The Business of Social Media: B2B and B2C Engagement by the Numbers

I spend a great deal of time working within the B2B sector, among other things, and social media is a growing and or pervasive program within a comprehensive, integrated communications and service strategy. In almost every scenario I’ve encountered, executives, marcom and service executives, and brand managers have generally assumed that social and interactive activities and programming were ideally best suited for consumer applications. However, as we recently explored, in Social Media, it’s not just business, it’s business-to-business.

Indeed, Social Media is not limited to B2C applications, its impact and effects are actively measured and felt in B2B as well as government, education, military, and other prominent verticals. As decision makers take to the social web, their research, activity, communication, and most importantly, their relationships only intensify over time.

If you’re working in B2B, perhaps this post will provide you with value. Or, at the very least, it will arm with you data necessary to convince, compel, and persuade those skeptical or uninspired colleagues, clients, and managers.

Business.com recently conducted a study that evaluated Social Media activities of those in B2B and B2C. In its report, “2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarking Study,” Business.com found that North American companies focused on B2B were much more rigorous in the world of social media than those in B2C. As you’ll see, B2B leads the fray across the entire regiment of campaigns and programs.

Social Media: B2B vs. B2C

Maintained company-related profiles on social networks:

B2B: 81%
B2C: 67%

Participate in Twitter:

B2B: 75%
B2C: 49%

Host blog/s:

B2B: 74%
B2C: 55%

Monitor brand mentions:

B2B: 73%
B2C: 55%

Engage in discussions:

B2B: 66%
B2C: 43%

Participate in Q&A sites such as Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn, forums:

B2B: 59%
B2C: 44%

Upload content (social objects) to Social Networks:

B2B: 50%
B2C: 32%

Manage a community dedicated to customers or prospects:

B2B: 49%
B2C: 51%

Monitor/support user ratings and reviews:

B2B: 49%
B2C: 51%

Produce Webinars or podcasts:

B2B: 46%
B2C: 22%

Advertise on social networks:

B2B: 42%
B2C: 54%

Utilize social bookmarking sites such as delicious and digg:

B2B: 38%
B2C: 21%

Employee recruiting:

B2B: 36%
B2C: 27%

As expected, those companies engaging in social media, whether B2B or B2C, focused efforts on creating social network profiles, microblogging, blogs, and brand monitoring, hitting a high of 81%. Most social activities however, maintained a level of participation with an average of around 50%. There is room for growth for brand engagement regardless of industry.

Business.com also evaluated where companies were focusing their attention and resources. The study surfaced that not only are a greater number of B2B companies experimenting with Social Media, they are also extending their presence across multiple networks. However, B2C businesses dominated engagement within Facebook and MySpace.

Notice the disparity between B2B and B2C adoption of Twitter. If these numbers truly reflect that of the greater community of businesses, B2B companies are at the forefront of this wildly scrutinized and popularized social property.

Facebook

B2B: 77%
B2C: 83%

Twitter

B2B: 73%
B2C: 45%

LinkedIn

B2B: 56%
B2C: 27%

YouTube

B2B: 43%
B2C: 30%

MySpace

B2B: 14%
B2C: 23%

FriendFeed

B2B: 9%
B2C: 2%

Plurk

B2B: 1%
B2C: 0%

Other

B2B: 4%
B2C: 8%

Also according to the Business.com study, 60% of B2B respondents leverage Twitter search to monitor brand or company mentions compared to just 35% of those in B2C. With Facebook slowly revising their privacy settings to open up real-time search capabilities within the 350 million strong network and MySpace recently announcing the availability of a real-time API, businesses will have the ability, and the responsibility, to search for relevant conversations outside of Twitter and Google.

Google search results, at least prior to the real-time search revolution, also proved valuable for mining and unearthing relevant content. 59% of B2B and 40% of B2C companies report using Google Alerts and 61% of B2C and 60% of B2B reported that they actively googled themselves.

With the rapid evolution of search, business monitoring will assuredly shift its focus from traditional to real-time. Just recently, Google announced both Social Search, the inclusion of content generated by your social graph in traditional search results, as well as real-time results from Twitter and other social networks. We already know that customers, regardless of industry, are actively taking to search engines to learn more about brands and products mentioned in their social stream.

