The Case for Social Media in B2B


B2B Social Media spending Do you have a user group forum, conference, or a customer- and best-prospect-event?

In my 20-year experience working in businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) these are some of the best ways to build relationships with your customer and prospect base — in the same room, doing something together. They are also the very reason why B2B companies have a distinct advantage online.

There is in fact a certain air of exclusivity in B2B industries, where people get to meet and work with other people in a very specialized environment. You're in the know; and now more than ever, there are many reasons for marketing to lead — B2B content strategy is sexy, for example.

Data was also a Lieutenant Commander on Star Trek

We have plenty of evidence to show that B2B marketing budgets continue to be much smaller compared to those of their consumer-good companies colleagues so they're being invested increasingly online, search is ever important, and the trade press is shrinking and disappearing. 

A recent report from AMR International on B2B online marketing in the US* found that:

  • Annual growth in US B2B online marketing spend is forecast at 8% in 2010 and is set to reach 14% by 2012
  • B2B advertising spend on social media and lead generation sites is
    forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 21% and 17% respectively to
    2013
  • Online accounted for 7% of the B2B marketing mix in 2008. This is set to reach 12% by 2013
  • Two thirds of B2B marketers believe that online must be complemented by traditional marketing activities
  • Only 50% of B2B marketers formally analyze metrics to judge ROI – but those that do find online marketing more effective

You can find decision makers online. In a survey of 354 top executives, Forbes w/Google found that more than 50% of the under 40
maintain a work-related blog, are on Twitter, and visit online
social networks frequently.

It looks like social media is inspiring the B2B C-suite to also strive for their own humanity.

Integration is the name of the game

Do social networks see organizations as customers? A better question is, do B2B decision makers hang out online? And if they do, do they welcome business-related interactions? In my experience, they use LinkedIn to check out credentials and learn more about a consultant or a contact before a face to face meeting.

If you have consultants in your organization, clean up their LinkedIn profile so it looks professional and it aligns with that of the organization. Sales professionals know they need to look sharp — shoe shine and online presence alike.

Clara Shih did some research in preparation for her book The Facebook Era, and says:

many of the sales reps I interviewed use Facebook and LinkedIn together
to better navigate buyer organizations, build one-on-one relationships
with decision-makers, keep deals alive when a longer sales cycle is
required, and prospect beyond direct connections to friend-of-friend
networks.Information that people share about themselves on a Facebook or
LinkedIn profile, such as someone’s alma mater, hometown, and status
update, can behelpful in qualifying leads and used to build
interpersonal rapport, for example bonding over having mutual friends or
having attended the same college
.

As personal as social networks get, they are still not the most personal and relevant with B2B buyers who tend to prefer email to do business. Open rates and click-throughs for well designed newsletters continue to drive relationship-building and lead generation activities.

See more statistics here. Although do take them with a grain of salt, if something works for you, don't mess with it. And remember to always test. Integration wins for most things marketing and communications.

Putting my own Thesis to the test

I reached out to experts in my network for their take on why and how B2B companies they
work with have benefited from integrating social in their marketing plans. Here's what they had to say.

_____________

Jeremy-Victor-Headshot-3-2010-Twitter "First, why. In my experience there are two primary reasons the B2B companies are benefiting from integrating social in their marketing plans.

First, to do so requires gaining a more intimate knowledge of their customers – via Buyer Personas. From fears and motivations to media consumption habits and where they go on the web, learning this level of detail is arming today’s B2B marketer with a much clearer picture of the people they are trying to reach.

Second, integrating social in their marketing plans is humanizing the company, providing it a more genuine voice to the market. A voice that customers (read people) are more apt to connect with and have a desire to be associated with. Let’s face it, people buy from people they like, have things in common with, and demonstrate an understanding of their situation.
Integrating social brings on a shift in the tone of communication, a more empathizing, emotion based voice emerges and it stands out in the marketplace.

From my experience this is why the companies I am working with are benefiting from integrating social in their marketing plans. As for how, that has taken many forms, increased
demand generation, better relevancy in search engines, improved market credibility (thought leadership), new partnerships, and more." [Jeremy Victor, Make Good Media]

_____________

Chriskoch1 "Based on ITSMA’s research with B2B services marketers, we’re seeing companies have success from using social media to support and enhance the more traditional marketing tactics like events. Social media becomes the glue that links events together, driving registration and discussion prior to events, and then enabling conference attendees to continue the dialogue between events.

For example, in 2009, IBM’s Software Group used social media to help drive participation in its live user conference, Impact, which is targeted at buyers of IBM’s WebSphere software for service-oriented architectures (SOAs). IBM promoted the live event through channels like event-specific Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter feeds, leading to a 10% increase in registrations for the live event. But it also went beyond those simple uses. IBM created a virtual companion event to the conference. For a company with a global customer base like IBM, a companion event online meant that many more could attend virtually than could afford to make the pilgrimage to the live event.

But the virtual conference did not simply piggyback on the live
conference. It had its own share of exclusive sessions. For example, IBM made
subject matter experts available to chat with online participants during
pre-specified times and promoted these encounter sessions both on- and offline.

