What the Future Holds for B2B Social Media Marketing
Business-to-business (B2B) social media is a different animal. B2B and enterprise companies aren’t trying to convert millions of individual consumers into customers — they’re trying to convince a smaller group of companies with bigger budgets to buy their products or services. Social media’s power to spread a message across the web isn’t as relevant.
That doesn’t mean social media doesn’t have a place in the B2B world, though. On the contrary, a lot of these companies have found social media to be extremely useful in generating leads, performing market research and establishing themselves as thought leaders.
We’ve already written about ways to use social media for the enterprise, but now we want to explore a different topic: how B2B companies will use social media in the future. To do that though, we need to explore the current state of social media in the enterprise.
What B2B Marketers Use Social Media For
While you might assume that B2B companies are less engaged in social media than their B2C counterparts, you’d actually be wrong. In a study of social media use conducted by Business.com last year, it was revealed that North American B2B companies are more likely to be using social media tools when compared to B2C companies.
Here are some examples:
- 81% of B2B companies were likely to maintain company-related profiles on social networks, compared to 67% of B2C companies.
- That gap stayed true for a wide range of social media activities; 75% of B2B companies participated in Twitter (compared to 49% for B2C), 74% hosted a blog (compared to 55% for B2C), and 66% engaged in online discussions (compared to 43% of B2C companies).
- B2C and B2B companies were just as likely to be monitoring user reviews (B2B: 49%, B2C: 51%) and manage a community dedicated to customers (B2B: 49%, B2C: 51%).
- One of the only areas where B2C was more active than B2B in social media was advertising on social networks (B2B: 42%, B2C: 54%).
- In terms of the tools B2B companies use, 77% used Facebook (compared to 83% for B2C) and 73% utilized Twitter (compared to a shockingly smaller 45% for B2C companies).
Why are so many B2B marketers using social media, though? According to a study analyzed by eMarketer, the majority of B2B marketers (60%) said they use social media to provide “thought leadership” for their brand. Another 49% said they used social networks to generate leads, 46% for customer feedback, 35% for advertising and 29% for market research.
The inescapable conclusion is that the use of social media in a B2B setting is more popular than most people would expect. Businesses are mostly using it to develop thought leadership and customer service. Because of that, we’re not surprised to find that Twitter is often their tool of choice.
Still, as social media strategist of the PayPal X Platform Sudha Jamthe told me in an interview, thought leadership and customer service are “low-hanging fruit” for B2B marketers. Social media is capable of so much more.
What Tools Will B2B Marketers Use?
B2B social media marketing is still very much in its infancy. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and most of the social tools we use today are just a few years old. Companies are just starting to really discover the power of social and what it can do for a company’s bottom line.
In other words, there’s a lot of room for growth. So what’s next for B2B social media marketing? To find out, I consulted some of the best minds in the B2B social marketing space.
Autumn Truong, manager of social media and corporate communications at Cisco, says that she sees social as one of the key channels to reaching influencers and building awareness about B2B initiatives. She specifically pointed to the social media efforts of Cisco’s executives (a big example: CTO Padmasree Warrior, who has nearly 1.4 million followers).
Really though, it boils down to one thing Truong said during our interview: “How can we mobilize a captivated audience to do something on our behalf?”
Truong believes the future of B2B social media marketing will focus on three key areas: video, mobile and engagement. She seemed especially excited by video’s potential to tell a story and spur new engagement. We wouldn’t expect anything less from her, though; Cisco is the owner of the Flip camcorder, after all.
Social Media Shaping the Product
PayPal’s Sudha Jamthe believes we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to B2B social media. While social media may be used for thought leadership and customer service today, she thinks its real power is in real-time feedback.
PayPal is utilized by millions of consumers worldwide, but it also has countless merchants as customers and developers and small businesses as partners, all of which it wants to reach via social media. Sudha believes that a lot of B2B marketers are using it simply as a broadcast platform, when its real value is in making customers your partner.
Her example was the PayPal Developer platform. She says that PayPal simply can’t know all of the potential APIs and feature requests its developer community wants and needs in order for them to build applications and products on its platform. The company has two primary options for getting feedback from them: market research or social media. The problem with market research though is its drastically high costs.
Social media, on the other hand, can be a direct channel for customers to express what they really want. PayPal has used its social media accounts to communicate with developers, which has resulted in innovations such as PayPal Apps and its Micropayments for Digital Goods product.
Jamthe believes that the future of B2B social media marketing is in companies’ ability to use social feedback to adapt their products based off criticism and comments. She also stresses though that social is going to become more integrated in not only B2B marketing campaigns, but in actual products. This will provide an even more direct way to solicit feedback and innovate based off of that.
“In B2C, there are a lot of tools that measure the conversation,” she said. “How many conversations, what was the reach of my campaign? It doesn’t mean anything in a B2B setting. Talking to vendors, so what? It should be different for B2B, and it needs to be about real ROI. It translates to cost saving.”
The ROI of B2B social media depends not only on tracking engagement, but on figuring out where it saves a company money. Jamthe argues that social media’s cost savings come in its ability to get market feedback and even new product ideas at a fraction of the cost.
There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a B2B social media marketer, because we’re just starting to realize how powerful social media can really be for enterprise organizations. While today it may be about the social tools we use to spread our message, tomorrow it will be about the platforms utilized to engage in constructive and effective conversations.
With that said, here are my three key points to remember about the future of social media for B2B companies:
- B2B social media will be less about marketing and more about thought leadership and crowdsourced feedback.
- Twitter and Facebook may be huge now, but video and mobile are the new frontiers.
- The true ROI of social media in B2B doesn’t come from broadcasting your message, but the engagement companies get in return.
How do you think B2B social media will evolve? What tools will we be using? Where is the true ROI in social media? It’s your turn to chime in.