Does social media really work in business-to-business marketing?
It's a valid question, especially with the mass media mindset prevailing over much of social media. What B2B marketers and the firms that represent them should really be concerned with is the quality of the social media connections they make rather than the quantity.
Consider these statistics from a recent Accenture survey:
• A mere eight percent of B2B firms in the United States are extensively leveraging social media. Yet, 65% of marketing executives surveyed identified social media as important to their companies' business.
• Just five percent of marketing executives said they formally integrate social media with their other customer and marketing initiatives, and 26% of the respondents said they were only slightly engaged or not engaged at all with the medium.
• The lack of social media integration and engagement is often based on the fear of making the wrong social media investment. Only one-in-four (24%) of respondents in companies that had invested in social media felt very confident about that investment, while 19% had no confidence in their choice. One-fifth (23%) said their company's social media initiatives were delayed because their CEO was not convinced that there would be long-term success in using the medium.
Understanding how to measure and track social media is a big part of the C-suite dilemma.
Only 11% of the marketing executives surveyed said their companies currently have systems in place to measure and track their social media ROI. However, more than one-third (35%) did recognize improvements in measurement as a factor in helping them be more effective users of social media.
While measurement is a key issue among those represented in the survey, the motivating factors for investing in social media are: to increase engagement and positive customer experiences (60%), influence brand reputation (59%), create new revenue opportunities (52%), respond to customer demand (40%), reduce costs (25%) and keep up with what competitors are doing (24%).
Maybe the real question we should be asking is "Can social media be measured and pay dividends to B2B marketers?" Like most marketing, the answer is a resounding, "it depends!" To give you the best odds at success, here are four things to do to help your social media move from engagement to closing sales:
1. Develop a plan.
You can just jump in without thinking and start your social media journey or you can develop a plan will impact the bottom-line. A plan allows you to not only test what social media outlets to engage (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, etc…), but to determine what messages resonate with what audiences (job titles) and how you can move the social interaction beyond engagement to commitment and get those "friends" doing business with you and your company. The plan is the key to your social media success, so spend time crafting it based on your marketplace, competitive landscape and goals.
2. Keep your content fresh and relevant.
Things in the social space happen in the blink of an eye. It's a faster-paced marketing space and as such, you need to have enough great content to be relevant to each key segment, but not too much to annoy them and tune you out. How much your content gets retweeted, reposted or commented upon is a good initial indication of its relevance to your target markets. Make sure you have enough great content. Period.
3. Test, test, test
CEOs in the survey and those afraid to leap into this new and exciting area of marketing need to understand that the social media space is a measurable marketing space, and as such, they need to promote heavy testing and embrace failures that will lead to key discoveries and aid in achieving their goals. When tested correctly, social media can be a key reason for differentiation and increased revenues. Don't forget to test offers.
4. Integrate traditional communication
Social media is very good at establishing credibility and getting people engaged, but it's not always the best bet at commencing the marriage (establishing a sale). Enter traditional media like email, direct mail, face-to-face sales calls and telemarketing to turn the engagement into wedded bliss. This is an often overlooked "next step" when social media is being employed. The equation is new + old = gold!
Social media usage among B2B companies continues to rise. Early adapters who can figure out what works and why will be further ahead of their competitors, and that should make 2012 a resounding success.
Grant A. Johnson ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is the ambassador of fun at measurable marketing firm Johnson Direct LLC in Brookfield, WI.