Social media has become an important tool for marketing to consumers. But what about in the business to business (B2B) space?
Depending on what you read or who you talk to, social media is either one of the most important components of a B2B marketing program because so many influencers are online, or it is completely ineffective because so few business buyers are active in social media for business purposes.
Conflicting views of the efficacy of the new technology are not surprising, particularly in light of the dearth of convincing ROI sales metrics. Sales metrics looks at how much business was actually generated from social media outreach, not the number of comments or re-tweets, or a sentiment analysis score. While there are so few data points for sales impact, there is no shortage of B2B marketing-site predictions of how much money marketers are going to spend on digital marketing, or how many are already spending money on digital marketing. Some even point to B2B social-media "successes," which almost always mention technology companies.(Here is one example.) But none of these studies point to sales metrics. Admittedly, digital marketing encompasses more than social networks, but certainly a significant portion of marketing dollars are earmarked for social media.
Referring specifically to Twitter, all the success stories on the Twitter site, reference business to consumer (B2C) cases. Where are the B2B success stories? I suspect there aren’t that many.
I also suspect the impact of B2B social marketing is less significant than reading business magazines would lead you to believe. Here are some (admittedly unscientific) findings that I have noted in the last few months:
- At the recent Enterprise 2.0 Conference, a panel session featured 5 people responsible for collaboration in their (very large) companies. Of the 5, only 3 had "obvious" Twitter accounts; and between the three, none had more than a handful of followers or tweets.
- At a recent SharePoint Conference, approximately 10% of attendees of a session on SharePoint business challenges had a Twitter account. This compares to the approximately 8% of American adults who have access to Twitter. Not much of a difference, but I would have expected much more from a crowd of technologists whose jobs center around enterprise collaboration.
- While following up on a very-successful survey that looked at the impact of digital distractions in the workplace, I looked for the Twitter handles of reporters who covered the story. Guess what? Of the many tier-1 business and technical press reporters, more than half didn’t have Twitter handles, and of those who did, hardly any had more than 10 followers.
Putting Twitter aside, let’s take a quick look at LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is a great B2B marketing resource, but mostly for research—e.g., getting information on companies and people, not for reaching business buyers with ads. My own attempts to market on LinkedIn have generated some good quality leads, but at extremely low volumes. Interestingly, a recent study by Performics found that almost 60% of active social networkers said that LinkedIn was their most important social network. Sounds great, but it turns out that this is mostly because people are looking for jobs, according to Perfomics’ CEO Daina Middleton.
My experience with trying to reach business buyers with ads on Facebook as also produced very poor results.
I am sure that by now many of you are thinking that social media is not about advertising, it is about creating relationships with people so you can educate them about problems, solutions, and generally becoming a valuable resource. I totally get it. I think this is a great way to reach out and touch people and that is in fact the primary value in social marketing B2B. But two important questions remain: Are the people you are trying to reach, using these channels, and if they are, how can you calculate the value of B2B social media from a sales perspective? Before you blow the budget on social-media outreach, you should be able to answer these questions.