Forrester Research released its conclusion this week that many business-to-business marketers are not taking full advantage of social media to reach business technology decision-makers-code in our industry for folks who write big checks for big tech.
That's not news, really. But I was taken by the follow-on note by Forrester VP Laura Ramos:
But most B2B marketers miss the nuances of their audience's preferences by jumping directly to deploying social technology without first profiling the social behavior of their customers.
That's a pretty wise piece of advice for any marketing effort, I'd suggest, but of course I am not a marketing professional.
Social media presents a special problem in the B2B context, I think, because social media is not inherently about business. The nuances you might well find about your audience's social media use is that they like it, but not necessarily as a means to make decisions on those big checks.
As we were evaluating our own site redesign here at IT Business Edge-and we certainly consider ourselves a B2B publisher, although not purely a marketer -- we surveyed our customers about their social behavior. What we found is commiserate with Forrester's finding that far more of them are comfortable consuming social/community/Web x.x (I lose count) than actually contributing to such communities.
Foresters' own numbers place the "spectator" label on 69 percent if those it profiled, dwarfing the 27 percent of decision-makers who actually write blogs and other full-on community content. A few more, 37 percent, say they comment on blogs and product listings.
Again, commensurate with our own findings, more than half of the Forrester respondents said they don't think social media is all that important as they make big spending decisions. In our own anecdotal survey, we found that BTDMs (everything gets an acronym) trusted authoritative sources, such as analysts shops and traditional media, more than they do community content. Again, these are big checks we are talking about. Another 60 percent told Forrester that they "don't find blogs more valuable" (odd turn of phrase) than editorial content in making business decisions.
(A quick side note: My pal, the late Bob Artner, and I had a spat several years ago as we were building out TechRepublic about the difference between an "online column" and a "blog." I'd be lying if I told you right now that I could spell out the substantive difference today. I call what you are reading right now a blog post, but I also am going to allow myself the conceit of thinking of it as "editorial." After all, I get paid to do it.)
Still, people like social media, and business folks are no different. Forester puts the percentage of those who at least participate to some degree at 77 percent. Business people just don't trust it as much as other forms of content.
It's a tough nut to crack, particularly when you have the word "business" in your company's name, as we do. The path we have decided upon -- and it certainly is a work in progress -- is to build out a community with the understanding that many of our readers are perfectly happy to merely observe.
We continue to invite partners to join this community and provide useful, high-value and professionally vetted content-which in the world of Web x.x may be the best functional definition of "editorial"-to our "spectators," who we certainly hope will contribute their own thoughts as feedback and original content via social tools such as forums, comments and wikis. Our own team of editors (there's that word again) also participate in the community as peers, adding value for "spectators" that will encourage them to become more active in the community.
It's our answer the to very tough question of how to do social media for B2B. I am actually about to start a series of conversations with social media experts and commentators about our plans, and I can only assume and hope that we'll continue to fine-tune our approach with what we learn. I'll keep you posted on the most interesting findings.