Social Media in a B2B Marketing

Is there room for social media in B2B marketing? Everyone seems to be on the bandwagon, but bottom line is that there is no true line of site to revenue growth. Now as a consumer business, I get it… You’re creating a consumer touch point, gathering insight & feedback, and creating customer advocates. But as a B2B marketer, whats my motivation? Note: Let me say this is more from the perspective of larger companies. Small to medium enterprises are obviously (usually) more nimble and risk seeking.

Consider the facts…

  • Twitter has a 60% abandonment rate.
  • The B2B sales cycle is generally too complex to trace back social media efforts, making it difficult to demonstrate financial impact.
  • Big corporations take on added liability if they blog or twitter. And when companies do twitter, its generally a blatant self-promotion of how great you are, and the tweets end up only being followed by employees (a lot of good that does).
  • And even if you succeed in getting your messaging out there, if your customers are 50 y/o white male executives, how many of them do you think are out there (the exception of course being linked in)?

I’m not saying Social Media is not the way to go… but I think there is a long way to go before I become a social media evangelist in B2B marketing. These vehicles need to prove themselves as revenue drivers before companies will take on the added risk of exposing themselves in an uncontrolled social environment.

So some questions for my readers (however few you might be)…

  • When will that happen and what will it take for this to happen?
  • Is it just a matter of waiting for a younger, technically savvy generation to move further up the corporate ladder?
  • Will folks seeking this sort of digital interaction even work for large companies? Or are large companies doomed to be the dinasaurs that some of us already see them as?
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  1. #1 by Heather Torres on May 19, 2009 - 3:14 pm

    Wow! Interesting facts. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc. is great for entertainment related brands…or more specifically, celebrities. The audience feels like they get to know the celebrity on a personal and more emotional level.

    Things are different for corporations. I’m a firm believer that businesses ARE missing the boat if they don’t jump on the bandwagon and start building their network now. However, businesses should identify which social networks speak most to their target market. For example, MySpace reaches a completely different audience than Linked In. It will be interesting to see how the social media scene evolves. As the younger generation grows older, will they migrate to different networks that speak to their demographic? Or will the network evolve as the interests of their database of users change? It is yet to be seen.

    • #2 by Kris Kaneta on May 19, 2009 - 3:39 pm

      You make a great point… If social media in B2B becomes common place in B2B, it will probably not be in the “traditional” vehicles we see today. I read somewhere something about Google becoming too cluttered as a search medium, and that we are starting to see very targeted communities specializing in certain industries springing, acting as a micro-search engine or a repository of domain expertise. The question is whether this could ever rival the traditional search engine. I do think seo will become tougher as we see more entrants, and as a result it will become harder to filter the clutter.

      I think the bigger question is how big business responds because the cache of working for the giant conglomerate does not have the appeal it once did… and the people shunning corporate America are the very folks that big business needs to move it to the next level in the digital landscape.

  2. #3 by samkale on May 20, 2009 - 9:17 am

    I think you hit on the underlying issue perfectly – until you an conclusively prove that its a revenue driver, social media in B2B will be nothing more than “infotainment.” At the same time, if they don’t get into it, they’ll never be able to show it as a revenue

    Sure, you can show awareness, impressions, click-throughs, etc, but the really important number is, as you point out, revenue growth.

    If you look at the recent (r)evolution of the White House communications strategy to include FB, blogs, twitter, I think there’s change to be had but perhaps not at the same speed we see in the consumer and small business arenas.

    Larger institutions are becoming more IT based, records are moving from paper to digital, email is more and more important, even to the “50 yo white males” to which you refer above. In the 10 years I spent in those larger institutions, I saw it go from all paper to all digital. Granted, the system isn’t nearly as evolved as the Dot-Com-ers, but its getting there. Much of this is being driven by the younger group of professionals who are demanding instant access to information from anywhere at anytime.

    Will social media in its current form be effective? I think it comes back to the question of value – what value does a particular medium give to the user?

    Is twitter going to be useful to a corporate executive? Probably not. But is a twitter-like system that lets him ping his employee base, or some subset of them, useful? Perhaps. Is Facebook going to be useful to a corporate executive? Maybe not. Is a Facebook-like system that lets him link up to everyone in his company, or in a federated group of companies, and lets him search for people with certain expertise(s) or mine the collective knowledge base or share valuable information useful? Perhaps.

    I think PeerClip presents a very interesting model for this. Its a FaceBook-like social network for doctors. You *have* to be a physician to join, thereby limiting the noise and the unease of using a system that’s open to the general public. Access to the general area is free but companies or physician groups can pay for private areas limited to their own people. Physicians can tap into the collective knowledge base, share journal articles, discuss treatments (de-identified), etc. Pharma/device/biotech are allowed to buy access but in very limited capacities (advertising, customer research polls, but can’t contribute to the conversation).

    • #4 by Kris Kaneta on May 20, 2009 - 12:04 pm

      Interesting tidbit on peerclip. I had not seen this before, but this is exactly what I was alluding to. Social media must become more targeted (and track-able) before b2b’ers can really make the most of it. A message on twitter or fB doesn’t do me any good because the audience is too broad and the clutter to great. It has to be a platform where I know I’m among peers and only see info that pertains to the interests of the collective group. Kind of like combining online search (targeted) with social media (collaborative).

      The communities springing up on linkedin are as close to this model as I’ve seen, but even linkedin poses several challenges. Tracking results aside, there’s still a ton of clutter because anyone can go in a create a group. There has to be 100 groups on marketing, and another 100 affinity groups to my employer…which do I engage?

      Who ever succeeds in creating some “standards” here will win the mindshare of the audience, because they will by default make these decisions for us.

  3. #5 by Sam on May 20, 2009 - 1:39 pm

    Also, if the Catholic Church can get on board, then there might be room for everyone.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/20/pope-vatican-applications-facebook-iphone

  4. #6 by Kris Kaneta on May 20, 2009 - 1:54 pm

    Some fuel for the fire. An insight that I failed to recognize is that may of the b2b customers that are online are probably passive spectators (and not necessarily engaging as “buyers”); which emphasizes content, and making sure that your information is out there for them to see and be exposed to.

    http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090406/FREE/304069978/1109/FREE

  5. #7 by Tonya Signa on July 2, 2009 - 2:00 am

    Great post, Kris. I joined Twitter last year and even got named to a “Twitter top 100 marketers to follow” list. Truly, I have no idea how that happened:-) I found it to be a big time drain for me, and I was always trying to figure out what to tweet that was not meaningless or self-promoting, which was mainly what I was seeing at the time. My clients are all big corporations, and you are the first that I’ve come across that’s actually on Twitter. For me and my business, there are much better ways for me to build relationships with companies and people who could use our services.

    • #8 by Kris Kaneta on July 2, 2009 - 10:15 am

      Hi Tonya! Fancy seeing you here. Glad you enjoyed the post. The irony is that part of me really wants to believe social media will someday be a significant portion of b2b marketing (fyi there are a lot of folks from my company tweeting, how effectively is debatable). The frustrating part is that I see so much “potential”…it’s almost like a child whom you think with just a bit of effort could really excel at whatever it is they wanted. So I continue to blog about it hoping that an epiphany unveils itself. Oh well… we’ll just keep fighting the good fight I suppose.

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