01 Aug 2018 20:00 IST

B2B marketers can’t afford to ignore the internet

Unlike B2C, B2B has the time to identify, evaluate, test and prove new developments in social media

According to industry reports, more than 70 per cent of all B2B marketers use at least one of the ‘big four’ social media sites — LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — to distribute content, but only 32 per cent document their social media strategy. Statistics also suggest that marketers prefer going to LinkedIn for leads (44 per cent), whereas the B2C favourite, Facebook, is adopted by only 38 per cent of B2B marketers.

Clearly, the rules of social media adoption seem to differ for B2B and B2C. Its high reach efficiency at a nominal cost makes it ideal to connect with end consumers on a large scale. Coca Cola has replaced its website address with its Facebook page in all its consumer communications, demonstrating social media’s ubiquitous presence. But what about B2B users? What are the challenges they face when adopting social media?

Many B2B firms are unclear about their social media strategy. On the one hand, they may feel pressurised to do what B2C companies do, but on the other, they understand that their needs and decision-making process are different. In all this confusion, how are B2B companies coping with social media platforms? Are they leveraging them effectively? While it is true that a B2B company’s Twitter profile or LinkedIn page probably won’t amass a huge following, it can still make valuable connections.

Need for social media

Why do B2B companies need social media presence? One, it helps attract new users. Two, they can use it to create a brand image, such as being ‘thought leaders’ in their categories. Three, it helps build relationships with a range of stakeholders.

Market leaders seem to use social media tools better when compared to the laggards. Take, for example, Oracle and Cisco — they not only fill the space with blogs, white papers, videos, podcasts and similar material, but also cross reference these on Twitter and Facebook, ensuring that each piece of information receives the maximum visibility on search engines. In addition, they create chat groups to magnify the effects through question and answer sessions. All this ensures that the right people hear about the companies.

It is essential that B2B organisations understand search engine optimisation (SEO). Around 94 per cent of B2B buyers conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product. With the right SEOs, this can top the list on search engines such as Google and Bing.

Informed decisions

While online product reviews may be a key influencer for B2C trade, B2B buyers rely more on word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources. But, as they want to make informed decisions, they may like to read up about a product.

Did you know 57 per cent of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier? This means that the role of a salesperson is changing and that brings with it a huge knowledge requirement — the salesperson probably needs to equip himself/herself with all the information available online before meeting customers.

Another factor that differentiates B2B from B2C is that numerous people may be involved in any given purchase as such B2B decisions are more complicated to make — they impact a larger set of individuals, and have a bigger business outcome.

The vendors thus need to be able to talk to all the people in the decision-making group, offline and online. They should be able to answer any questions the decision makers may have and engage with them. This means one will need to rely on a variety of content types, such as blog articles, white papers, case studies, social media, and emails.

In terms of how well B2B industries use social media, those in the lead are from the biotech, engineering, and financial services sectors. These companies have both, a significant audience growth and high content engagement on social media. Machinery manufacturers usually experience the highest audience growth.

The future

Social media will continue to mutate and evolve but those changes usually take time to affect marketing radically and usually impact B2C first. This means that, for B2B marketers, there is time to identify, evaluate, test and prove any new platform or development in social media.

B2B is largely about relationships and any tool that helps further this will be of use. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” B2B cannot afford to ignore social media or the internet where relationships are built or broken very quickly.

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