Why B2B Marketing Is Not Social: An Unexpected Insight from SiriusDecisions

The most important thing I learned at this week’s SiriusDecisions Roundtable in Portland was not something Jonathon Block or Jay Gaines shared, and it wasn’t from a conversation with another attendee. It was the silence of Twitter

Mind you, this was an event about social media and website optimization. Half of the content was focused on how to use social media throughout the sales cycle and the increase in demand this drives. And in a room full of marketers, Carmen Hill (a content and social strategist and my colleague at Babcock & Jenkins) and myself were the only ones using Twitter.

Many of the people in these B2B marketing positions are not using social media. As Jay Baer said in Portland only the night before: “If you don’t love social media, you suck at social media.” These marketers are not loving social media. They are not making significant use of it in their professional lives. No wonder they are not embracing it as marketers.

Without an understanding of social media, these marketers will not develop effective social media strategies. They will not implement effective programs. They will not sell the value of social media in the organization and get the budget and resources necessary to be successful. Instead, they will blast press releases. They will not listen. They will not engage. They won’t understand the social side of social media, and it will clearly show.

B2B marketing thought leaders champion social media. Maybe its time to champion personal involvement in social media first.

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  • http://twitter.com/carmenhill Carmen Hill

    Hey Eric, thanks for the shout-out. I don’t know that tweeting or not tweeting from an event such as the SiriusDecisions roundtable is the most accurate indication of whether someone has embraced social media, but I totally agree with the premise that social is something that you ARE, not something that you DO–and that if your heart’s not in it, you’re more likely to suck. That said, sometimes the reporting takes a bit away from the actual experience. For example, I chose not to tweet during Reid Hoffman’s keynote address at the recent South by Southwest conference because I needed my whole brain to wrap around what he was saying, without the distraction of tweeting.

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Thanks Carmen. It certainly isn’t (in fact, I know a few of the folks in the room do use Twitter and LinkedIn somewhat actively). That said, it was notably different from most events in the absolute silence, other than the two of us.

      The best deep content tends to slow, or even pause, social sharing, but afterwards it normally winds back up. The complete silence yesterday was striking.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • pdxchill

        Agreed. If I could edit my comment, I’d say live tweeting from events isn’t the ONLY indicator of social passion. It may well be fairly accurate ;)

  • Maureen Blandford

    Hi, Eric.

    So I disagree with Jay’s quote above. It’s a blanket statement that is certainly true in many spaces and not true in others. Jay’s a great guy and a great thought but, like Chris Brogan, he’s not an expert in B2B. He’s certainly not an expert in supporting B2Bs with a salesforce tasked with growing existing biz and landing new footprints.

    Our B2B community has failed (to date) to find a meaningful way to carve up the B2B space into manageable parts. All B2Bs are not created equal.

    For instance, w/B2Bs that need to generate mass 1:1 contacts, w/repeat customers (like FedEx or Staples) and don’t have a salesforce calling on prospects, then YES I concur that that is an example of a B2B that should absolutely embrace SM.

    For Professional Services folks (independent consultants, boutique shops) who can drive new business through power networking <– Perfect place for SM.

    However, for smaller B2Bs that need 5 – 10 customers a year OR B2Bs w/complex sales process, higher end deals, selling to the C-suite w/influencers at Director level OR B2Bs whose clients and influencers aren't in SM yet <–these are places where SM doesn't have a role to play today or in the near future.

    Finally, for B2Bs with a complex sales cycle who are looking to drive more revenue based on growing their base accounts, it'd actually be foolish to spend anything on SM, as those relationships are made/broken by the quality of their current 1:1 relationships.

    In B2B, it's of critical importance that we first think about our buyers, how they're influenced and then map to that.

    In the 80s and 90s I was often frustrated by B2Bs spending $s on advertising, because it was assumed that all budgets started with Advertising. Yet – advertising was rarely a fit for many B2Bs. I'm worried we're headed the same way with SM.

    Where SM is an important tactic…I'm with you that I hope practitioners learn what's necessary to succeed. And "Amen" to let's stop the press release blasts!

    Cheers.

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Hi Maureen, thanks for the comment, I appreciate. I agree that Jay’s quote is over the top, but there is some truth to it. Do you need to love it? No, but you need to understand it, and that requires doing it.

      Thanks for pointing out that SM still isn’t right for many B2B companies. I agree, it seems to have become a magic cure in many circles. Every company needs to decide for themselves if social media meets their needs, and how it is used to meet them.

      That said, I still believe you need to DO it to really understand it and be able to make the right decisions about how to use it.

      • Maureen Blandford

        Concur that we have to understand it in order to make the right decisions. : )

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/margaretmolloy Margaret Molloy

    Eric: Thanks for raising this important debate. There is little doubt that the adoption of Social Media tools and practices is at an early stage in many B2B firms. Further, Jay’s point re the challenge of getting behind something without hands-on experience and passion is valid. However, some of the world’s largest B2B companies are blazing trails with success. (Think software, think telecoms). My conclusions is that more B2B cos will conduct some controlled experiments, leverage learnings in B2C, and jump in with vigor.
    @MargaretMolloy

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Margaret, thanks for comment. I wholeheartedly agree, there are a number of B2B companies doing an excellent job in social media. Cisco, Intel, IBM, to name just a couple. More will certainly follow. There are also a lot of companies today with half-hearted social media programs (ones you would never even see unless you search them out).

      In the past, I looked at the company and assumed they were culturally slow to move (which may be true). The possibility I had not considered as seriously is that many of these companies may have marketing departments that don’t use social media professionally to a significant degree, and don’t understand what engaging in social media means. I’m concerned these companies will conduct some experiments, but will not see the success they suspect, and attribute it to social not being appropriate for their company, when in fact, the problem may well be their strategy and execution in an environment that is relatively foreign to them and they need to learn it, hands on, first.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and pointing out how many companies are effective today in B2B social media, I appreciate it!

  • http://www.b2bmarketinginsider.com Michael Brenner

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for sharing this article on my site. As I stated there, I agree with you 100%. I had this exact same experience at the “Blogwell” event in Philly back in November, It was a social media event and there were way less than 10% of the audience using twitter. I agree with Jay as well. The point is that to know it is to love it.

    At our own conference just a few weeks ago I was speaking to someone well known as an early adopter in the social media space about this and she said that often times on Twitter, we are all just speaking to our selves. It does feel that way sometimes.

    Thanks for the great post and please keep sharing!

    Best, Michael
    @brennermichael

    • http://digitalb2b.wordpress.com Eric Wittlake

      Thanks for commenting here as well. Yes, preaching the value of Twitter on Twitter is about as close as you can come to trying to convert the converted.

      Hopefully all of us get off Twitter sometimes and connect through other channels, but ignoring social would miss part of the value. The discussion I have on Twitter, here, and on other blogs refines my perspective and prepares me for those offline conversations.

      I cannot engage with as many smart and opinionated marketers on a regular basis in person as I can via social media. I don’t have the access or the bandwidth. That is one of the key values of social media, and one I believe you need to experience in order to appreciate.

      Thanks again for the comment, and for your support on Twitter and here over the last three months!