B2Bs take note – social media needs to empower staff, says global study

There is a perception in the industry that B2B “doesn’t do social”. I have often been asked if B2Bs “should use Social Media?” as part of their marketing mix and if “B2Bs can utilise Facebook?”

GlobalWebIndex – B2B Social Media Strategy – Research Report – 2011

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However the results from our recent analysis of GlobalWebIndex data that was published as “Social Strategy for B2B Marketing” could not be more different from this perception. B2B decision makers are the most socially active consumers for all markets and demographics. If anything B2B marketing is a more obvious fit with social media than consumer marketing.

In addition GlobalWebIndex trend data shows that activities such as profile updating and microblogging are expanding quicker among business users than your average consumer. This underlines how B2B decision makers have used social media to develop personal brand and drive their influence.

Interestingly this difference is most marked in developed internet markets where B2B decision makers stand out most from consumer behaviour and usage of social media platforms. In growth markets such as China they are still more active than the norm, but the gap is significantly smaller. This means businesses that operate and sell in the US, UK, Germany or any other high penetration internet market need to focus marketing and sales through social media.

Crucially it’s not just B2B decision makers’ behaviour that leads the way in social media; marketing communications via social channels are also perceived as having an impact on purchasing decisions for products and services they buy for business.

At a global level, social media communications outranked even face-to-face meetings, conferences, client entertaining or traditional trade advertising in most markets, as an influential communication channel. Based on data fielded in June 2011, global decision makers said “Conversations with people from a company/organisation on a social network” was their leading influence scoring 15%; the second ranked motivation was “direct mail”, scoring 13%. Among senior decision makers – those at senior manager level and above – conversations were level with “sales presentations”, both scoring 16%.

The fact that a virtual conversation is seen as more influential than a real life one shows how social media has permeated their lives and importantly for our industry, underlines the importance of empowering all employees (not just sales people) to be active, visible and representing the business online. This fact alone would highlight the need for a radical shift of budget from traditional B2B marketing activities into proactive social media engagement.

In addition “branded communities created by a company or organisation” are seen as more influential than corporate events and entertainment. This prompts the question, is social media changing the way business operates?

One note of caution, company blogs and branded Twitter profiles rank last. This we believe is not necessarily bad news, but very telling in terms of how social media works in B2B. Buyers want to interact online with people and companies need to create structures that enable this. This shows that the true value of social media lies in people, not the platform.

To succeed in this new era of socially enabled B2B communication, firms will have to empower staff to act on a company’s behalf and give them the platform to build a profile, content and relationships in this space.

Tom Smith is MD of Trendstream, a consultancy dedicated to understanding trends in technology adoption and what they mean for consumer behaviour, marketing communications, media and content

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