Social Media

Conversations that Aren’t about Mel Gibson: the B2B Social Media Case Study, Part 1

Posted by Eric Anderson on July 20th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

A couple of months ago, White Horse released the results of a survey comparing adoption of social media marketing by B2B companies vs. B2C, looking  at issues of staffing, management buy-in, and the use of specific tactics.

The report got some good pick-up among our marketing blogging brethren, and their individual spins on the results were a veritable study in glass half-full/half-empty interpretation: some declared that the B2Bs are stuck in the social stone age (not my conclusion), while others observed that B2B marketers are right in the thick of things, social-wise, if only they could get their C-levels to see the light (which was pretty much my conclusion).

As the author of the report, I feel I owe B2B marketers an apology. While I did manage to place the blame for the B2B social lag squarely on C-level naysayers in the report—noting that only 9% of B2C upper managers are bearish on social, compared to a whopping 36% for B2B – I offered frustrated B2B marketers a rather narrow and unsatisfying remedy: contact White Horse, and we’ll set those C-levels straight.

Yes, it’s true. I sullied the sacred cause of knowledge-sharing with a shameless agency plug. And the proof of my transgression is that not every B2B marketer in the land has so far beaten down our door to learn how we can turn things around for them. This could mean that they’d prefer some method of building a business case for social media that didn’t involve talking to me. That is understandable.

And so as penance for my transgression, I now devote the rest of this post (and all of the next one) to sharing what I know about building the B2B business case for social – a kind of DIY for those who would prefer a sharp stick in the eye to an agency phone call. (Again, I get it.) There are just three things you really need to know:

1. Social media is not what your CEO thinks it is.

Imagine yourself as a busy CEO living in a kind of info-stream bubble, wherein a narrow stream of content demanded nearly all of your attention, and the only streams that filtered in from the outside were the ones that were too annoyingly pervasive to ignore. What stuff would get through?

Actually, we don’t have to imagine that, because Twitter’s Trending Topics will tell us what’s floating at the top of the social stewpot. So let me just pop over there and see… OK, at the top of the list we’ve got Mel Gibson, #youlookprettystupid, #oldpeoplenames, and Bachelorette.

While it is demonstrably true that some old people have funny names, this alone will not bolster your business case for having a corporate Twitter account, especially if your CEO is old and has a funny name. A cursory glance at social media’s dominant content might leave any executive with the impression that it consists mainly of debates about Justin Bieber’s hair. They might also be forgiven for concluding that social media is comprised of Facebook, Twitter, and something vaguely sinister called ChatRoulette.

Which is why every B2B social media business case needs to begin where few of them actually do: by pointing out where the actual conversation is taking place. If this seems perfectly obvious to you, then at least allow that it may not perfectly obvious to your execs, and B2B social adoption has suffered for it. Our survey found that B2B marketers are about one-third less likely to participate on industry-related bog commentary and forums than to maintain outposts on major social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Yet our own client research persistently shows that the vast majority of useful B2B conversations – the kind that influence decision-makers – take place on blog commentary and forums. This isn’t a revelation; studies of B2B social usage by Forrester, American Business Media, and Business.com have also underscored the importance of these venues.

B2B marketers need an expansive definition of social media. The litmus test is simple: is it a place where a) business conversations are occurring and b) you might be allowed to participate?  When viewed through this wide-open aperture, social media becomes urgently relevant. B2B sales tend to be complex and consultative, after all, and where do B2B buyers go for consultation? A surprising number start with simple Google searches, and those Google searches increasingly lead to, yep, industry blogs and forums.

This of course begs the question: assuming all this juicy B2B social stuff is out there, waiting to be plucked and presented in a Teflon-coated business case, how does one set about doing that? This is the part where I leave off my blog post with shameless question-begging, so that you’ll read the next installment, in which I’ll cover what tools and metrics work best. Stay tuned for 2) Social media is what everyone else is doing and 3) It's about pie, not ROI.

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