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ANALYSIS: B2B buyers need to rethink their attitude to social media, says report

B2B marketers are running the risk of falling behind their rivals if they disregard information available on industry social media networks, according to a Forrester Research survey.

The report in question, titled 'The Social Technographics of Business Buyers' revealed that although 77 per cent of business technology decision-makers were engaging with social media sites on the job, the majority of B2B marketers do not use the information available to effectively influence their customers purchasing decisions.

This news comes despite Forrester discovering that more people in the industry are using social media than ever before.

The research institution surveyed more than 1200 business technology decision-makers in North America and Europe, finding their social media participation 'exceeded all previous benchmarks'.

Using the same analytical framework pioneered by its Social Technographics Profile for helping marketers understand how consumers approach social technologies, Forrester has investigated how B2B decision-makers view social networks, and crucially where some of them fail to recognise their potential.

Missing out

The report's definitive statistic is that 51 per cent of those participating felt that social media does not play an important role in the purchasing process, and this, Forrester says, is where marketers need to catch up fast.

Three quarters of B2B decision-makers regularly use social media networks at work. These users fall into two broad categories; approximately one third contribute and add to networks and around twice as many simply observe other people doing this.

The information these people are accessing is infinite and being constantly updated, yet examples of it being extracted and moulded into effective marketing strategy are all too infrequent.

The survey does not come as a complete surprise to the networks themselves, who believe that B2B marketing will slowly start tapping into the wealth of data available to them as awareness of the media increases.

This is after all a relatively new, yet rapidly rising concept in marketing.

“These figures highlight the need for the new media industry to educate professionals on how to effectively use and engage with social media,” says Cristina Hoole, marketing director of LinkedIn Europe.

“They will realise that when used effectively, social media platforms provide an excellent opportunity from communications, marketing and new business perspectives.”

Consequently, Forrester believes the integration of traditional and online tactics is essential as the groundswell of social activity grows.

Experts predict that emerging social behaviours will become especially pivotal in a down economy as they fundamentally change the nature of the B2B buyer/seller marketing relationship.

But several buyers are still unwilling to take the plunge.

Many experts believe those who don't are in danger of missing out on a massive step forward in marketing strategy: “Buyers who are concerned that they are losing their brand message, can fail to see that, in many ways, the information and feedback on these sites effectively is their brand,” says John Stanton, chairman of the Association of B2B Agencies. “There is no stronger message than a recommendation from an independent third party, which is what is possible on these networks.”

Stanton goes on to speak of the emergence of what has become the 'Facebook generation': “Social media in a business context seems less rewarding. People are starting to grapple with the challenge of making it rewarding, but it is definitely here to stay.”

Cashing in

“B2B marketers succeed when they first understand how buyers approach social computing and then design programs that map their business objectives to buyers' social proclivities,” says the report, before explaining the well-trodden pitfalls of getting brands out there in the forums.

Starting with small targets and concentrating resources in one area seems to be the most efficient way of getting a level of return on investment.

Some social network experts say those who do jump in at the deep-end are often unsuccessful, as they fail to prepare their campaign thoroughly.

Many may then remove themselves from such networks, believing them to be unsuitable or untrustworthy.

“B2B marketers see that consumers read blogs, join social networks, rate products and wonder 'Do my customers behave the same?'

By jumping directly into the technology, marketers devote time and effort on social media campaigns without knowing if anyone will show up to participate,” says the report.

Charles Wells, MD of Kinship Media, can understand how this may have happened to a number of companies, damaging their brand as well as harming attitudes to a vital new marketing tool.

“When B2B gets involved with social networking, it's important to decide what it wants to achieve, and select networks carefully,” says Wells. “It's so easy to spread your net too widely.”

Another one of the main concerns is the prospect of losing control over buyer communication, with many executives afraid of their brand message being hijacked.

Some may even be wary of giving a platform to people with negative views on the company.

This is obviously not ideal, but will always remain part of the process.

The report warns that companies should not try to avoid this by keeping their networks separate from the marketing mix, as social media activities that stand apart from mainstream marketing programmes will look like separate, outbound channels and 'will fail'.

What is important, is preparing your organisation for criticism: “Negative comments will flow,” says Forrester, pointing out that there may be painful lessons along the way, so putting in place response processes is essential.

Ultimately the more contributions you can persuade people to make the better, as turning spectators into collectors and then ideally creators, is an important step in opening a lucrative avenue towards understanding how audiences buy, and therefore, how you sell.


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