In defence of low B2B social media adoption

B2B companies are often criticised for their low social media adoption rate. A case in point is a blog post entitled B2B Marketers Need To Wake Up and Get Social. It points to an Accenture report and tells us, for example, that

  • Only 8% of B2B companies are heavily leveraging social media today despite the fact that almost 2 in 3 consider social media an important channel for customer engagement.
  • Only 5% reported a strong link between social media and strategy.
  • Just 11% reported having the systems and tools required to be effective.
  • Almost 20% of executives did not trust their companies’ ability to make the right social media investments.

In this light, it is certainly justified to talk about B2B social media adoption being hopelessly low. But the question you very seldom hear asked is “WHY should they use social media?

I’m already hearing the cries “engagement”, “customer service”, “thought leadership”.

All fine and dandy, but there are a few things to consider:

  1. In B2B, engagement in many (if not most) cases means things the companies are not prepared to discuss in public. Measures to establish a competitive lead, exact specs, pricing, consultation.
  2. Customer service is fine as long as you provide how-tos, advice etc, but who wants to air their dirty laundry in public — like complaints or questions too detailed to be discussed in public? Even in the case of how-tos and advice, why put these in social media when you have your own website?
  3. Thought leadership is the only thing that really can work through social media. As an additional bonus, you get more search engine visibility.

There’s also the fact that B2Bs seldom use the newest shiny thing. Their investment proposals go through multiple stages, and the ROI (as tired as the term is) will be asked about at every stage. As far as industrial companies are concerned, the latest-but-one generation of most everything is what they want to use — teething problems ironed out, and they don’t need to be the guinea-pigs that allow the vendor to find out whether the solution works or not.

So the findings of the report actually make a lot of sense.

Two out of three executives interviewed consider social media an important channel for customer engagement — but they are unclear on how and why to engage them.

Their long-term strategy was crafted long before the hype about B2B social media began in earnest. So obviously, there’s no link between strategy and social media, plus they are doubtful about social media being able to move the needle in the first place.

Because social media represent uncharted waters for them, they naturally don’t have the systems and tools to be efficient.

And because everything is looked at through the ROI magnifying glass, of course they don’t trust their companies’ ability to make the right social media investments.

To summarise, if it doesn’t provide short-term income, why should we invest in it?

Your turn. If you’re a B2B marketer, does this describe your situation? If you’re a social media pundit, what’s wrong with my reasoning?

6 thoughts on “In defence of low B2B social media adoption

  1. Why, indeed! If they have a strategy of thought leadership, customer service, etc., then social media becomes a tactic they can consider. Social media itself as a strategy is silly. Silly!

  2. Hi Kimmo,

    I am generally a proponent of social media, but as you saw in my post this week, I think even “good” advice isn’t actually good for many companies.

    What your are missing here, on either side of the argument, is an individual company with their own unique situation, the understanding of the buyer (including influencers, stakeholders, etc), how they operate and the perspective you need to change for them to consider a solution in your category, short list you as a potential provider, and then select you.

    Is there a role for social media listening as a form of market intelligence? Is there a role for listening and responding to people in market (like the widely distributed Avaya case study) with an offer of assistance or support? Is there an opportunity to develop an audience for promoting your content too, similar to the way (respectful) companies often use email marketing today?

    Unfortunately, you can’t answer any of these until you have that underpinning of strategy. Only then can you decide if social media (or TV, print, content marketing, skywriting, etc) is right for your company.

    I expect that if more companies really invested in strategy and had senior marketers that were well versed in social media, they would see good applications for it. But those applications would be very specific to their own needs, and wouldn’t look like use cases you can find on so many sites today.

    1. The listening aspect is, indeed, often (if not most often) overlooked totally. Your post about taking prescriptive advice with a pinch of salt was spot on—for example, such broad advice as the Accenture report gives, “Make social media one of the cornerstones of your customer strategy”, sure cannot apply to every company.

      I’ve often used shipyards and paper mills as an example: it can’t be easy for this type of heavy industries to get much mileage out of social media.

      It was great to have your comment!

  3. Bravo, man.

    This “laggard” thing REALLY bugs me. As your kindred spirit in B2B, I absolutely agree here.

    Tools and tactics should be utilized where/when they provide value. In B2B, no resources should be allocated to any tool unless we can draw a direct and logical path from the tool to the prospect and customer’s buying process. Period.

    While I LOVE social media, my F1000 type clients in the US and Europe are remedial neophytes at this stuff. If the gurus understood how tough it is to get bricks and mortar folks to even pay attn to their LinkedIn profiles, I think they’d be giving different advice.

    Thanks!

    1. Period, indeed. Take this, for example:

      “When it comes to commercial communications – email sweeps the board as the preferred method with 65–78% of people preferring it. A pitiful 0–4% of people prefer social media for commercial communications” (says Ian Brodie).

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