Why B2B Marketers Still Don't Get Social Media—And 7 Steps For Fixing That

Who cares if you have 25,000 followers on Twitter if you’re not doing anything with or for them?

Amazingly, many B2B marketers still don’t get social media.

A recent CMO Survey reported that while B2B social media spending increased 9.6% last year, the majority of B2B companies failed to integrate social media into their business practices.

"The biggest challenge is that many companies see social media as a cute promotional activity when it can be a strategic marketing activity," says Christine Moorman, director of The CMO Survey and T. Austin Finch senior professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

We’re in the "silo" stage, according to Brian Kardon, CMO, Lattice Engines "where most social media is generally segregated from the rest of the organization."

A big part of the problem is that most B2B companies don’t understand that social media requires both a technology and a business approach. Who cares if you have 5,000 or even 25,000 followers on Twitter if you’re not doing anything with the followers? Instead, companies leave the heavy lifting to "some kid out of college who tweets with no knowledge of business processes, says Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at Kinvey.

B2B companies pay a price for the lack of integration. A 2011 global survey of senior B2B and B2C managers found a significantly high correlation between financial performance and social media integration, says Steven Van Belleghem, author of The Conversation Company, and former managing director of InSites Consulting, which fielded the survey.

So where does that leave marketers? Here are 7 steps to take to help you increase your social media effectiveness:

1.Understand why social media matters. "Social media is becoming a real competitive advantage for the companies that do it well; the gap is widening between the companies that have been organizing around social media and those that have not," says Kardon.
2.Create goals. What do you want to achieve from your social media? Do you want to track sales, monitor customer complaints, grow brand equity? Do you want social media to do a push or pull job?
3.Get top management buy-in. "You need a champion to get people from across the organization to pay attention and act," says Moorman.
4.Give social media a home. In our experience and that of many social media experts, it belongs in marketing.
5.Structure your social media team. The need to prioritize what to do and get it done quickly has disrupted the traditional setup of the marketing organization," says Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, CMO, Mindjet, which has developed "scrum teams" comprised of design, media buying, development and all the other resources necessary to executive a strategic campaign. Regardless of the approach, however, there has to be a built-in workflow system that links social media to customer service, sales, operations, and the other business processes.
6.Train employees. Don’t just assume they get social media.
7.Get accountable. Establish an accountability system that demonstrates the impact of social media on your objectives.

Social media is not a luxury. Companies that fail to take these steps will find themselves outflanked by their competitors.

[Flamingo: Elenarts via Shutterstock]

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  • Tom B.

    Little late to this game here. Think the narrow perspectives of some here is way off base. You are absolutely correct with all of this...and I wonder if you agree that, in the end, you can do 6 of the steps but if you don't get #3, it's all destined to fizzle?  Also, it seems like there's so much more emphasis on ROI and leads, leads, leads with B2B social media. As a result, it SEEMS like too many B2B social media practitioners use way too many gatekeeping/lead generating registrations before the free stuff is made available. Wondering if adopters of social media/content marketing wouldn't be better off simply making it a one click proposition and know that if a LOT more people are sharing your content or ideas - something that is measurable - some percentage of them will end up as customers? Thoughts? 

  • wendy marx

    Thank you for your very thoughtful comments, Tom. I agree that you can't do any of this without getting top management buy-in. Regarding gatekeeping, that's an interesting question. My non-scientific answer is that so many people today are used to giving their name and email to get content that it isn't so much of a deterrent. However, it would definitely be worth testing. 

  • Wendy Marx

    Theresa, I am not for one second suggesting B2B companies don't understand strategy and structure. As someone who has worked in the B2B trenches for most of my career, that would be quite an indictment -- as well as very foolish. What I did say is, "Many B2B companies unfortunately focus on social media tactics without first understanding the strategy and structure needed to support a successful social media initiative." 

  • Daniel Kushner

    Nice article. I would suggest to add more about using social media for lead generation since it is one of the main goals of a professional B2B marketer. The number of likes, comments, followers and shares don't really provide an index of how good the marketing activities are for the business. Measuring conversions, leads, and sales that are a result of B2B social media marketing would be a measurement that is closer to the business.

    Daniel Kushner
    Oktopost - Built for B2B Social Media Marketing

  • Danny Brown

    There could also be the flip side - that B2B orgs *do* get social and are implementing it in different ways. 

    I've worked with many B2B orgs, and they use social very strategically. They monitor competition, and sentiment around them; they track sales and promotions; they use for headhunting and employee profiling; they apply to R&D departments.

