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Sharing, caring and raring to go – social media key to B2B

April 26, 2012
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Social media not useful for B2B? Far from it!

Is social media a waste of time for B2B companies? Far from it – and despite the fact that B2C companies are still ahead of B2B in their use of social media, the gap isn’t huge. Social media is a key part of the marketing mix for today’s B2B company and, of course, for B2B publishers too.

Social media trends in B2B marketing

Recent research has highlighted some surprising developments. Let’s look at some statistics courtesy of Social Media Examiner:

  • 93% of B2B marketers now use social media (compared to 88% in 2010)
  • 18% of B2B employees have 3+ years’ social media experience, compared to 14% of B2C
  • 56% of B2B marketers acquired new business partnerships through social media (45% for B2C)
  • 60% of B2B marketers showed improved web rankings
  • 87% of B2B marketers use Facebook, compared to 96% of B2C marketers

However, a telling point lies in the development and sustainability of a fan base; here B2B marketers said that 53% said social media helped develop loyal fans, compared to 63% of B2C marketers. This issue is certainly thorny for B2B marketers. After all, it’s more compelling to be a “fan” of Harry Potter than a “fan” of Evidence-Based Neurology Monthly.

Two issues confront the B2B publisher: how do I make my product “sexy” enough to talk about; how do I measure the ROI? A problem here is how social media is used in B2B publishing – it is surprising still how many companies seek to use Facebook as merely a daily announcement service without encouraging interaction.

Making B2B “sexy”

A particular asset peculiar to B2B is that products and services are used to achieve an end so – among the right community – product delivery and performance is something worth talking about. This is particularly pertinent because recent research has shown that social media “shares” led a quarter of online shoppers subsequently to purchase.

The point with all this is that something has to be “worth” sharing. A lawyer could have won a case thanks to an online module of an admiralty service. A grocery chain could have won a new town site thanks to superior insight into local planning conditions from a digital planning tool. An optician may have attracted new business to his store thanks to marketing materials and commercial advice provided by his trade association’s download facility.

Social media favours objective discovery over evident commercialism every time. In a B2B environment, therefore, the marketing argument is this: understand your place in the market, what you do and how you do it. It’s less about what you produce (although that is key), it’s about a sustainable and credible reputation for doing what you do.

It is crucial therefore, that B2B publishing brands become associated with solution delivery so that, even if individual products are not prostituting themselves within social media, brand affinity means that engaged consumers will still feel comfortable with a discovery journey should they wish.

Measuring B2B social media performance

Measurement is crucial and should not be forgotten. Many publishers are still relatively unsophisticated in the application of measurement to marketing, using the old mantra of “I know half my marketing works but I just don’t know which half“.

Yet today, with sophisticated tools such as Google Analytics, not forgetting the necessary discipline of internal database management to define source of sale, measurement is not only possible, it is also a vital tool in assessing performance and for requesting more marketing funds from the board for successful projects.

Not forgetting the key question: what are you measuring? Know this first and you’ll save much pain later on. For example, think about these simple tasks and what you need to record. Simply going into social media blindly will result in an unmeasurable and un-strategic mess:

  • Lead generation
  • Outright sale
  • Free downloads delivered
  • New subscriber acquisition
  • Renewal subscriber retention

Simple metrics for financial measurement can then be applied to the channel:

  • Cost per page impression on a given product
  • Cost per engagement
  • Cost per soft lead
  • Cost per hard lead
  • Cost per new sale
  • Cost per renewal

Fear – don’t be afraid

Finally, in today’s social media world, many old-world publishers often fear what people will say about them; that this is uncontrollable. Good. Social media allows criticism and it allows praise. Crucially, for publishers who for years were happy to churn out books and services on a tread mill, social media allows them to touch the market and learn from what the market is saying.

Social media is about sharing – but it’s also about caring. Brands which engage with customers will build their future strength – often based on a loyalty they may not have known they had. Social media, engaging with customers and prospects alike, is a brand opportunity for publishers the likes of which they have never had been for.

Those who take it seriously will grow into the future. Those who pay it lip service may live to rue the day they failed to engage with their customers.


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