Social Media Does Not Influence B2B Buyers

Social Media HangmanThat was the headline on the first page article when BtoB Magazine landed in my inbox last week. According to new research from IDC, only 18.6% of B2B technology buyers say social media has influenced their purchase decisions or interactions with vendors.

So should B2B organizations shutter their social media efforts or reduce their investments? No.

Stepping back from the details, the research from IDC reaffirms two key guidelines for B2B social media.

Social Is Not About Selling

If you are using social media to sell, you are not connecting with your audience. Since the majority of your social media activity will be public, and on display for all to see, a sales attitude poses a serious risk, turning off potential buyers. Don’t be that guy.

Do not force a sales relationship your audience does not want

Social Informs and Connects

In the same research, 84% of respondents report using social networks to keep up with trends and stay connected.

Providing information as a service to your audience is at the heart of inbound marketing, it is no wonder this is such as important shift for marketers to make!

Inform and deliver value in your B2B social media program

Despite social media receiving the second lowest score from buyers (behind direct mail), marketers see opportunities: 65% indicate they will increase investments in social media marketing this year (the top category for increases in investments).

Your Turn

I believe marketers optimism and increased investment is warranted and that if marketers focus on providing value, buyers will begin reporting that social media is more important in their buying process as well.

The big question is, as marketers increase investments, will they be focused on selling or on providing value to others? Share your prediction in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Image by Kenny Madden, used with permission.

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  • Emily R. Coleman

    You’re quite correct that social media for B2B is a networking and PR arena.  Sales that come from these sources come over the long term.  The problem, however, is that this necessary longer term view adds substantially to one problem marketers have, ie that they do not contribute to the bottom line.  And CEOs and others have been brainwashed to believe that social media should produce immediate results.  The big question, to my mind, is how do marketers overcome the hype and inject some reality into the expectations.

    • Bruno Arins

      Our greater problem here in Brazil is just that: CEOs and others have been brainwashed to believe that social media should produce immediate results. I believe social media is only another relantionship like those ones we have day by day with all stakeholders. It never has to be responsible for hard sell. 

    • Emily, I think the problem you reference is impacting all B2B marketing today at most companies, not just social media, and it is a big issue. More studies about the long-term impact, similar to the media mix model approaches that CPG companies have always used, would definitely be helpful. 

      I see two specific issues that come out of our comment, both are probably good topics for future posts as well.

      1) We are hooked on linear measurement in B2B. This precludes taking a longer term view or considering different types of impact.
      2) We seem to think social media has great reach and impact on day one, because the sites are big. But when you start, no one is listening yet…

      Thanks for the inspiration, I think you just helped build out my editorial calendar! 🙂

      • Delighted to be of help. 🙂  Another issue on social media (that I’ve blogged about) is the looming problem of a total loss of privacy.  Good for marketing, maybe, but I don’t think it’s so good for society. One main problem, as I see it, is that everyone has jumped on the social media bandwagon because they are “supposed to.”  I’m still waiting to see some hard, empirical data on social media…not just how many people are on it, but what these platforms are actually producing for the time spent.  

  • Bruno Arins

    Hello, Eric. I’m an adman working at a B2B company on Brazil. I got very relieved when I found your blog, congratulations for this great job, it’s helping me a lot!

    About your question, I think that providing value can make the buyers more confident in the company. That way, the increase selling may be the consequence of this confidence.

    • Bruno, I think you are spot on. Thanks for the kind words about my blog as well!

  • michaelbrenner

    Wittlake, you totally beat me to this story. I also feel compelled by the provocative title to clarify. I’m not surprised that social media was not listed as a top influencer when people are  making the final buying decision. But clearly it influences it all the way along the process. So I will give you some link love when I write mine 😉 nice job!

    • Thanks Michael. I don’t normally read BtoB that closely, but the headline definitely caught my attention last week. Look forward to seeing your post on this!

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  • Eric, I agree with you that we all get stars in our eyes when we see the marketers’ goldmine that makes up social media. But you nailed it when you said social media is not about selling. I linked to your post in my post about my FB content campaign (which definitely was not about selling!). 🙂

    • Thanks Dianna!! (And so sorry that I missed this comment initially!)

  • Eric, excellent post as usual. I agree with you and other commenters that networking and PR are good uses of social for B2Bs. Information gathering/sharing on social networks also has a lot of value. Monitoring social conversations and jumping into discussions gives marketers a feel for what people are saying about a brand, a company, or an industry. It gives them insight on what people think about complex or pressing issues. B2Bs can get all screwed up when they’re internally focuses, and social media is one way to break out. Not the only way, but a good way. 

    • Brad, good points about applications of social in B2B, thanks for adding to the thread here!

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  • That is an awesome
    post. You have really layed out your points in great detail. Social media is you know how to benchmark,test and verify the result, We should take get hold of this post,
    read and impliment the points outlined.

  • Jack

    “18.6% of B2B technology buyers say”, keyword “SAY”.  Ask most people if they think commercials influence them and they’ll “say” no.  What people say in a survey and reality is not always the same.  

    What does the real data suggest?

    • Yes, thank you for adding this. Survey design has a lot to do with the results in this case.

      I would point here to the 84%. Marketers have the opportunity to reach and influence these individuals. It is up to marketers to help this 84% connect and stay up to date.

      The real data that would answer this doesn’t exist, in my opinion. Success stories, benchmark engagement rates and similar show engagement with a single marketer (and potentially influence). As such, any estimates based on this would underestimate the portion of buyers that actually are influenced by social.

      Thanks for the addition here, I appreciate it!

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  • To the value component, I get frustrated when social – the last great branding channel – gets a burn, mostly because of a combination of bad targeting (the beauty of digital) and the inability to track the halo effect (the shortcomings of analytics).  

    The ROI to social media is that you get to be there where all your competitors are.  You’ll know when it’s not working for your niche, but it’s got to run for a while.

    • Hi Bill,  thanks for commenting. I definitely agree with you, social takes time. I even posted (quite a while ago) that social needs to start with a commitment, not a pilot.

      I’m not completely following your ROI statement. Print, TV or direct mail could also put me where my competitors are, no? But there is definitely a risk to waiting on the sidelines, I hear you on that point.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it!

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