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:
Participate in Twitter:
Monitor brand mentions:
Engage in discussions:
Participate in Q&A sites such as Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn, forums:
Upload content (social objects) to Social Networks:
Manage a community dedicated to customers or prospects:
Monitor/support user ratings and reviews:
Produce Webinars or podcasts:
Advertise on social networks:
Utilize social bookmarking sites such as delicious and digg:
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.
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:
Consider the brand when in the market for a similar product of service:
Raise awareness of the brand:
Purchase a product/service from the brand:
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
4. Consideration (the short list)
8. The Experience
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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Thanks for this post. Lots of great objective information to help steer marketers. I'd add that our research at ITSMA supports a lot of what you are saying here. In a survey of 350 IT buyers, the majority (55%) now use social media during the purchasing process–that's up 50% from last year. Most say they use LinkedIn (US) or Plaxo (Europe) which says that IT buyers are looking for peer connections. Peers are by far their favorite sources of information during the buying process. About 30% say they make those peer connections through membership programs. There's room for marketers to grow that percentage by creating online communities and facilitating the connections among peers. Not easy, but possible.
This Five stages of the purchasing process just doesn't add up.
I fail to see how, for example single guys, let/allow girls to kick off the process and then take ownership. People buy what they want to buy. Granted, in domestic situations this is different but I would dispute these research findings.
I would imagine that the researcher are asking the questions to get the answers they want. Nice article up to that point Brian but, be honest, does this really apply to you?
Ivan, interesting perspective. In my world, no…the “she”conomy stage don't apply to me. Here's the caveat that should frame those stages a bit better:
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.
I hear you, Brian.
I live in China and it’s interesting to see how Social Media works over here. One of the things to note is that social networks are used (among other things) to connect offline.
Remember, we have a 1 child policy here, so there’s an entire generation growing up with no buddies to hang around with. They meet online and then form little groups in the real world.
An example of this is the ‘wake me up’ groups where students txt/IM each other at, for example, 5.30m, to get each other out of bed and start the day ‘together’.
Brian, I was frankly surprised to see the data showing such heavy Twitter usage by B2B firms. I've seen many examples of firms that mkt both B2B AND B2C (like Dell), but most of the B2B firms I see on Twitter are not as savvy as the B2C firms. I'm curious to know who is considered the leader in B2B usage on Twitter. Which firms would you put in that category?
Great post Brian, I think one thing which comes again and again into our mind when we talk about social media and how B2B sectors employ them is human interactions and what they prefer to talk about in the digital and physical world, The reason why I think B2b companies are more engaged into social media is that most of the people who lead these tasks in B2B firms are influencers already but you can rarely see that number in people from B2C industries..This is what changes the thoughts of a company on a whole.
Thank's Brian, just the facts I was looking for!
Hello Brian, thanks for the post. Unlike most, your discussions on SM are some of the best out there. Usually I'm left chasing my tail through pages of fluff and vague dribble when what I'm really looking for some definite answers and bullet-proof cases . Reading other's work often reminds about some of the things people were saying during the mania of the dot com era.
I pay particular attention to your closing statements:
“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.” – How?
I would love to hear your more elaborate thoughts if possible based on your experience in the field which would make a tasty follow-up post I believe! Please!
Phil…I will have a post just for you. Stay tuned. I'm waiting on final word on whether it's accepted to publish on another blog. 🙂
Thanks for the nice post. I believe that now a days Social Media affects every part of the business and this is the reason for that every person concentrate on this media.
I'm sure you know this, Brian, but for the benefit of your readers who didn't download the study and its methodology, let's not forget that the respondents for this study were a self-selected sample of employees that either actively use social media themselves or work for companies that do. So some of these numbers (Twitter, etc.) are high for a reason.
Brian – thanks for the post (s). I do find your musings very thoughtful, and I do learn a lot.
I have 2 observations. Would love to know your thoughts.
1. B2B may be leading the charge, since it lends itself naturally to social media, for a couple of reasons
a) you can narrow your target market, and find conversations to engage in, listen, contribute, and propagate your influence
b) it is easier to measure, and track ROI's (on some of the metrics you have identified in your post), as they result in qualified lead generation (most of the times). Not so easy in the case of B2C.
2. It is striking that “Men” are the key influencers in “purchase”. So, even if women are the CHO's (which I agree with) for the most part, Men do have a lot of influence, especially at the point of purchase.
Thanks for your thoughts. Enjoy them immensely.
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I was wondering about that. Thanks for the clarification Tom.
Lots of great objective information to help steer marketers. I’d add that our research at ITSMA supports a lot of what you are saying here. In a survey of 350 IT buyers, the majority (55%) now use social media during the purchasing process–that’s up 50% from last year. Most say they use LinkedIn (US) or Plaxo (Europe) which says that IT buyers are looking for peer connections. Peers are by far their favorite sources of information during the buying process. About 30% say they make those peer connections through membership programs
Great article, B2B is definitely
leading the way for social media, but I do wonder how often the online and
offline are used as a cohesive marketing approach or whether they are being treated