There’s no shortage of online communications firms and counselors encouraging businesses to use social media. And, there’s a long and growing list of social media success stories for B2C (business-to-consumer) companies, particularly those selling consumer products and competitive services. However, the user manual on social media for cleantech, particularly for B2B (business-to-business) firms and start-ups, is still being outlined. To date, no one we’ve seen has broken out of the pack with a strong, winning, replicable social media strategy that helps scales a business by attracting investment or boosts B2B sales.
The search for that strategy has to continue, given media consumption trends that have Americans of almost every demographic segment pouring onto social media sites as a source of information and influence.
About the best cleantech can do right now is keep scouting techniques that work in other, often very different types of businesses, and then experiment with their adoption. We’ve found that some of the most innovative advances in social media techniques are taking place in the nonprofit sector, the “DotOrg” world. That’s why we invited Change.org’s Matt Slutsky to be a guest speaker in our “Communicating Energy” lecture series – to help us act as hunter-gatherers on social media techniques that can be adapted for use by cleantech start-ups and B2B businesses.
Matt made three key points:
First, that social media can be effective in countering misinformation campaigns, such as the dirty energy industry’s current, “full contact” assault on cleantech:
Your [competitors] may invest in millions of dollars of TV and ads…but if you’ve built this framework and this supporter base around your issue, and you can have direct communication with them through social media…in real time call out the lies and say this is why this is not the truth, you can then…empower them to go out to be your communications…[they can] go out and amplify your message for you if you give them the tools…These are [the] soldiers in your army, essentially. They’re able to help you cut through the noise of the other side.
We were particularly struck by the opportunity for cleantech firms in highly competitive, emerging spaces – such as smart meters – to use social media to counter harmful rumors, bad reporting and online buzz, and disinformation spread by competitors.
Second, Matt said he’s found that many DotOrgs waging issue campaigns need to broaden their demographic targets from their narrow “silos.” Organizations – and companies, for that matter – tend to communicate with the most friendly audience segments first. No harm in that. However, they also tend to stay communicating with those most friendly groups and not broaden out to important, the tougher-to-reach groups. The problem is that those friendly groups don’t have “the ability to reach beyond the top-down messaging that they’re hearing” from the company or organization they already support. One silo doesn’t reach into other silos for you. Busy cleantech executives often need additional validators for their technology or business plans, but finding them is hard. After hearing Matt Slutsky’s talk, it struck us that social media, if efficiently deployed, can be a low-cost way to approach discrete groups of people who could be helpful to an individual cleantech business.
Finally, Matt pointed out the importance to DotOrgs of telling their organization’s stories. According to Matt, “It’s so important to put a human face on big issues and to actually boil things down in a way that people can relate to…what you’re trying to do is build a relationship in the same you would sitting across the table from someone or having a beer with them in a bar.”
At Tigercomm, we’ve worked with many cleantech companies that, when they begin publicly communicating successes of their business, need compelling stories to help their news break through the clutter. Our takeaway from Matt’s talk was that social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs – have this innate, powerful ability to tell stories in ways that connect. There are much greater uses to put these tools to for cleantech companies, even B2B firms. It’s the adaptation of those tools that will be the next frontier of communicating cleantech.
Every time we hear someone like Matt Slutsky, we’re struck by the pace of DotOrg advancements in social media techniques, while the adaptation by cleantech B2B and startups is still under development. There’s a big gap, but it’s a gap that has to be closed through constant monitoring of what’s working in other spaces and a willingness to experiment in ours. For now, good DotOrg social media practitioners, like Matt Slutsky, are well worth listening to.