B2B or not B2B: That Is No Longer a Social Media Question

Is there a place for social media in business-to-business (B2B) marketing? Up to a year or so ago, it might have been worthwhile pondering that question. Today the question is no longer whether or not. Rather it is how to best utilize social media in B2B marketing. A survey by White Horse finds 86 percent of B2B firms are using or having a presence on social media, compared to 82 percent for business-to-consumer (B2C) firms. They are not as actively engaging in social media activities, however — 45 percent of B2B firms have a basic presence (e.g., a Twitter or Facebook account,and/or a company blog) but no significant marketing activities (day-to-day engagement) on social media, compared to 26 percent of B2C firms. There is still a lack of executive buy-in among B2B firms (one in three B2B firms reports low executive interests, compared to one in eleven B2C firms). While both types of firms cite insufficient personnel to maintain social media activities as the most serious obstacle, B2B firms are several times more likely than B2C firms to prefer traditional marketing methods and to perceive social media as not relevant to their business. Being newcomers to social media, one in three B2B firms is not measuring how successful its social media efforts are, compared to one in ten B2C firms. In brief, B2B marketers are interested and have tiptoed into social media but they are not quite there yet.

The need to utilize social media is just as great for B2B firms as they are for B2C firms.

  1. In the B2B world, professional networking is everything — who you know and who they know form a web of relationships. Online social networks (OSNs) can be excellent tools for connecting with others. They are no longer heavens just for teens and college students. A majority of users on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter comprises of people 35 years of age or older.
    OSN users by age
    Source: “Who use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace”, Paul Kiser’s Blog
  2. B2B marketing is not about lifestyle and personal interests as much as it is about helping customers to get their jobs done better. That means extending to them the B2B firm’s knowledge and expertise in the form of relevant, credible and useful content (e.g., white papers, case studies, product demo videos and webinars). Social media offer B2B marketers new opportunities to aggregate, share and co-create content with customers. Content provides the substance that attracts and engages prospective customers at various touch points. It turns simple network connections into rich social interactions that help build business relationships.
  3. B2B customers are also real people. They increasingly use social media at work and in their daily life, be that reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, staying in touch with friends on Facebook, or uploading presentations  to Slideshare.net. In that regard, the demarcation line between doing business and being a consumer, or that between B2B and B2C, is becoming harder to detect.
  4. Whether in B2B or B2C, listening to what is being talked about the firm and its brands is a must. Marketers are no longer the only one with a megaphone and in a commanding position to control their brand messages. Anyone else can blog, share with their 100+ Facebook friends or create YouTube video about their experience with the firm’s products and services. Letting negative blog posts, comments or videos spreading around without addressing their inaccuracies or customer grievances can be a costly mistake and failing to listen to customer suggestions can mean lost opportunities.

 

Once B2B marketers buy into the idea of utilizing social media, the next and more challenging question is what can B2B marketers do with specific social media tools? There are many tools and covering them all in this blog post would be impractical. Fortunately, Base One offers a relatively comprehensive drawing that depicts the B2B social media landscape. Click on it will lead you to a larger image where the details can be zoomed in and explored.

B2B Social Media Landscape

Just take a quick look at some tools.

  • Among content-centric tools, Slideshare.net is a good place for sharing presentations with information-hungry prospects whose decisions can be influenced by informative content; and do not overlook YouTube for product demo videos. Quite often, the firm may have already produced these presentations and videos; so, all it takes is to sign up with these sites and upload the content. Blogs are well-recognized as a marketing tool but not yet widely used in B2B (only 50 percent of B2B marketers have used blogs, compared to 75 percent having used LinkedIn, according to eMarketer). They are a great way to put a human voice on a cold corporate website. They can be enormously effective — 71 percent of B2B users rate blogs as “very influential” in identifying and defining needs, 74 percent in identifying potential suppliers and 75 percent in final selection of a supplier.
  • Most often overlooked is Wikipedia, which is among the five most visited websites and a main source of knowledge for many prospects. B2B marketers should create, maintain and/or contribute to entries on their firms, products or the underlying technology and business processes.
  • Among the connection-centric tools, LinkedIn — the OSN for professionals — is the most obvious and widely popular with B2B marketers (3 out of 4 having used it). Do not overlook Facebook and Twitter. “[I]f LinkedIn is your business suit and Facebook is business casual, then Twitter is your business social networking cocktail hour, the place where you go to casually and informally interact with potentially thousands of others. Whereas LinkedIn tends to be a more latent form of engagement, Twitter is (or can be) very much in real-time” (Paul Chaney, 2009). Surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly), B2B buyers rate Twitter and Facebook more than LinkedIn as “very influential” in identifying and defining needs (67, 60 and 51 percent, respectively), identifying potential suppliers (81, 69 and 46 percent) and finally selecting a supplier (77, 87 and 54 percent).
  • There is a bonus for using social media: they help boost search engine rankings. Such rankings are largely driven by the volume of high-quality inbound links a website receives. A key element in optimizing websites for search engines is to get more links. Engaging with users on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can drive in lots of links from these sites, hence can boost search engine rankings. Nearly half of B2B marketers indicate their social media activities as having positive effects on their  search engine performance (eMarketer, 09/17/2010).

Looking forward, it is anticipated that “B2B spending on social media [is] to explode” (eMarketer). Besides increased spending on paid advertising (e.g., banners) on OSNs, a sizable portion of spending will go to  toward other social media initiatives such as creating and maintaining a branded profile page, managing promotions or public relations outreach within a social network, and measuring the effect of a social network presence on brand health and sales. Quite interestingly, there is a marked difference in social media usage between B2B marketers under 30 years or so of age and those older (Base One, “Buyersphere”). As those 30s and under move up the corporate ladder in the years ahead, expect even more changes in social media usage in B2B marketing.

Resources

  1. B2B Marketing Goes Social: a White Horse Survey Report (2010).
  2. Base One, “B2B Social Media Landscape” and “Buyersphere: Survey of B2B Buyers’ Use of Social Media” (2010).
  3. Who use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace“, Paul Kiser’s Blog, (April 1, 2010).
  4. eMarketer, “Is B2B on Board with Social?” (March 13, 2010), “B2Bs Tap Social to Boost Search” (September 17 , 2010), “B2B Spending on Social Media to Explode” (June 1, 2010).
  5. Paul Chaney (2009), The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media, John Wiley & Sons.