Why Social Media Matters for B2B Vendors

March 28, 2011

Social media marketing has clearly been embraced by consumer brands. Pepsi famously dropped its Super Bowl advertising a year ago in favor of a social media campaign. Coke, Starbucks and Disney are among the top brands on Facebook, with millions of fans. SMR has developed a sophisticated methodology for continuously tracking the top brands on social media based on reach, satisfaction and other metrics.

B2B marketing executives, however, tend to be a bit more skeptical. Though adoption is increasing, many b2b marketers still question the true effectiveness of social media for reaching business buyers. After all, four out of ten companies still ban access to social media sites from the workplace, and many more sharply limit its use. B2B products and services don’t generally make the same kind of emotional connection with buyers that consumer brands do, and tactics that work for b2c marketers (e.g. social media games and contests, “checking in” at retail locations, coupons and discounts) are inappropriate or flat-out inapplicable in the business world. There is, so far, no b2b version of Yelp, and its unlikely there will be anytime soon, as many companies worry about the legal liability entailed in either endorsing or disparaging a specific vendor.

Still, social media is rapidly becoming an essential component of the b2b marketing mix. B2b buyers use social media tools throughout their buying processes, from problem-solving and how-to content in the initial research phase through product/vendor comparisons and customer experience validation. Bloggers provide much of this information, supplementing the reporting and commentary of trade publications and industry analysts. Buyers thwarted from using these tools at work (e.g., part of the four-in-ten companies above) find ways around corporate roadblocks, access social media sites via mobile devices, from home or the local coffee shop, or while traveling. They rely on search and social media through the bulk of their buying process,  and expect b2b vendors to be there.

For b2b marketers still trying to quantify the potential benefits of social media marketing, here are a dozen helpful stats. You can find the original sources for most of these findings in Best Social Media Stats, Facts and Marketing Research of 2010.

  • • Companies active in social media report a 59% higher lead conversion rate for organic search traffic
  • • 85% of B2B buyers say they want B2B vendors to engage and interact with them online
  • • 93% of B2B buyers believe that all companies should have a social media presence
  • • 9 out of 10 start a purchase process with search (and social media increasingly affects search results)
  • • Three-quarters of B2B technology buyers say they use social media at some point during a buying cycle to gather information or communicate with colleagues about a purchase; 58% use LinkedIn for this purpose
  • • YouTube reaches 36% of all business decision-makers—more than 10X the figure for Forbes.com
  • • 43% of employees in Fortune 1000 companies say they use LinkedIn for professional purposes
  • • 100% of the Fortune 500 have at least some of their executives listed on LinkedIn. 50% of LinkedIn users are business decision makers.
  • • 65% of journalists use social media to conduct research for stories
  • • 59% of C-level executives report using social media for business purposes at least weekly
  • • 90% of B2B technology decision makers watch online videos
  • • 80% of B2B technology decision makers read blogs; 69% are active on social networks

In short, b2b marketers need to embrace social media marketing because the buyers are using it. They expect vendors to use it as well. And you can’t win the game if you’re not even on the field.

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