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Is Social Media More Difficult in B2B Than B2C?

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I submit that it is! Please hear me out. When I say Ralph Lauren, Nine Inch Nails, Vineyard Vines, GAP .... or even Apple .... you get a sense of a very homogeneous type of person. You get a picture of exactly who I mean and the "lifestyle" that brand portrays. When I say Ralph Lauren, it's like reading the preppie handbook.


But what happens when I say Unisys or Delco or even Oracle? What mental image, what picture of homogeneous people comes to mind, if any? Probably nothing, right?
Now, consider Nine Inch Nails and their use of social media. The band printed tour shirts with different, seemingly random boldface letters that, when strung together, spelled out a website address .... iamtryingtobelieve.com. The tactic engaged an audience that was totally in sync with their brand and lit up their community site, Spiral.
Sure a B2B company can launch a microsite any day. But can it launch one that speaks to the company's audience so perfectly that it resonates with a vast majority? I would submit the answer is no.
Yes, I know microsites aren't social media. My point is that out in social media land if you know exact who your audience is, what will resonate with them and how to tap into it, you are home free. B2B audiences are more fragmented, with internal employees, external partners, channel partners, third party vendors, and, oh yeah, customers and prospects.
What's your take? I'm interested to hear from you –


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Paul Dunay is director of global field and interactive marketing for Bearing Point (www.bearingpoint.com).

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  • by Michael Lombardi Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Paul, I agree B2B is much harder than B2C in the "new world." In my experience, I would say the reason for that is many companies are slow to accept blogs, social networks, etc. It takes a lot of effort (that many companies don't necessary want to pay for) and time to build a respectable online presence. Plus ROI is extremely hard to track which means owners, managers, and/or shareholders will have doubts about cost effectiveness.

  • by Dusan Vrban Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Yeap, Michael added great point. I would add just that there's also a big difference in what we are prepared to do in the office or at our private time. In the office, work is work and engaging in some "social stuff" with my partners is just an episode. Rarely something that people would feel to satisfy much of their business needs. Also the complete decision making process is totally different. There are many people involved and sometimes it just pays much more to have 3 lunches with CEO then writing a blog that 20 of his/her employees read? The CEO will decide in the end whom to work with. And CEO's perhaps just ain't the kind of people to "twitter arround". :-) Well, this is a small-country perspective. I'm kinda guessing a lot of different aspects will be read here. :-)

  • by Gary Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    I totally agree with all the comments posted thus far. I feel that a lot of B2B companies are looking at social media from the wrong angle. They are looking at it from an ROI standpoint when they should be looking at it from a customer engagement standpoint. Social media may not be right for every B2B company, but if you can use social media as a tool to educate, or get feedback from your costumer then it works.

  • by Louise McGregor Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Social Media B2B is difficult for both the reasons listed above. It's also difficult for competitive reasons, I'm not going to be able to openly discuss our marketing strategy or upcoming advertising campaign. Social media stuff relies on openness, and for a lot of B2B issues I don't want to discuss it with my competitors. I can see it working from suppliers in support issues - it's already working on a low key way with expert networks in some support functions (such as training).

  • by Lewis Green Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Is it more difficult in b2b. Yes. Is it impossible? No. I run mostly a b2b business. Recently, I was honored to be interviewed at MarketingProfs by Kimberly Smith for a case study, which is offered to premium members of MarketingProfs. Here are my lessons learned: Think of your fellow bloggers as partners, not competition. Share ideas, swap links, contribute to each other's blogs, post comments–whatever you can do to build a positive presence and make yourself heard. By doing so, you might establish some great contacts–and possible referrals–in addition to increasing your readership. Encourage feedback and listen to the resulting comments. To ensure that you are consistently meeting your customers' needs, it is important to listen, learn and evolve. "In listening to my readers, my subject matter becomes more focused, and the services we offer improved," said Green. He constantly solicits customer opinion by asking specific questions in his posts, prompting conversations among his readers. The title of the piece is "How a Marketing Consultant Significantly Increased His Client Base via Social Media," in the event youanyone wants to read the entire case study.

