Does Social Media Makes Sense for B2B?

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Although we like to deny it, we’re often prisoners of our own perspective. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of B2B social media marketing.

Professional marketers — myself included — have been singing the praises of social media for close to a decade now. It’s easy to understand why. Social media works for marketers in every sense of the word, from knowledge sharing to relationship building to brand awareness to lead generation. If it works for me, we think, why wouldn’t it work for everyone?

On the other hand, B2B leadership has been highly skeptical of social media, lo these many years. And again, it’s easy to understand why. B2Bs are sales-driven, with complex value propositions and long sales cycles. From their perspective, it’s hard to see how a 140-character tweet could have any impact at all. In a gritty, concrete world social media looks like a frivolous distraction.

The healthiest attitude a B2B can take toward social media marketing: Talk me into it. I won’t divert a dollar from my sales or marketing budget into social media unless you can give me compelling reasons why I should, and also give me a way to measure results.

This is going to make for a very tough sell. Does the B2B’s customer base use social media — often the answer is no. Assuming the customer base uses social media, are they interested in talking about gritty concrete — often the answer is no. Assuming they are interested in talking about gritty concrete, does the B2B have the creativity and bandwidth to produce attention-getting, conversation-provoking content on a regular basis — often the answer is no.

I could go on … and on and on. Are there exceptions? Are there companies that knock the ball out of the park with social media? Of course — but these companies are exceptions because they have exceptional foundational characteristics, such as a strong marketing temperament from the top down and a talented, versatile and enthused social media marketing staff.

Social media appeals to certain B2Bs that want to be on the “cutting edge.” To me that, in and of itself, seems like a flimsy rationale for embarking on something as complex, costly and time consuming as social media. In any event, the cutting edge train left the social media station a few years back. If B2Bs want to hop onboard something new, they should consider mobile marketing or content marketing. Both of these are here to stay and, unlike social, hold enormous potential for a multitude of B2Bs.

(Image credit:© julien tromeur – Fotolia.com)

About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr has more than 25 years of B2B experience in the packaging industry. He is a writer, blogger and content marketing specialist who has been active in social media since 2005. Connect with Brad on Twitter: @bradshorr.

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5 Comments to “Does Social Media Makes Sense for B2B?”

  1. Heidi Thorne says:

    I could not agree with you more, Brad! You and I both serve, well, un-glamorous B2B industries that produce products such as pipes, valves and soldering flux, or services such as manufacturing efficiency studies. Agreed, social media isn’t ideal for these arenas, but can provide a news feed channel. As well, for industry events, Twitter and/or Facebook can provide an onsite communication portal.

    Search still rules in B2B which makes content marketing, with an eye for SEO, one of the best B2B online marketing strategies. With more and more searches being done on a mobile device, investing in a mobile-friendly website is also a good investment.

    Social media is maturing and becoming an ideal marketing media for some businesses, but not all. Just as one wouldn’t use an outside sales force to sell toothpaste door-to-door (though at some point in the ancient past it might have worked), strictly using social media for marketing to “gritty” B2B businesses is completely absurd.

    • Brad Shorr says:

      Heidi, Thanks for sharing your perspective: I know you are deep in the B2B trenches and it’s always interesting to kick around shiny new objects with you … especially at Starbucks. Anyway, when you talk about mobile marketing, as you often do in your writings, it’s immediately obvious that hey, this would actually WORK for a B2B. With social, there are a lot of dots to connect between strategy and results … and often the result, e.g., an effective news feed channel, is far from jaw-dropping.

  2. Joe says:

    All good comments above.

    My 2 pence … I would say that content marketing and social media often go hand in hand. I would also say that earned media such as social should be considered as part of the marketing mix in B2B, this does not mean plough your budget into it, but at least make sure you optimise your content for social in the same way you might do for mobile (make it easy to share). When you create content, ideally you want people to talk about it and share it, whether on or off line.

    The other big problem I think B2B suffer from is creativity and emotion in marketing and this is a must in the social space, if you cannot get to that as a business either use a good agency *cough* plug *cough* or don’t bother.

    To play devils advocate: People are on social as a whole, they may not be engaging but they sure are lurking and perhaps not in the places, as a business, you might be looking for them – 72% of UK internet users are on Facebook, compared to LinkedIn UK penetration rate of 24% in October 2012, just a thought ….

    • Brad Shorr says:

      Hi Joe,

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! Your point about B2B’s lack of creativity and emotion is HUGE, and if you ask me, presents serious content problems for all types of B2B content — but it’s a particularly glaring shortcoming in social. Old habits die hard.

      I don’t see any problem using social for content sharing — but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason in and of itself to embark on a social media program. We advise many of our clients to create offsite content (blog posts and research articles, mainly) — and often, the publishing sites have terrific social networks that do a better job of sharing the content than our clients’ own social sites ever could,

  3. Kevin says:

    I was in the same boat regarding using social media for some of the more “boring” media categories. Let’s face it…some things in the B2B space don’t lend themselves to being social. LinkedIn would be the most applicable place for B2B if there was one. However, if you conduct a search for “LinkedIn Marketing Specialist” you will nary come across one…I wonder why?

    Everyone has hit the nail on the head regarding being creative. The insurance industry, though it is primarily B2C, has done a great job at making an otherwise morbid and boring product fun and exciting. We all love the Geico gecko, Flo from Progressive and the deep voice AllState guy. The key in all of those scenarios is that they “created” a personal or mascot other than the actual product. The persona then became the focus of social sharing.

    Can a company that sells pipes, valves or whatnot rise to that level of creativity with a social peronsa/mascot? I haven’t seen it yet but I do believe that is the key.