All told, the combination of the live and virtual events generated more leads for IBM at a lower overall cost per generated lead than previous conferences." [Chris Koch, B2B Marketing Blog, Director of Research and Thought Leadership, ITSMA]

_____________


CKtwitter "Why are B2Bs benefiting by integrating social media in their marketing plans? Market relevance and, for many B2Bs, first-mover advantages in these media–especially among niche sectors that are still slow to move on these brave new fronts.

How are they benefiting through social-media integration? There are MANY 'returns' against their time and investments including: new tool for SEO (and better SERPs), building sales force collateral through their thought leadership content (and promoted on their social platforms) that drive NEW conversations with clients and prospects, providing a new touchpoint in the lead nurturing arena, showcasing their subject matter expertise to increase their cache and exposure, and facilitating idea exchanges (vs. 1-way broadcasts) with their audiences which, in turn, builds relationships… and building relationships was, is, and will always be the most essential strategy and return for B2Bs.

And while the question was on social, I always want to also bring up mobile as the B2B opportunities are nothing short of remarkable and the sheer scale unprecedented. You see, business professionals always have mobile devices with them and outright rely on them for breaking developments, managing content and interacting via social platforms–so if B2Bs can identify how to leverage mobile strategies to make the work activities of their business markets faster, easier and better, they'll have a HIGH chance of yielding high returns. " [Christina Kerley, CK B2B Marketing]

_____________

This is what I'm seeing to make the case for social media in B2B. What are you seeing/experiencing?

*Survey data of more than 1,000 marketers

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0 responses to “The Case for Social Media in B2B”

  1. You wrote re the Forbes/Google Digital C-Suite survey:
    http://www.forbes.com/forbesinsights/digital_csuite/index.html
    “more than 50% of the under 40 maintain a work-related blog, are on Twitter, and visit online social networks frequently.”
    That’s a very intriguing statistic.
    Just give it time and virtually all C-suite b2b folks will be plugged in.
    Whether they’ll have sufficient time to engage is another matter… but I’m sure tools will emerge to help them streamline and prioritize the who, what and when of social media conversations in their busy workdays.

  2. The way the information relays the statistic actually points out how these activities are a purely self-centered way of using digital media. It’s really easy to tell those who are self serving online from those who are generous and giving.

  3. I wonder if that is part of the personal branding trend that many under 40 folks are taking part in. I know I got involved at my old company because I was eager to be writing a blog and in social media before the company and exec was ready.
    But making sure this doesn’t get too self-centered, self-serving is an important reminder.

  4. I guess it depends on who you are targeting and why. Perhaps your decision makers are active on social media. Perhaps your gatekeepers or influencers are. Once you have identified the relevant folks, determining an engagement or content strategy that works effectively for them may include social as either lead generation or amplification/follow-up for other communications.

  5. It is critical for marketers to not just bucket customers and prospects as groups to get these rising stats for on-line participation. The first line in the article mentions “user groups” on how to engage customers. These tools and social media tools are extremely effective in engaging “users” in the B2B world. The difference is that in a B2C arena the user is the decision maker, but that’s not our world.
    The reality is that most executives/decision makers don’t like taking customer surveys, and they don’t like participating in online discussions. I find the “executives under 40 stat” interesting in that it seems we’ll go to any lengths to prove that social media is the answer for everything…even when 70% of executives of Fortune 500 firms are over 50 (source: Spencer Stuart).
    Executives, still favor face to face conversations over webinars and online communities. In fact in this same study only 6% of the over 50 executives found value in on-line communities.
    I believe there are three distinctive audiences: user, influencers and decision makers. Marketers must develop programs and leverage tools that are appropriate to each audience to have predictable and sustainable success. Marketers should be aware of all options, but not trying to apply the new hot tool (currently web 2.0) just because it’s marketing’s flavor of the month.

  6. @Tom – there are also considerations like the novelty factor and networking. Not everyone signed up on LinkedIn when it first came out, for example. That was years ago and the employment situation has worsened even at the top. When I talk to the c-suite in companies, I know they are also looking to develop their own digital footprint. So staying relevant means learning (thus research online) and being known in their circles (some industries are more online than others).
    @Gavin – indeed, I should have a qualifying statement somewhere to put on every post, because as a strategist my answer is always — it depends 🙂 Thank you for the reminder.
    @Sean – that’s why there are smart folks like the ones I quoted who work with companies to understand what those groups are. It sounds like you have a post all written out already from this comment. In B2B often decisions are made by committee and influencers are a moving target, depending on the kind of decision. How do I know that? Years of talking with customers directly. Of course, our conversation also depends on whether I am a “shiny object” marketer by your definition or if I actually did the things I write about (I did). And, by the way, these dynamics that the tools engage are not a flavor of the month. They have been around for centuries. In fact, business practices learned in MBA school are much more recent. And lest we think I’m shooting from the hip, I do coach international MBA students and have delved quite heavily in sociology, psychology, and anthropology. People often say one thing, and do another. I have ample stats on that just from observation. Finally, we all see the world as we are, so people will go to any lengths to prove they are right 😉

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