Is Social Media a Viable Venue for Business-to-Business Marketing?

Okay, I will admit upfront, that this post is made up of "repurposed material." (a nice way of saying that I didn’t come up with it, I’m just a lowly forwarding conduit). My new-found fried Roger Biery gives some great insight and statistics regarding the use of social media in a B2B setting. He’s given me permission to post it below with him duly attributed as the author.

The subject of social media is one that is often debated inside the walls of our business. Our internal opinions vary widely. I personally remain convinced that there are good uses for social media in B2B communications and marketing, but that the value is also waaaaaaay over-hyped (no wonder our PR people won’t let me do media interviews about social media). I will promise a post in the next week on what I do believe those B2B social media benefits are. Now without further delay, here is Roger’s piece. Please comment on what you think about it. And thanks Roger for letting me "repurpose it."

Is social media a viable venue for business-to-business marketing?  

During her opening monologue on Saturday Night Live in May, host Betty White said, “When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host Saturday Night Live, I didn’t know what Facebook was.  And now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.”   

A search of “B2B Social Media Marketing” reveals the growing number of companies that specialize in helping vendors create successful programs for this new form of marketing.  But do social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter really provide a viable venue for marketing high-technology products to businesses?  The social media marketing consultants all promise to deliver great results, of course.  Are they right?  Or is Betty White?  

In many of the articles promoting social media for B2B marketing there is a common theme:  Companies must commit to an ongoing program because the results can be difficult to measure directly or can take a long time to achieve—or both.  Of course, what consultant wouldn’t relish having such a gig: a long-term, lucrative engagement with no way for the client to measure the program’s success (or the consultant’s competence!)?   

On one point the consultants are undoubtedly correct:  Once a social media marketing effort is launched, it must be sustained.  And this will require committing resources to monitoring the various sites, responding to inquiries and posts, adding and refreshing content, etc.  Naturally, the consultants will help you with all of these tasks (for a fee).   

There are some important facts the consultants seem all too eager to ignore, however.  For example, some 60% of Twitter “users” fail to return to the site within a month.  In other words, Twitter has a retention rate of only 40%.  The retention rates for Facebook and MySpace are much better at about 70% each, although that still means some 30% seem to agree more with Betty White.  [Source: “Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth” available at http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/twitter-quitters-post-roadblock-to-long-term-growth/]  Note that this drop-out rate was before Facebook ran afoul with its users recently over privacy issues.  An article in Newsweek titled “The High Price of Facebook” [http://www.newsweek.com/id/237993] provides some good background on this subject.   

An even more contradictory indicator was revealed in a Knowledge Networks study, which found that fewer than 5% of the users themselves regularly turn to social media for making purchasing decisions.  It is even more important to understand that in this “How People Use Social Media” study, the focus was on consumer products and services.  Are we really to believe that using social media for marketing to businesses will have better success?  [Source: Knowledge Networks press release announcing the study results available at http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/news/releases/2009/052009_social-media.html]   

The fact is that most people use social media for (Duh!) social reasons: to stay in touch with family and friends.  And perhaps it’s simply too soon to determine if social media will have a serious, enduring role to play in B2B marketing.  Many companies seem to be hedging their bets, though, by at least having some presence, as revealed in two recent studies by Genius.com and B2B Magazine, and Business.com.  A brief article summarizing the results (“Is B2B on Board with Social?”) is available at http://www2.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1007688.   

If you are interested in learning more, here are two additional sources with some good information:

Thanks for reading and…

 Best regards,

Roger Biery
Sierra Communications
www.MarComConsultant.com

About Sierra Communications:  I founded Sierra Communications, a marketing communications consultancy for the computer networking industry, in 1995 as an “urban refugee” from Silicon Valley.  I have since enjoyed writing white papers, contributed articles, case studies and other marketing content for a growing list of clients.  It is particularly gratifying to write about some of the technologies that have made it possible for a consultant like me to operate effectively from a remote and scenic setting like Mariposa County, the home of Yosemite National Park.