Imagine if a stand-up comic, trying to promote him or herself tweeted: “I’m really funny. Follow me”. It doesn’t work does it. For social self-promotion to work for a comic they have to tell jokes. They have to perform, on-line, for free! If they are funny, people will retweet and they’ll grow their audience, and they’ll get more retweets and more followers and, if they work hard at it they’ll sell out venues because they’ll have built up a huge on-line audience that they can market to. That’s how twitter works and there’s a lesson in this for all of us. It’s part of the answer to the question – “What can twitter do for me?”

Purchasing Insight logoThere are those who operate in the B2B world that still believe social media is not relevant to them. Professional selling – or buying for that matter – is too different from the entertainment industry where the twitterati seems to thrive. But despite the difference it’s still all about influence.

In the past, the dominant medium of influence was print. Vendors would advertise in trade journals that buyers would read. They’d pay their dues to the analyst community that would assess the market and rank suppliers in quadrants and curves. And while these things are still relevant today, it is much more likely that buyers analyze their market through the internet. Today’s marketing challenge for vendors is exactly the same as the challenge for the stand-up comic – how to get your voice heard amongst the voices of their competitors – and the way to meet the challenge is the same too.

Writing blogs that claim your leadership, tweeting that your products are great, asking customers to “like” you on facebook or follow you or join your linkedin group – it’s all pointless. Just like the comic, you can’t just say you’re awesome, you have to be awesome.

What is awesome? Actually, it’s easier to answer the question what isn’t awesome. Awesome isn’t patronizing advertorial content. Awesome isn’t a press release that starts by claiming you’re the number one in whatever. Why should anyone believe that? Because you said it? That PR boilerplate you’re using was invented in another century when the internet didn’t exist.

Being awesome in today’s social media driven B2B world is about demonstrating to potential customers what you’re really good at by being really good at it. You need to give away your best stuff – the stuff you used to sell – and think of alternative revenue models. Bands used to tour to promote their albums. Now they give their albums away to promote the tour.

No one believes claims of awesomeness anymore. It’s like Margaret Thatcher said of power. “Being powerful is like being a lady,” she said, “If you have to tell people you are, you’re not.”

Standing out from the crowd used to be as much about quantity as it was a about quality – about making the most noise – more ads, bigger ads, more trade shows, bigger stands. But standing out using social media is more about quality. It’s about using diverse methods to share thought leadership, it’s about adding value to the market place, walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

This stuff scares many businesses. Giving stuff away seems like commercial suicide. Why be awesome until you’re paid to be awesome? Why tell jokes apart from to a paying audience? Sure, it’s counter intuitive and of course you can’t give everything away but it’s vital for the skeptics to realize that not only is there is a rapidly growing audience of B2B professionals that use social media as their first port of call, within that world, anything less than awesome is invisible.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin