B communication, a major part of our marketing efforts need to take place online. One of the first things we did after we secured the financial backing for the project was to look for experienced employees in online and social media marketing. Surprisingly, that was when things started to get difficult. We had the slightly naive notion that if we paid good money, we would get the knowledge and experience we needed.
With a significant budget planned for hiring someone for this position, the problem turned out to be more complicated than just being able to pay for someone with the much-needed experience. For us, the difficulty started with identifying the necessary skills a person would have posses to market our B2B platform. Here is a story about how we headed in the wrong direction, what we learned, and how – in the end – we succeeded and found exactly the person we needed.
It is hard to find someone with experience in B2B social media, thus our first choice was to hire someone with experience in social media for a B2C company. That was the first faulty assumption: B2C is not with B2B, especially in social media. Decision processes in B2B and B2C differ greatly. Whereas potential clients can be acquired in B2C via triggering gut decisions with advertisements and slogan campaigns, B2B professionals spend a lot of time gathering information and recommendations, talking to people and building trust in someone’s expertise before deciding to work together.
Nonetheless, we assumed getting a person with at least some social media marketing experience could not be the worst thing. We should be able to build on it and the experience should give us a head start, as the person would already know how social networks work.
Then came the differences in opinion and personality. One day, when we were talking to our newly hired employee, the mentioned person told us the following: “I do not have to learn, I am already an expert in social media for __ years.”
This basically said it all. Whenever someone tells you he or she knows everything there is to know about social media, this person illustrates they do not grasp a fundamental aspect of social media – its constant evolution and changing practices. Social media is new, hip and developing. There are new platforms becoming popular every few weeks, while others lose users and traffic. Myspace used to be the largest player in the game–how active is your Myspace account? New marketing concepts and strategies, viral campaigns, and innovative ideas for how to use social media appear almost every day.
My belief is that someone who is not willing to learn new things all the time should not work in a startup environment. For social media and online marketing, I recommend moving on from any employee with this attitude. That is what we did.
So our search went on. The next short interlude came to us by recommendation. She was young, smart and experienced in B2B. She wasquickly hired by another startup on the day she should have come in to sign her contract. She basically got an offer she could not refuse. Sad lesson: keep your employees happy; there are other startups and companies out there looking for great people.
By that time our company had grown from a strictly German startup into an international one, with an English speaking audience. We broadened our search and started to look at foreigners’ applications. Luckily, we are located in Berlin, Germany’s capital with a populous startup community, in which talented international people flock for employment and the opportunity to contribute to the innovative startup community. (Just keep in mind: if you ever consider building a startup in Germany, we Germans are a bunch of bureaucrats making life hard for startups.)
After our experience with ‘experienced social media managers,’ we decided to try someone young and fresh. This started really well, eager to learn, trying to figure out how the different networks and platforms work and how we, for our B2B purposes, could make the best use of them. We thought we had hit the jackpot. Then one problem arose, which we did not foresee: in social media you often do not get instant feedback, results or measurable ROI and pushing it’s limits will turn the community against you. Most people like to get instant results – but the hard truth is, in social media sometimes you have to work hard for a very long time before you can really see the improvements. Just shouting louder, more often and more persistent gives you a bad reputation and works in the wrong direction.
We realized that the third person we employed lacked the patience, endurance and the ability or willingness to listen that were needed to build our reputation and following within existing social media outlets. We had to stop this before it caused serious damage to our social media accounts.
While we desperately needed an employee to take the weight from our shoulders and to help us with marketing and social media activities, giving us more time to complete our other executive tasks, we were still (of course) active within social media ourselves. While hiring someone for this job makes a lot of sense, as founder and executive in a startup, you also need to be involved with any marketing processes at hand. By this time, we had access to our own experience that we had assembled over time. We had an overview of what worked for us what did not.
At this time, we knew more about what we really needed in social media: someone with strong communication skills, able to get a feeling for the people and processes in the different networks. Someone curious and willing to tap into new networks, poke around and figure out how they work and if and how we could use these platforms for our own marketing purposes.
We ended up with a writer – and it was one of the best decisions we made in our entrepreneurial life. Good content is the key to social media success and exploreB2B is a platform based on written content. Combine great writing ability with communicative skills, a natural feeling for people and people’s personalities and the needed endurance, persistence and curiosity for new outlets, platforms and networks – and add a great personality on top, and you have the perfect social media manager for a B2B startup.
With this new social media manager, her great content creating skills and our experience, we derived a strategy that worked best for us – a strategy that was closest to exploreB2B’s general concept. We now run a content marketing strategy, building our reputation as B2B marketers and facilitators of expert communication. Our individual representations support the reputation of exploreB2B itself: a place to findand produce valuable information and a tool for sharing content with “the masses.”
Go ahead and check out some of our work. You can read one of Erin’s articles here.
Susanna Gebauer is one of the founders of Berlin-based B2B publishing platform, exploreB2B. You can find more information about content marketing, branding and building a reputation as an expert with social media on Susanna’s exploreB2B profile. You can also find Susanna on Twitter.
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