  • by Paul Dunay Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Dont forget we need to add a face to a brand for Social Media B2B Much like you cant be a friend of a brand in Facebook only a fan - the human you can make the brand in B2B the more Social you can make it too

  • by Levon Guiragossian Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Businesses are especially homogenous. You can tap into a homogenous set when you target an industry. Look at real estate agents or share traders or lawyers .... they all have the same training, drive the same cars, wear the same clothes, probably know eachother. Obviously each purchasing entity in these businesses will differ in personal beliefs, but for the most part their motives are the same: which in the business world (including professions such as law) is to be successful and make lots of money!

  • by Nicholas Tolson Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    Maybe the issue of "fragmented audiences" in B2B is precisely where social media holds the most value for B2B companies: helping to figure out where the fragmented audiences' similarities are and allowing them to share with you and with each other what these and how they are using the solution to solve these shared problems, etc.

  • by Harry Hallman Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    There is no doubt about it! B2B is harder for several reasons. First, the b 2 b social networks are not concentrated like consumer oriented social networks. Second, it takes more specific skills to engage correctly in the various b 2 b markets. In consumer you can address lifestyles, but in B 2 B you must address specific industries and have enough experience to make sense. It is different but it can be done. One fact in favor of b 2 b is that you generally only have to influence a few people to get the same financial effect that thousands of consumers give you. Of course, that depends on what you sell. We are providing social networking marketing servers to both b 2 b and consumer and most assuredly B 2 B is tougher.

  • by Cynthia Trevino Thu Mar 13, 2008 via blog

    B2B is tougher no question. That's why the B2B companies that invest the time, money and (yes, more) time will be rewarded. Traditional marketing is on its way out; to quote Larry Weber of "Marketing to the Social Web", "..the new measure of a brand is how many two-way conversations you are having with your prospects and customers." The intrepid Marketing Sherpa documented an example (2007) about Information Builders' success with lead generation using new media. Information Builders is an enterprise software company that invested 12-months and lots of their marketing and sales folks to participate in the online conversation at www.ittoolbox.com. The ROI was an impressive 750%. Until B2B companies stop investing time/dollars in some aspects of traditional marketing--they will not be able to invest in social media marketing. Cynthia Trevino

  • by Paul Dunay Fri Mar 14, 2008 via blog

    Nicholas I love your comment ... Maybe the issue of "fragmented audiences" in B2B is precisely where social media holds the most value for B2B companies. and I think social media can be the "glue" that binds these fragmented audiences together!

  • by Jerry W.Saveriano Fri Mar 14, 2008 via blog

    B2B social networks are harder now because they are aimed at business people who are older, haven't grown-up using social media, and are more dependent on email based communications. That will change over time. Also, most social networks are built on members passion for music, dating, politics or other personal interests. We build B2B sites for high tech and engineering based companies as well as trade associations on social media platforms that we call professional networks (ProNets). see www.OutdoorRugged.com for an example. It's hard to get pros to take time to share stories and experiences using new technology. We focus on education, productivity and ROI to attract and keep members engaged. This new marketing method is not for all companies. It does take time and money; you need to make at least a one-year commitment before starting. And, unless the company is prepared to have open and honest conversations with customers and partners they shouldn't start at all. Yes, B2B is harder, but it is, none-the-less inevitable and market leaders will gain the high ground first. Customers will talk about your company online anyway, isn't it better that you provided them with a friendly venue to engage in positive conversations? Professional networks will be a game changer for customer and partner relationship building and competitors will find it difficult to attract members from a successful professional community. Do it sooner than later.

  • by Lee Erickson Fri Mar 14, 2008 via blog

    Great conversation. I'd agree with all that B2B is harder for many of the reasons discussed. I think part of what makes it harder is that most B2B marketers don't have experience with it and many are struggling with where to start (or even if they should). In the B2B tech world, the sale is often both at the C-level (the decision makers) as well as at the VP or Director level (typically IT influencers). While social media may not be a great tool for today's C-level execs, the tech crowd tends to be more connected, so having a presence on the sites where they go to learn more about how to solve their issues should have an impact. It really comes down to figuring out what's out there (destination sites, a-listers), if your audience goes there (do they participate), and finally if your company is ready for the commitment (resources, content, ability to lose some control). That's hard to do. Plus, for large ticket items or consulting engagements, social media won't replace building personal relationship the old fashion way. Someone still has to close the deal. It's just one of the tools you can use to connect and start the conversation.

