By Robin Higgons
Here at Qi3, we decided some time ago to research the value of social media in B2B marketing. We wanted to dig under all the hype and find out if social media is another fad, or if it has real value, and if so, how and where. The first step was to review
the academic literature in order to evaluate some, hopefully, objective information. Amazingly there is virtually nothing published in this area, at least not in the academic journals. A check by our intern with his Professor of Marketing confirmed this.
We then took a look at reams of material published generally on the subject, and amongst the dross and drivel we found a few very useful pearls of knowledge, published by practitioners who like us are trying to understand the real value of social media in marketing. However, it all related to B2C marketing, and by this time I was beginning to enjoy my role as grumpy old man, viewing the whole area with a high degree of scepticism.
So, with little objective evidence available, we decided to undertake our own research and ran several test campaigns with key social media platforms such as Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook. The experience was quite revealing, and as a grumpy old man on my own road to Damascus, I had a number of revelations.
First, social media is simply another communications’ route, alongside snail mail, fax, telephone, semaphore, etc, for getting the ‘Public Relations’ message out to the target audience. And as such, all the disciplines of good practice that have been built up in the past still apply, but with a key difference. Traditional PR channels have gatekeepers such as journalists, editors, or peer review, who sift out the drivel and dross from quality content. Social media channels don’t have these gatekeepers, so anyone can publish, making it difficult for your marketing message to stand out.
However, social media has four performance advantages over traditional channels that have real benefit to B2B marketers – speed (instantaneous delivery), reach (global coverage), metrics (the ability to measure what the recipients do in great detail) and networking (people can forward information they find interesting through their business networks).
And it adds another dimension to successful audience targeting. Some people like to watch social networks from the side-line, picking out information when they are ready (known in B2C marketing as Lurkers), while other people want an instant stream of the latest information. Profiling audience behaviours and choosing appropriate platforms for different groups is crucial
So, is social media going to revolutionise B2B marketing? I think not. Ten years ago there was tremendous hype about how internet retailing would replace ‘bricks & mortar’ retailers. In reality the two have merged resulting in an adaptation of the retailers marketing strategies. Social marketing will be incorporated into the armoury of weapons available to B2B marketers and will need to be used with the same skill and vision as other channels.
So, my conclusion is to be cynical, objectively test the real value of social media to your business, but if the value is proven, then adapt and adopt quickly. In our case and based on the evidence we put together, this grumpy old man has taken his own advice, and actively supported the use of social media in our own marketing programme.