B2B marketers are schizophrenic about social media. On one hand they've been doing social media, offline and using older technology for years. On the other hand they are standing on the sidelines watching the action and trying to decide if or when to join the fray.
The fundamentals of social media -- networking, user generated content, content sharing and real-time interaction -- has been going on in Listservs, user groups, chat rooms and branded and industry publication and association sites for years. Some of the earliest users of the web, were B2B marketers eager to use the new technology to automate and accelerate conversations and discussions among experts and specialists. so its surprising that they have been reluctant to embrace the new players.
But I suspect there will be an explosion of private and gated online communities in the B2B space soon. Pioneers like Sermo and VuMedi are gathering doctors, vetting them and offering platforms for robust, specialized conversations away from public eyes and ears. This pattern will be repeated over and over again in the next few years augmented by bandwidth to support video, animations, limitless numbers of real-time interactions and enhanced security.
This will continue the migration of offline B2B communications from conventions and trade magazines or journals to webinars, podcasts and specialized community sites. The first wave of this transformational shift is documented in Business.com's 2009 Business Social Media Benchmarking Survey. Sixty-nine percent of those responding participated in webinars. 62 percent read user-generated reviews or ratings and checked out prospective partners, vendors and competitors' web sites or company blogs. More than half searched for company information on social media sites, participated in an online B2B forum or read or downloaded content on a 3rd party content site.
This survey of 2948 business-to-business executives discovered that 65 percent of respondents use social media as part of their normal work routine, even though 54 percent of the companies surveyed block Twitter and Facebook in the workplace. The usage of social media runs up and down the corporate food chain from line managers to C-levels and spans virtually every department, not just the marketing and external facing guys in organizations of every size from micro start-ups to global MNCs. The average respondent used six different social media resources in the course of doing business.
So why are these guys so antsy about using social media to marketer their goods or services?
Three reasons: 1) Its new and its not worth fighting over. Its not in the budget, it's hard to compare with either conventional best practices or existing programs and there's no percentage in risking your neck for social media.
2) There's little evidence that social media buzz yields sales. In a B2B environment where lead generation and nurturing shepherd groups of prospects through an extended buying cycle, there's little reason to believe that social media help close. The value, or so it seems, lies on the front end of building awareness or preference or maybe validating an initial shirt list. So this makes social media a "nice-to-have: but not a necessity.
3) Lack of Control. Anyone can comment, add, edit or pipe up. This takes a tailored sales process and turns it into a free-for-all where marketers can no longer control the ball, the pace of play or the sequence of activities. Social media is way outside the comfort zone of B2B sales and marketing people.
But the good news is that B2B players are experimenting with these emerging media. Seventy percent maintain accounts or profiles in social media spaces. and sixty percent maintain blogs or monitor their firms online reputation. More than half, of the respondents, use Twitter, monitor reviews, advertise on social media sites, comment on social media sites or answer questions in online forums.
As a rule the smaller companies are the early adapters, but everyone is pretty much making it up as they go along. The dominant expectation is that social media will produce web site traffic; prospects who are open to engaging with business-to-business brands. The B2B arena is a rich landscape for social media. In the New Year look for several breakout efforts to harness and use these channels which will be copied extensively.