Social media and B2B marketing
Should you, or have you already, invested in social media marketing? Is it worth the time, effort and cost? Is it the Holy Grail that some commentators suggest or just another passing fad?
It is easy to be overcome by the promise of Web 2.0. The view appears to be: “put some relevant content ‘out there’ and new customers will flock to us without having to pay for conventional marketing” . Is this view justified or are they those of commentators with a vested interest in ‘bigging’ up social media?
If in doubt it is always a good idea to reach for the facts. But herein lies a difficulty. Facts seem to be few and far between in the blogosphere. Most of the reports that have come across my desk would make any self respecting researcher squirm. Conclusions are being drawn from dubious sample sizes with few attempts to segment respondents. Perhaps this is the nature of new media but it makes justifying expenditure and effort in this area an act of faith rather than a proven way of improving ROI.
Scouring the many opinions being offered leads to a number of conclusions albeit best described as work-in-progress
1. It’s social not business
Social sites are about people-to-people and not business-to-business. If they have a role to play in business it is more about business-to-consumer than business-to-business. Linkedin goes furthest towards crossing that divide but, to be flippant, often seems to be more about people trying to influence their existing contact list or possibly flagging their availability to headhunters. So, rather than B2B, Linkedin seems to be more about B2C2B.
2. It’s all about content and relevance
People sign up to a social site because they are interested in the person, the group, or the company. If you are trying to use social sites as a way of promoting your business you will need to have a very interesting personality in the company, a special interest to makes your group more interesting than the thousands of other sites on the web, or information that you can provide that others cannot. For most B2B marketers this comes down to explaining something which is not well known or providing information to an audience which is known to you and not to them. Good examples of the use of social sites in this way - although it could easily be done by other means - is an update service or a discussion about issues of importance to a particular industry.
A report published by Base One and B2B Marketing puts a little more flesh on these bones (see chart).
The most influential channels across the whole buying cycle are: web sites/web searches, word-of-mouth, events/seminars and industry press.
The least influential are: Facebook, Linkedin, blogs, Twitter and community sites.
Direct mail and press advertising are firmly positioned between these two blocks with direct mail performing particular well as a way of choosing a supplier. So much for Web 2.0.
If there is some encouragement from the report it is that some social sites are being used to confirm the choice of supplier (as opposed to inform the choice of supplier). In the chart this relationship can be seen from the small up-tick in the Twitter curve. Good old fashioned word-of-mouth approval but on a new platform.
So where does that leave B2B social marketing? If nothing else, the jury is out and showing few signs of wanting to return. But the Internet is fast moving and there is no reason to believe that the position reported in Base One’s survey in April 2010 will still apply in 2011.