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Is Social Media a Waste of Time and Money for B2B?

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Legitimate concerns B2Bs have about investing in social media campaigns
  • Why B2B can't afford to stay out of social media

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.


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Glenn Gow is founder of Silicon Valley-based marketing firm Crimson Marketing. He is an expert in marketing strategy for tech companies and the author of Revenue and the CMO. He also shares his insights via the Crimson Technology Marketing Blog.

LinkedIn: Glenn Gow

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  • by Spencer Broome Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Largely agree. You have to assess whether your business can improve based on social media, whether it's extending customer services or offering real-time updates.

  • by Laura Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    I find it perplexing that the same questions are not asked by some about traditional marketing communication channels. One company I know spends large sums of money on direct mail, trade shows, smile and dial lead gen techniques, which produce largely nothing but question whether social media is worth the time/money. Odd.

  • by Jonathan Medford Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    My biggest issue is I dont want to inter-mingle my personal and business relationships. I wish that Facebook would treat business accounts in a way that allowed businesses to "become friends" with other businesses.

  • by Jason Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Great post.

    For me, the question isn't whether it is worth the time or money, it is how can B2B be as successful as most B2C companies when it comes to social media. What is the best strategy for B2B. I've always asked this question in conferences. I never get an answer.


  • by elias shams Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Social media for B2B is not a waste of time. The problem is many businesses not sure which channel they should use.

    Itís no brainer to see that social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, itís time for such a hot space to enter into a new category. There is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the enterprise about their online connections.

    A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Flickr and others have been doing a decent job of providing additional marketing exposure and even in some cases, additional revenue. However, as more and more social networking sites pop up, how do you manage your brand across all these channels? Maybe more importantly, which one of these sites should you select as the one that will help you best reach your target audience? The proliferation of the social media avenues is becoming overwhelming.

    This glut of information reminds me of the early 90ís when WWW was adopted broadly by the general public. Every company rushed to have a presence, to the point it became literally impossible to find the right information on the Web. Thatís when a better generation of search engines Ė at first the Yahoo! and then Google Ė entered the market and helped us find the most relevant information by just typing simple keywords in their search box. If you had asked before Google launched, if there was a need for another search engine Ė most would have said no, we already have thoseÖ.

    Then came Web 1.0 & 2.0 Ė Youtube, Flickr, myspace, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have turned everyday people into content producers, influencers and experts. We basically tripled down on the information overload How do you know which channels to select for deploying your social media strategy? How do you know which one is the right channel to let your fans and followers to find you, your products, and services? Most importantly, who is Joe Smith that is recommending that person, that company, that product?

    I hope my awesomize.me can accomplish such a mission. The site is not another social networking platform. Yet the portal to all your existing social media channels. The platform helps you, your fans, your potential clients to make an intelligent decision as to which company to connect to or follow via which social media channels and why? Itís free!

    Elias
    CEO & Founder
    http://awesomize.me

  • by Tina Lauzon Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Great article Glenn. I completely agree regarding the integration of social to the overall marketing mix.

    I work with a B2B whose target audience is enterprise executive level marketing and channel decision makers. Since the launch of our integrated social media into our marketing efforts we've seen a 30% increase of in-bound qualify leads. 60% or our overall leads are generated through twitter and LinkedIn.

    Our KPIs are directly integrated into our marketing efforts including where the leads are coming from and the quality of those leads.

    Any company could use social media - in some capacity - as a part of their overall marketing mix to increase market exposure, SEO and ultimately revenue.

  • by Rich Mistkowski Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Jason asked an interesting question about a successful strategy.

    I don't think there is one right answer, but one of the most important aspects of Social Media for B2B is consistency. I think you need to do it or not do it. If you don't do it, you risk long term, but it won't make it look like you don't know what you're doing. It's a perception thing.

    If you're a business, you need to be consistent and do something. Something every day, week, every couple of days and things will start to happen.

    Very similar to the local pub I go by every day. They put out a simple free standing sign that he changes almost EVERYDAY. I look at that sign everyday because it changes. Same deal with Social Media, if I see things happening or changing, I'm more apt to "tune in".

    Consistently doing Something is key.

  • by Neil Ferree Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    I agree with Tina on both counts. 1) great article Glenn 2) you must find a way to integrate some kinda social media into your marketing mix.

    For us smaller entities, we have to pick our battles wisely. You can't expect to eat the elephant in one bite. The 20/80% rules applies in our shop. We focus on LI, YT, Twitter, FB and a few other SMM sites to engage our demographics and like minded audience.

    We're trying to figure out a way to detail our process so we can automate (outsource) those tasks that don't require an SME to engage and provide our 3rd party partners with a "by the numbers" routine they can follow and we can QA so as to avoid a snafu in the process.

  • by Sarah Wed May 18, 2011 via web

    Great article!

  • by Kimberly R. Thu May 19, 2011 via web

    I agree with Jason. I understand that social media is here to stay (in its current form [smile]) but saying that B2Bs need to be in the mix isn't enough. Also, all B2Bs aren't of the same ilk. To me, there is still the question of whether you have a tangible product vs. a service.

  • by Paul Cash Fri May 20, 2011 via web

    It's an interesting thread, but I think we are asking the wrong question. The question every CEO and Marketing officer needs to be asking in these crazy times is "What should I be doing to create a remarkable product/service/experience". We spend too much time in B2B focused on selling the sizzle of the product and not enough on making the product and the experience of owning it special. 90% of the companies on the planet have an average product, not a great place to start as we enter a customer driven, socially connected era of marketing. Problem is average in the social world = crap. So rather than thinking is social media right/wrong for my company, ask yourself if you have a remarkable product? Those 10% of companies that do Social media is a playground. For the other 90% its a graveyard. Time to get back to basic sand shift marketing dollars into creating/building something amazing than putting a plaster on mediocrity.

    Rant over. I'm even writing this while on holiday, must be mad :)

  • by Naomi Tapia Sat May 21, 2011 via web

    I think that a good point was made: Why don't we ask these questions about "traditional" methods of marketing? Just because we haven't figured out a good way to measure the benefits doesn't mean that there aren't tangible results. We just have some learning to do.

  • by Ford Kanzler Wed May 25, 2011 via web

    Roy & Naomi - All these questions could very well have been asked, likely were, of other promotional techniques. You could frankly do a search and replace of "social media" on this article exchanging instead "public relations," including the measurement difficulties and the four reasons Roy gave for doing social media, and you'd have a valid story. Some would offer that social media is, in fact, merely yet another technology or channel for PR, which at its heart, has always been about connecting with communities, not firing press releases at editors, as too many perceive.
    Paul's point is important because too many marketers are rushing to play in the social media sandbox before they've got their product completely ready. Applying social media tactics in this situation is like paying for someone to toss gasoline on the fire. You really don't want to see what's going to happen.

  • by BILLinBCN Fri May 27, 2011 via web

    Wow, I would sure love to get a copy of the study that shows "90% of B2B buyers use social media to research purchases and are heavily influenced by third-party feedback in their purchasing decisions".

    I get this question all the time -- and that single statistic seems to answer all the questions! Where can I find the source!?

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