  • by Paul Gillin Sat Mar 15, 2008 via blog

    There's no question that social media works better in a B2C context. However, you have to be careful with blanket statements. Podcasting, for example, is a popular B2B marketing tool because it serves the needs of time-strapped people. Recent e-marketer numbers indicate that the podcast audience is older and more prosperous than other social media groups. In the computer industry. blogging is now a mainstream business communications tool. One of the most popular blogs, Slashdot, serves principally a professional audience. Most of the 10,000 bloggers at Microsoft and Sun are focused on B2B topics. Also, don't ignore all the social media activity going on behind corporate firewalls. While most of that is internally focused, businesses are increasingly using these tools to interact with channel partners and customers in private communities.

  • by Tony Eyles Sun Mar 16, 2008 via blog

    Thanks Paul - great topic. I agree social media is harder for B2B. And it is hardest for larger businesses. One reason I would add is that, many individuals in larger companies will not feel empowered to speak on behalf of their business. We have corporate communicators who do that, brand police who control you and risk managers who will jump on you if the wrong line gets out (and is recorded forever in its digital glory). It's a different story for small business owners or academics (most of us here??) who know they can speak for themselves. Best use for SM I have seen is in tech forums where product managers chip in to clarify or otherwise help in discussions about their gear. And I think Dell have taken it to another level with ideastorm. This takes managerial courage, brand confidence - and empowered people.

  • by John Ellett Mon Mar 17, 2008 via blog

    Let me offer a contrarian perspective. The fact that b-b audiences are highly fragmented is what can make social media so effective. To me, "more effective" is the more critical question than "easier". Because you can find small, passionate groups on about any subject related to business, technology or profession, you can efficiently engage with these groups in highly relevant ways. With broad consumer audiences, the probability of being highly relevant to their differing individual passions is lower, and therefore less engaging (and thus less effective).

  • by Mitchell Hanson Fri Mar 21, 2008 via blog

    I really like all the comments that I have read on this so far. From my perspective, I agree that B2B social media is a much harder nut to crack. However, community can give business users of your product can have a place and a chance to connect and communicate, even if its just to suggest improvements to you. Social media can greatly enhance the user experience for your product or service, adding value to your brand. If you can get this going, then you have a chance to really engage those business users who are effected by your business on a daily basis.

  • by Rick Short Mon Mar 24, 2008 via blog

    Ask Grandma to conjure up an image when you say, "Nine Inch Nails". She won't think of music. But ask ANYTHING in context and it makes sense. Automotive people get "Delco". Computer people get "Apple". Music people get "Nine Inch Nails" and electronics assemblers get "Indium Corporation" (my employer). I believe that social media is a different beast in B2B, but not any harder. Sure, the audience is different (often times these people need to be paid to engage with the topic - unlike GAP clothes horses) but, for people who are enthusiastic about their business, the concepts are the same. We in the B2B Marcom community just need to get a little more enthusiastic and creative.

  • by Pramod Mon Mar 31, 2008 via blog

    Social Media is actually not so different in the case of B2B. We just need to set realistic expectations. The members of a B2B social media and that of a B2C are different and much less. ROI is an issue. But then again, online social media have a clear measurability. Traditional ROI metrics will need to be redefined to suit the social media results.

  • by Vanessa DiMauro Sat May 16, 2009 via blog

    Great Article and comment discussion thread! It is good to see that the industry is evolving to understand that there are important differences between B2B and B2C communities and that B2B requires a much more compelling value proposition to keep users engaged over time. Here is a slide show and webinar that outlines the key differences between the two types of communities. http://www.slideshare.net/vdimauro/social-networking-for-business

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