Beyond Fast Food and Deodorant: Why Social Media Is Better Suited for B2B Marketers

Jake Wengroff

By Jake Wengroff, Global Director of Corporate Communications, Frost & Sullivan

Case studies of social media success with movie premieres, athletic shoes, chicken sandwiches, or men’s personal care products abound. The B2B marketer is often forced to sit back and read about these success stories, and try to conflate these B2C strategies with the task at hand:  attracting businesses—specifically the buyer or buyer-influencer for a business—to a company’ social media offerings. Only recently have B2B tracks emerged at social media conferences, but the B2B marketer will be pleased to know that despite the spotlight given to the B2C social media marketer, the fundamentals of social media are much better suited for B2B. Let’s take a look.

Thirst for knowledge, information and thought leadership

The business buyer is always looking for information—whether a specific solution for his or her company, or overall thought leadership. Because content is the backbone of social networks, the B2B marketer would find numerous opportunities to display a company’s or client’s ideas.

B2B-only networks such as LinkedIn and SlideShare are growing exponentially, while some consumer-only networks have floundered (MySpace, Bebo). Though both audiences coexist peacefully on Facebook, the plethora of opportunities to display thought leadership is clearly in the hands of the B2B marketer.

“Leadership and management,” as a search string, receives just over 200,000 searches per month, according to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.

Lead generation

“What’s the ROI?” we are always asked. If the biggest investment for any social media initiative is time, how can organizations know that they are spending their employees’ time wisely?

Digital metrics such as friends, followers, tweets, re-tweets, pageviews, clickthroughs, downloads and embeds can be tracked. The bigger the better, I suppose, and a marketer can diligently demonstrate an increase in these metrics over time. But the C-suite will invariably ask, “So what? Is it really helping our brand?”

The answer is yes, although indirectly. Social media efforts for B2B can address this fuzziness by capturing another metric that a B2C marketer usually cannot: a sales lead, or someone who is genuinely interested in that company’s product or service, with strong purchase intent. Consumers can interact with a brand by Like’ing (on Facebook) or downloading and redeeming coupons, but this is a very small percentage of the overall audience for a B2C social media campaign. B2B social media campaigns demonstrate a company’s thought leadership, with subtle hints at what the company has to sell. B2B marketers actually want businesses to find them and interact with their content, hoping to spur a response or indication of interest. What stronger metric to demonstrate ROI than the delivery of a list of sales leads?

Specialized community—the “long tail”

The Internet has created the opportunity for specialized communities of B2B buyers to find one another—this has been going on for at least 10 years. Add a layer of social and you have a supercharged effort that validates the mission of these communities.

Consider the Groups feature on LinkedIn.  Because anyone can start a group, the most niche-like product or service can find its voice on the network, which now boasts 85 million members worldwide.

Trade publications—whose print circulations have been decimated—have turned their strong brands and loyal readerships into online communities, adding blogs from their editors, guest blogs from outsiders and social features to their articles (comments, shares, Likes).  Such communities are, by design, smaller—but much more loyal—and more likely to uphold the credibility that such online B2B communities promise.

Improves SEO—search is now social

Search is stronger than ever—about 34,000 Google searches are conducted every second—and social supports this effort. Bing announced two weeks ago that it was going to count Facebook Like’s in its search algorithms and rankings. As the B2B marketer relies on buyers seeking information through search, he or she will clearly see the value in increasing a company’s or client’s social footprint in efforts to boost search engine rankings.

Of course, some portions of the B2B audience are bypassing the main search engines altogether and instead relying on searches within the Twitter network or LinkedIn. Nonetheless, the importance of getting found when the audience is a lot smaller becomes extremely important to the B2B marketer.

Supplements existing campaigns

The challenge of selling complicated (and no doubt, costlier) B2B products and services is that the sales cycle can be very long—sometimes over one year. As such, buyers want to be sure that they have completely vetted out the vendor. Social media provides just the right string of opportunities for the buyer to become aware of the seller—articles, presentations, podcasts, blogposts from the company all contribute to making the buyer feel confident about moving ahead with a sale.  Social media provides the multiple touchpoints that are needed when buyers are in the midst of a larger, more complex transaction.

Some content or campaigns dovetail perfectly with social media. For example, an executive speaks at a conference—audio clips can be available for download as podcasts, video clips can be posted to YouTube, SlideShare or the company’s Facebook page, all with multiple, associated tweets. PowerPoint presentations the company delivers regularly to clients or the industry can be posted to SlideShare and made available to an even larger audience.

Jake Wengroff is the Global Director of Corporate Communications for research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. He is responsible for branding, media relations, webinar programs, social media, communications training, and internal communications.