B2B, Social Media, and ‘old school’ CEOs

In the last few weeks, I’ve carefully studied best practices of business to business companies leveraging social media, and have also studied B2C social media successes to use as a framework to evaluate B2B companies. My analysis includes studying Forrester analysts who seem to ‘get it’ (current and past), reading Groundswell (and meeting Josh face to face when his book came out), and doing one heck of alot of observing online and offline of leading global ‘Tweeters’. I’ve recently tracked metrics of 6 companies over the last few weeks to see how their social media strategy has evolved over time and have found some interesting results. These results are of companies that help marketers market (keeping names out to protect the innocent), so I am starting with a unique subset of companies but ones that should have a vested interest in seeing social media succeed in the long run in the B2B segment.

I have a premise and ask that you challenge my thought process (it’s all about continuous improvement!). I believe in today’s marketing world, business to business marketers are woefully unprepared for the tsunami of digital marketing techniques and do not know how to effectively market in this new, one to one marketing environment. This social media approach, when integrated with other aspects of marketing, absolutely change the game on how businesses interact with customers, prospects, analysts, and employees, yet the game changer is mired down for a variety of reasons.

Over the last four weeks, I analyzed 6 B2B companies specializing in marketing–4 of 6 had blogs, 4 of 6 were actively using Twitter via their brands vs. their employees, 2 of 6 used Facebook effectively, and 3 of 6 had some mention on linkedin. Here are the tools they used:

1. Blogs–the savvy are realizing these are ‘must haves’ to successfully compete in organic google search optimization and to maximize the amplification other social media tools like twitter provide.

2. Twitter–in B2B companies that leverage the brand of the company, Twitter is the fastest growing medium to amplify blog content; on average, the companies I studied are seeing 20% growth week over week for 4 weeks in their followership base. Average user 31 years old, with North American and Europe demographic.

3. LinkedIn–in B2B companies, very little growth within the specialized ‘Groups’ function, under 2% growth week over week. It was very easy to join ‘exclusive’ groups on Twitter, the owners rarely screened me out (what if i were a competitor?) That said, the average user is 41 years old and likely a decision maker.

4. Facebook–varying popularity, no conclusion of data exists based on sample set. The question in my mind that remains is how effective is Facebook, generally thought of as a way to reach former high school and/or college colleagues, to reach a business level decision making audience with average user age of 26 years old.

That said, as I survey other B2B companies outside this subset of 6, I see a couple major factors slowing social media business adoption down:

1. ‘Old School’ CEO mentality… While very good CMOs take risks and put themselves out there, CEOs are not rewarding innovation without a clear ROI–and consequently have not placed any value on a newly emerging communications medium (Sun Micro, Apple, and Zappos the exception). CEOs are typically not ‘digital natives’ (ie born into an environment where they think online) unless they have a technical proclivity, and it is a rare CEO who has that bent and can also talk financials. Social media, while new, has not yet proven and demonstrable ROI in the B2B world (I’ve found very little information on this topic, please educate me if you see differently), but it has promise when integrated with other aspects of marketing.

2. Time: with marketing budget cuts galore, everyone being asked to do more with less, no one has the right time to pick their heads up and see how effective social media really is to market on a one on one basis vs. traditional alternatives. Consequently, an agency, like a PR agency, might get the extra bandwidth to help out with blog content population and blog amplification through Twitter, but that agency is likely responsible for other things for that same company.

3. Lack of two way dialogue or meaningful conversation. Are customers actually acknowledged and heard or is it more of two sets of one way dialogue–vendor pushing product, customer complaining about the product, and the two never cross? I see the latter.

4. Disparate strategies–some leveraging blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, but the strategies are islands, not tied together with search engine optimization, so therefore ineffective at days end.
We live in exciting times!

The b2b company that can overcome the CEO objections to keep trying something new, the CMO who can convince his/her channel partners and head of sales the value of this level of interaction, and the companies that can integrate social media will be the winners.

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3 Responses to B2B, Social Media, and ‘old school’ CEOs

  1. John Sidline says:

    People as old as me will recall when companies had to be convinced of the value of having a website as part of their marketing plans. About ten years later (maybe a tad longer) we’re in the throws of the next IP-based revolution, social media.

    One interesting element of this revolution is the speed of change. Twitter was not really on the B2B marketing radar 18 months ago. I’ve read books and “survival guides” on Twitter that were written the middle of last year that already seem obsolete today. If you’re an “old school” CEO, particularly at a public company where your butt is literally on the line, I can see how you might be reluctant to adopt a technology that could later create holes in your Sarbox compliance.

    But in the end, your conclusion is spot-on. the companies that integrate social media into their marketing will win. Happily for even the most reluctant CEO, there are no shortages of social media tactics to employ. Wade into the shallow end and test the water; you’ll be swimming in no time.

  2. Great post. These are early days but it feels like B2B marketers might not be so far behind their B2C cousins – we might even be a bit ahead in some areas.

    With a higher value per lead, we can justify things that might not scale easily — lead nurturing, lead scoring, small communities on social sites…

    For the curious, this is how our agency presents its digital offer:

    http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/2009/03/08/digital-velocity-in-eight-tweets-accelerate-your-online-engagement/

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