Janet, a senior exec 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 business people. I think we’d be wasting our time and money.”
I couldn’t blame her for being skeptical. While no one can deny the explosive popularity of social media, for B2B, some hard core justifications are still AWOL. Businesses of all sizes are executing Twitter campaigns, creating business Facebook pages, producing corporate blogs and YouTube videos in the hopes of going 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 in the dust in an environment full of constant paradigm shifts that move at lightning speed.
But the concerns Janet expressed are real.
- “Show me the metrics!” Unless you have a windfall success story, like Avaya’s quarter million $ 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 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 where you may not see much ROI for quite awhile. 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 all the above sounds pretty dismal, why are 86% of B2B companies investing in some form of social media, compared to only 82% of B2C (see report)? 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, smart phones and smartphone apps, which were originally designed for personal use and fun — and were frowned on by the business world. It’s hard not to see a similar trend with Social Media.
I shared these thoughts with Janet for her to consider.
- Integration vs. ad hoc postings: Janet’s company may already have a social presence, whether she knows (or likes) it or not. Many employees regularly create haphazard and ad hoc postings about their company…not only LinkedIn, but also Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, and YouTube. Such uncontrolled, disparate postings can be a disadvantage and work at cross purposes to an integrated marketing plan. Far better to own your social media presence so it portrays a cohesive presence.
- Janet’s B2B audience is there: Even though Janet’s target is business people, statistics are increasingly showing that professional buyers consult social media sources during the buying process and before making a decision. A recent eMarketer study reveals over 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 world where marketers can know precisely who and where there 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 there are creating a negative perception of themselves as being behind the times or unavailable to their clientele.
- The multiplier effect is hard to argue with: Best practices already exist for leveraging social media as part of an integrated marketing plan. No marketing element should be done in a vacuum, and from tradeshows to ad campaigns to thought leadership webinars, integration and expansion are the keys for a successful 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 while not everything goes viral the way we might like, with a Tweet here, a Facebook posting there, you can dramatically increase your reach.
- 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.)
While social media may still be an unproven concept 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.