    Just because they're not public with what they're doing doesn't mean they don't "get it" - far from it. And, ironically, as this study shows, it's the B2B space that's thinking more about influence marketing, which offers some of the biggest results for businesses in this space.


  • Emily Howard Griebel

    Great article, Wendy! I just spoke about social media at a B2B manufacturers' conference in New York last week. The audience included three types of brands:
    1. Those that are using social media, but could be better at it (just a few)
    2. Those that are starting to see the importance of getting involved in social media (several)
    3. Those that continue to say, "Our customers don't use social media, so why should we?" (several)

    As a B2B marketer myself, I've fully embraced social media and see its power as not only a promotional tool for our marketing firm, but also a way of doing business. We all need to continue preaching its importance in hopes of opening doors for those that don't yet "see the light".

    --Emily Griebel (@MWCemily)
    Director of Integrated Marketing at McKee Wallwork & Company

  • wendymarx

    Thanks, Emily. That is a useful categorization. Unfortunately, many don't yet see the light or are just getting their toes wet. I agree that we all need to continue to shine the light on its effectiveness.

  • Cari Turley

    But correlation, even a "significantly high" one, does not equal causation. Couldn't it be the case that the strongest companies, which have the best financial performance, also have the most expendable resources to play with social media? It's worked for us, by sharing the assets we produce with a wider audience, but that's more due to social media being a great distribution channel. I'd love to see some stronger stats to support your claim.

  • Patricawong

    Social media is certainly getting more attention. You can see facebook pages getting more likes and also other social media platform like twitter growing. It is time to look into social media if you havent done so, not only for B2B but B2C as well :)

  • Houssem

    I believe that the main reason social media isn't working for B2B marketers is that many fail to integrate it into their overall business strategy (not just marketing strategy). The first and most important step as you mentioned is to identify the business goals that can be achieved through social media. They need to be SMART (Specific - Measurable - Achievable - Realistic - Timely). Great post Wendy! 


  • Janice Cuban

    Good article. I think there are a few other points I see working with a lot of B2B companies: pick a few networks to focus on that resonate with your customers (find out which) instead of splattering yourself on every network with mediocre results.Also,many B2B companies have big ticket items, so offering "deals" and discounts like many B2C companies does does work. They have to be more creative about thought leadership, stimulating discussion about the industry or products, and other activities on social media that will engage with their customers.

  • wendymarx

    Thank you for the excellent additions, Janice. It is very important for B2B companies to selectively pick which networks to focus on. Certainly, no one has the time to be on all and many are not relevant to a particular company's business. Creativity as you mention about thought leadership is also key. Curating excellent content is one effective way to enhance your thought leadership while educating prospects. 

  • Prakash Gurumoorthy

    Nice post Wendy! I think it all begins at STEP 1- A lot of times the understanding is laced with a lot of skepticism because ROI numbers are not available immediately. This forms a sort of catch-22 where there are a bunch of folks who believe that there is no ROI and since there is no ROI, why to understand it? This becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. STEP 7 is interesting as analytics on Social Media can throw interesting insights that can easily make anyone accountable or outcome oriented.

    Overall, i am in complete agreement with the steps!

  • wendymarx

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Prakash. Interesting point about how companies tie themselves in knots due to the ROI challenge.

  • Montgomery powell

    This is horrible public relations swill masquerading as news. bah on FCC.

  • MarketingXLerator


    I have to say, the title of this blog promises something very different than what you provide. The title "Social Media 101" would have been more appropriate. Where are the tips specific to B2B vs. B2C, for example?



  • Abergamo1

    I agree with MarketingXlerator. There is absolutely no meat to this article. It's ironic that Wendy included the rather insulting subhead, "Amazingly, many B2B marketers still don't get social media," and then proceeds to list "7 steps for fixing that" without any substantive content. 

  • wendymarx

    Natascha, thank you for your comments. The problem is a structural one. Many B2B companies unfortunately focus on social media tactics without first understanding the strategy and structure needed to support a successful social media initiative. The steps may look simple but are not easy to implement since they involve a different mindset.

  • Theresa

    Not nice to generalize and assume to just a wide degree that B2B companies don't understand strategy and structure.  Strategy and structure is not exclusive to B2C and I agree, this article is purely media hype... for you.  

  • Patrick McFadden

    Just to reinforce what Wendy is saying, The struggle many face with marketing online is a misguided impulse to put various tactics into separate boxes, instead of seeing each as an aspect of one strategic process. People keep referring to content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) as three different things — as if each is a tactic that can get you there alone. The smart way to practice effective content marketing is to treat social media and search engine results as aspects of a holistic strategy necessarily centered around content.