Does B2B Social Media Work? That’s the Wrong Question

Great Marketing ExampleIt is a common question, and starting point for (normally) friendly debate, in B2B marketing. Does X really work for Y?

  • Does social media work for B2B?
  • Does newspaper work for real estate?
  • Does digital work for pharmaceuticals?
  • Does content marketing work for local businesses?

People that say “no” tend to say it doesn’t work anymore because behavior is changing (newspaper), it doesn’t work because their audience doesn’t use it (social media) or it doesn’t work because it doesn’t reach their audience (content marketing).

Those that say it does work point to case studies or audience research showing usage of the channel is high.

You Are All Right!

You know what? Everyone is right. The problem is, they are arguing about the wrong question.

The real answer to “does it work” is almost always “it can”. Here is the right question to ask: “is it the right thing for my business to do?

Focusing for a moment on the B2B marketing space, of course social media can work. There are very few marketers that can say ZERO influencers or decision makers use social media.

But “can work” and “it is a good idea” are worlds apart!

  • TV can work for even the most niche B2B marketer, it just won’t be very cost effective.
  • Direct mail can work, despite the fact some B2B marketers haven’t seen great results from it lately.
  • Print can work, even though many B2B marketers have abandoned it and print publications continue to fold.

Any of these tactics can work for B2B marketers. However, they may require putting significant effort into refinement and they may never be as cost effective as other alternatives for you.

Similarly, social media works in B2B. It may require targeting influencers instead of decision makers or it might only address a small part of your audience, but that doesn’t mean it cannot have an impact. It just might not be the best next investment for your business.

In Summary

Instead of debating if something works, the discussion needs to move to when things work best and why so we can move the discussion about the best use for each tactic forward.

Blanket statements about what works and doesn’t work do not improve anyone’s understanding and do not advance your cause in the face of opposition.

Your Turn

Social media is on my list of “does it work” discussions to stop participating in. What other “does it work” debates need to be replaced by a more productive conversation?

Share your answer in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: Arturo de Albornoz cc

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About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs at Babcock & Jenkins. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my B2B Digital Marketing blog.

  • http://twitter.com/marksalke Mark Salke

    One comment, Eric. The rumors of print media’s demise are greatly exaggerated! :-) Print is evolving. And traditional print media outlets are coming around in accepting, even embracing digital formats. So your great point about ‘it can work’ is spot on! The Sunday And Thursday print editions of many local ‘newspapers’ are chock full of advertising.

  • Craig Lindberg

    Fantastic observation Eric and I agree 100%. There’s a nuance to this issue and not a one size fits all answer. My work with clients over the years now includes those struggling to get a toe hold to start transitioning to inbound/content based marketing.
    Thanks!
    Craig

  • http://www.blog.marketo.com/ Jason Miller

    Really Interesting post Eric, you bring up several excellent points. I still think there are folks who will continue to dwell and argue this topic as it keeps them from having to do the work themselves. Finding a unique strategy that works well in certain unknown territories will continue by those who choose to do something about it instead of just making excuses. Those are the folks that I want to hear from, as their experiences can, in many cases, become a resource of best practices. I have moved on from the “Does it Work” discussion to how can I make it better and more refined. How can I find new ways to engage the B2B buyers/ influencers, and marketers in general, while measuring and optimizing.

  • http://ifoundmymoney.com/ Adam Hathaway

    I agree with your main point. I think marketers need to understand how things work based on the medium chosen more than if they will work. I remember a time when many were saying that there is no way video will take off on the internet and now I don’t even have cable.

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