November 17, 2011 by Kimmo Linkama
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?