Social Influence on B2B Buying: Fad, Fiction or Fantastic Opportunity
Can you say with conviction what the role of social media should be in your B2B marketing mix? Whether your answer is a lot, a little or not at all, it’s difficult to put more than a vague level of confidence in the response. In a world where marketing is increasingly budgeted against measurable results, social media remains a painfully elusive factor in the B2B marketing ROI equation.
That’s where the annual Buyersphere report from BaseOne, in conjunction with B2B Marketing, Research Now, and McCallum Layton, comes in. The report surveys buyers from the Eurozone, but its findings and insights have relevance in all markets. The report is a compilation of interviews about the influences that drove purchases made by B2B buyers over the past year. By dissecting the process buyers went through, the report provides what it terms “concrete, reliable findings (that can) be used to convince your clients, persuade your bosses, and defend your decisions”. The full Buyersphere report can be downloaded here.
I was particularly intrigued by data that showed how social media is being used in the B2B buying process, especially by age of the buyer; of particular note:
- Overall social media influence in B2B buying remains relatively low. “Word of Mouth” and “Web Searches” are both the most frequently used and the most useful sources of information. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter were the least commonly used and the least useful source of information to buyers, although, of the three, LinkedIn was both the most used and most useful – an intuitive result that also seems to support a similar conclusion drawn by Hubspot.
- Social influence in the buying process is highly correlated to age. Twenty-something buyers are 200% more likely to use social media somewhere in the buying process (49%) than thirty-something buyers, and almost 400% more likely than those aged 51+. The report highlights the increasing impact social media will have as twenty-something buyers and those who come after them move into more influential buying positions.
- Responders said that “word of mouth” is the most useful source of information, and it is used at every stage of the buying cycle. However, perceptions of what constitutes word of mouth, varies by age. Those over 30 are much more likely to ask for opinions and recommendations in person, by email or over the phone. Those under 30 are more likely to define word of mouth as something that happens socially.
- When social networks do play a role in the buying process, they most commonly show up in the last stage of final buyer selection. This is especially true of Twitter. Presumably buyers tweet looking for justifying opinions and recommendations before making a final choice.
The B2B Opportunity for Social
Given the relatively low usage of social in today’s B2B buying activity, but the age-biased preference for social among twenty-somethings, there is a significant and increasing opportunity for companies to unlock the value of social media in their B2B marketing. But this will likely require creative thinking and staging engagement for social campaigns.
Today, too many social strategies used by B2B marketers use social media only for “company-to-buyer” communications, listening and responding and publishing their own content over posts and tweets. The Buyersphere report supports findings made in the excellent 2012 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages study: buyers have low trust and find less utility in what a company has to say about itself socially.
The upshot is that buyers trust the recommendations and referrals from their peers and friends and that company chatter is, well, just that. So how should a business modulate its use of social to begin getting the most from this nascent but increasingly influential channel? Expand your activities beyond simply responding to comments and updating your feed. Your real benefit from investments in social media occur when your marketing facilitates peer-to-peer recommendations on your behalf and turns customers and fans into an army of influential advocates.
One way to accomplish this is to use social channels to amplify every campaign you are already running. For example, if a prospect clicks on a link in your email to download a whitepaper, they’ve expressed interest in the content. If, capitalizing on the prospect’s expressed interest, you also make it easy and rewarding for them to share your content with their network, you will amplify the impact of your campaign with broader exposure and more responses.
Take Away: The business leverage in B2B social media today
While the specific answer to the question about how much investment your B2B marketing effort should make in social media remains elusive, a number of things are becoming clearer as we gain more insightful measurement of social media sentiment in B2B buying. Social media influence is increasing in B2B buying. How quickly depends on your market, but suffice it to say that waiting until your business is confronted with a competitor’s social media presence is going to put you at serious disadvantage. So as social influence increases in your market, making your existing marketing more ‘social friendly’ produces these immediate benefits while preparing you to take advantage of the longer term trend to social influence in B2B buying:
- No cost visibility: Social sharing is the best free advertising for your business. Why? Because it is seen as earned, thus giving a brand an “earned” credibility lift. People on social media are not there to hear from advertisers, but to hear from friends. When a marketer’s email or social media post is shared, the brand can reach an astounding number of people.
- Enhanced authenticity: Because a prospect chooses to share your content with his friends, recipients see the message as authentic, trustworthy, worthy of their attention and possibly additional sharing.
- Increased access and opportunity: The email communication or social post, initially directed at one prospect or customer, becomes a far-reaching messaging tool.
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