Social Media and B2B: We're Working on It


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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 26, 2009 11:01 AM Eric Elkins Eric Elkins  says:

A very thoughtful post (see how I avoid the blog vs. column conundrum?).

What many B2B businesses seem to forget is that they're not marketing to business as entities but to the people within those companies who are making the decisions. In other words, B2B is still about reaching the right people, and using social media strategies to find out where your target audience is gathering and making your case there can be a very powerful way to build awareness about your product or message.

Another key aspect of B2B and social media is the opportunity to build an online reputation as a thought leader in one's respective industry. Maximizing LinkedIn and Twitter to engage in authentic conversations with key decision-makers, creating a corporate blog that is responsive to discussions occurring in and around target industries, and responding to and commenting on relevant posts and ongoing controversies or news stories in conversational media are all ways to demonstrate a B2B company's expertise.

When a potential client makes a purchasing (or other trust-based) decision, a company's reputation as a thought leader can make a world of difference.

The most important aspect of social media efforts, whether in a B2B or B2C environment, is to engage in the many, many relevant conversations taking place in an authentic way.

Mar 5, 2009 8:32 PM Bart Vickers Bart Vickers  says:

Part of the issue is that many enterprises view community as a thing rather than what it really is, a behavior.  So the starting point that is often missed is that there needs to be a clear understanding of who we're trying to reach, at what part of the sales cycle, and for what objectives. 

To that end I probably disagree mildly that social media isn't about business.  Social media is merely a set of tools to engage the community that you want to reach, and that community exists whether or not the enterprise chooses to engage with them.  So social media isn't inherently b2c or b2b--it's enterprise-to-community. 

Part of the misunderstanding, part of the challenge of leveraging social media strategies for b2b effort stems from the fact that the large majority of social media efforts a) are b2c and b) don't work.  Skittles got a lot of marketing mavens talking with their Twitter stunt, but I'd be shocked if 60-day sales trends tick up significantly.  So when b2b CMOs see what's going on in the space, it's very difficult to determine not only how to engage socially, but if it's a relevant idea in the first place. 

While some mix of social tactics makes sense for most marketers, we in the marketing world are not making it any easier for b2b decision makers.  We usually charge at them with a laundry list of functionality, buzzwords, and technologies rather than starting at the beginning, by understanding the audience we want to communicate with and the business objectives of the organization.


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