Social media team focuses on proactive marketing and relationship-building
Trish Nettleship, social media lead for business marketing at AT&T, said that the company started to notice that business-to-business customers wanted to engage with the brand on social media. So in 2009, AT&T created her current position and in late 2010, the company introduced an internal ambassador program, encouraging employees to use social media to connect with customers and prospects.
“When you’re talking about a wireless device for B2C, it’s very different than B2B, with an executive who is making a decision about their company and what wireless device purchase they are going to make,” Nettleship said. “The opportunity to engage much earlier in that awareness phase influences the executive during that buying decision, the buying lifecycle.”
AT&T wanted to have more one-on-one relationships specifically with its B2B clients, connecting with its customers—and its potential customers—to share their expertise, answer questions and inform them about new products or services.
Nettleship said these customers were doing research and learning more about products and services earlier in the buying process, when they may not be ready to purchase. In response, AT&T had to adopt an approach that was geared more toward branding and thought leadership in its social media outreach.
As a way to engage more with customers and potential customers, AT&T launched an internal ambassador program to get its employees out and interacting with customers on social media.
In December 2010, a group of employees and AT&T soft-launched the Networking Exchange Blog to foster discussions with business leaders on technology innovations. In February, the company started promoting the blog and encouraging its participants to use their own Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to connect with customers. In July, AT&T launched the Networking Leaders Academy, an education program to improve the social media skills of its internal “experts.”
AT&T used its official accounts to promote the employees’ posts and discussions. Nettleship also worked with the legal team to get quicker review processes in place for its social media outreach, and included training on ethics, Federal Trade Commission guidelines and disclosure in the educational process.
“It’s really about getting the right group of folks blogging and engaging customers via social, as opposed to having a huge group. It’s a more targeted, more focused approach.”
—Trish Nettleship, social media lead for business marketing at AT&T
Nettleship said the company focused on thought leadership around new technologies, mentioning one example around cloud technology. Many customers wanted more information about this new technology, but weren’t at the stage to purchase anything related just yet. AT&T was there, she said, to connect with them about the technology, but not specifically to promote any products.
“When we think about the cloud, there are a lot of conversations happening, but the understanding is probably not there for a lot of our customers and other businesses,” Nettleship explained. “The idea is to build that thought leadership and engage customers earlier in the research process, as they’re starting to learn about these technologies and how they are going to help their business.”
Traffic to the Networking Exchange Blog from July to October was up 50% compared to the five months prior, February to June. Blog comments and social shares also rose.
“Our measurements are all aligned to our business objectives,” Nettleship said. “This shortens the buying cycle and, when they get to that point, hopefully AT&T is in the consideration set. We’ll begin to measure those things as we move forward, but now, we’re measuring around shares, page views, comments and if people are coming back.”
AT&T saw how connecting with customers earlier in the buying process proved successful, Nettleship said.
“The B2B buying lifecycle is much longer, typically, than a B2C buying lifecycle,” Nettleship said. “Social, and that peer-to-peer sharing, is a great way to engage with customers earlier on. Then, by the time they get to building that consideration set of vendors, they think of you as a considered vendor.”
She added that the evolution the company undertook related to social media demonstrated how a larger company can change the culture and become more social overall.
AT&T plans to build out its Networking Leaders Academy program, educating its employees and encouraging them to go on social networks.
“We’re really focused on building that broader employee education base program for social,” Nettleship said, adding that she would like to engage more third-party, external advocates for the brand as well, extending AT&T’s social footprint to the tech and communications space.
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