Janet, a senior executive at one of our B2B clients, recently said to me, "Social media just doesn't feel like an important area of investment for us. We're not selling to consumers, we're selling to hardcore businesspeople. I think we'd be wasting our time and money."
I couldn't blame her for being skeptical. Though no one can deny the explosive popularity of social media, some hard-core justifications for its B2B use have yet to be laid out.
Businesses of all sizes are executing Twitter campaigns, creating Facebook business pages, and producing corporate blogs and YouTube videos they hope will "go viral." Those things can work when targeting consumers, but do they work when targeting other businesses?
The jury's still out, but B2B companies are nonetheless rushing to jump on the social media bandwagon for fear of being left behind in an environment full of constant paradigm shifts that occur at lightning speed.
But the concerns Janet expressed are real. Here's why:
- "Show me the metrics!" Unless you have a windfall success story, like Avaya's quarter-million-dollar deal, which came in large part thanks to Twitter, there aren't a lot of solid B2B examples to site yet, particularly when compared to the plethora of B2C successes.
- "Show me the money!" Executives understandably want to see solid links between investments in marketing programs and real revenue. Tracking makes it easy to see the number of friends, followers, connections, and comments one is getting, but how does that translate to the bottom line? Does a popular blog result in any measurable dollars? Maybe not. Finding these links can be a nebulous, if not, impossible venture. For some, that's a deal breaker.
- "Show me the point!" Janet commented on wasting time. Social media takes time, and lots of it. It's no small task in time or expense to establish a professional presence in social media. It's also not something you should start and stop. It's a commitment to an effort that may not bring much ROI for quite a while. But half-hearted attempts don't impress and can actually do harm. So if you're not up for the long swim, don't dip your toe in the water.
So why are B2Bs increasing their investments?
If the above sounds pretty dismal, why are 86% of B2B companies investing in some form of social media, compared to only 82% of B2Cs? For starters, consider that social media isn't the first time a technology, initially targeted for personal use, has transformed into a major business tool. Think instant messaging, smartphones, and smartphone apps, which were originally designed for personal use and fun and were frowned upon by the business world. It's hard not to see a similar trend with social media.
I shared the following four thoughts with Janet.
1. Consider integration vs. ad hoc postings
Janet's company may already have a social presence, whether or not she knows it or likes it. Many employees regularly create haphazard, ad hoc postings about their company... not only on LinkedIn but also on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube. Such uncontrolled, disparate postings can be a disadvantage; they might work at cross purposes both to each other and to an integrated marketing plan. It's far better to own your social media presence so that it's a cohesive whole.
2. Janet's B2B audience is there
Even though Janet's target is businesspeople, not consumers, professional buyers now consult social media sources during the buying process and before making a decision. Recent studies have found that up to 90% of B2B buyers use social media to research purchases and are heavily influenced by third-party feedback in their purchasing decisions—both to identify solutions and to limit risk.
The directive to "be where your audience is" has never been more relevant or more possible than in today's integrated Web, where marketers can know precisely who and where their audience is. "Being there" has also gone beyond a direct dollars-and-cents relationship: A presence in social media has simply come to be expected.
Businesses that aren't present on social media are creating a negative perception of themselves as being behind the times or unavailable to their clientele.
3. The multiplier effect is hard to argue with
Best-practices already exist for using social media as part of an integrated marketing plan. No marketing element—whether tradeshow, ad campaign, or thought-leadership webinar—should be used in a vacuum: Integration and expansion are the keys for achieving marketing impact.
When used as a follow-on tool for another campaign, social media channels provide an excellent venue for broadening the impact of other marketing strategies and investments. And though not everything goes viral the way we might like, you can dramatically increase your reach with a Tweet here and a Facebook posting there.
4. Don't get trumped by your competition
Rising success stories (check out how an EMC campaign used nearly every promotional channel) are validating the concern that B2B social media skeptics—and their businesses—will be left gasping in their competitor's exhaust.
The hard reality is that ROI metrics are imprecise, and it's always been difficult for Marketing to link its efforts directly with revenue. Perhaps the question is, why should B2B social media be any different? (See this slideshare/webinar on generating ROI from social media.)
Though social media may still be an unproven channel that delivers results difficult to quantify, it's moving forward so quickly that there's real risk in staying out of the game. Yes, there is risk involved in allocating money to a B2B social media campaign... but as marketers, we're used to risk, and there is even greater risk in not doing so.
I confirmed with Janet that, for her, there is indeed a leap of faith involved in B2B social media. But the question today is not whether you can afford to implement a B2B social media presence into your marketing campaigns—it's whether you can afford not to.