A New Era of Influence

- 20% of tweets published are actually invitations for product information, answers or responses from peers or directly by brand representatives

- About half of Twitter users who were introduced to a brand on Twitter were compelled to search for additional information

- 8% of those who came into contact with a brand name on Twitter went on to search for additional information on search engines with 34% searching other social networks

Customers Take to the Social Web

- 44% admitted that they have recommended products in Social Media and 39% stated that they have discussed a product specifically on Twitter

- 46% of Facebook users talk about or recommending products on the 225 million strong social network

- Social Media already accounted for 18% of all information searching in early 2009

- 30% claim they wished to learn more

- 27% reported that they were receptive to receiving invitations for events, special offers or promotions

- 25% stated that they visited a site after learning about a product on their social network of preference

Engagement Has Its Rewards

In a recent Razorfish study, 40.1% of consumers reported friending a brand on Facebook or MySpace. Once a connection was established, the resulting activity was profoundly beneficial to the awareness and potential revenue of the brand.

Recommend the brand to others:

Always: 22.94%
Usually: 39.15%
Sometimes: 33.92%

Consider the brand when in the market for a similar product of service:

Always: 22.69%
Usually: 40.90%
Sometimes: 34.41%

Raise awareness of the brand:

Always: 21.45%
Usually: 38.65%
Sometimes: 36.66%

Purchase a product/service from the brand:

Always: 17.46%
Usually: 42.89
Sometimes: 36.66%

ROI: Return on Investment or Ignorance?

I recently wrote about the lacking of an industry-wide practice for measuring social media. According to one study, 85% of businesses engaged in interactive programs were not measuring the ROI.

Even though measurement was more pervasive in B2B over B2C, participating companies appeared to actively measure social media in this case – at least those surveyed anyway. B2C companies tended to focus on revenues to assess ROI (where the I represents investment and involvement). B2B companies typically evaluated Web traffic, brand awareness, and the quality and volume of lead generation. That being the case, B2B and B2C reported that Web traffic was considered the top metric.

It appears that an industry typically characterized as lethargic is in actuality, pioneering new forms of communications, service, sales and branding in the social realm.

Questions remain for me however, in order to better ascertain how and why businesses are using these new tools and to what extent. For example, I would ask those within B2B and B2C what their level of engagement and commitment to social media is across multiple departments within the organization. I firmly believe that every department affected by outside behavior or those that have the ability to affect it will ultimately benefit from socializing. Therefore, conducting a benchmark survey to capture the state of the industry as it corresponds specifically to service, sales, branding, communications, HR, etc., will help us better surface opportunities and potential strategies. In addition, I suggest introducing one more set of questions that focuses on what I refer to as the “ a ha” vs. the “uh oh” moment, when a company decides to embrace or experiment in Social Media. Are businesses jumping online because they realized the opportunity specific to a network or because they felt it necessary based on a negative discussion or series of negative and public instances.

The Attention Economy and Earned Relevance

Attention is increasingly thinning and as such, it is considered a precious commodity.

Whether it’s B2B or B2C, we are each in the end, consumers. And, as consumers, we seek information online in order to make more informed decisions based on research, the advice of friends, peers, and experts, and the recognition of our questions and commentary directly from brands. In order to make an impact on the bottom line through sales and the ongoing investment in engendering goodwill and earning loyalty, we must focus our time and resources on the attention dashboards of our prospects and customers, as well as those who also influence them. If we do not, we will quickly find ourselves outside of the parameters within every business decision-making process.

If it is one thing that we learn right here, right now, is that Social Media affects every part of the buying cycle. This is why a company-wide SRM program must be engineered and deployed in order to effectively monitor behavior and sentiment to effectively and genuinely shape perception, cultivate meaningful relations, and inspire action.

General Buying Cycle

1. Acknowledging the need

2. Awareness

3. Research

4. Consideration (the short list)

5. Evaluation

6. Purchase

7. Applications

8. The Experience

9. Reaction

10. Opportunity for advocacy

It should also not go unsaid, that while women rule the social web, the buying process in B2C is also influenced by women in a relationship setting. According to Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women and PrimeTime Women, when men and women buy as partners, women control at least four out of five stages of the purchasing process. While this isn’t representative of the bigger pitcure, it is still nonetheless interesting and worthy of consideration.

This is why in the world of B2C marketing, women are considered the Chief Household Officer as they’re actively driving and steering purchase decisions.

Five stages of the purchasing process:

1. Kick-off – women
2. Research – women
3. Purchase – men
4. Ownership – women
5. Word-of-mouth – women

It is how we engage at each step of this cycle that determines our place and stature within the inevitable path of attention, analysis, and action. Once we learn how and where to engage, we can then focus our efforts on earning affinity and advocacy. This is our time to garner relevance through the intelligent practice of poignant and relevant listening, understanding, and participation. In parallel, this is also our opportunity to establish authority and attention. Without it, it’s easy to vanish from the cycle of awareness and consideration. Out of sight, out of mind…

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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