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Given that hundreds upon millions of consumers are using social media to connect, communicate and consume online, it's no surprise that B2C businesses, including many of the world's top consumer brands, have turned to social media as a means to reach them.

But what about B2B businesses? Are they using social media too? Is social media as important to them?

According to a recent study conducted by digital marketing agency White Horse, social media is being adopted by B2B businesses, but not surprisingly, adoption lags B2C.

For instance:

  • 60% of B2B companies surveyed don't have a staff member who is dedicated to social media marketing. Less than half (46%) of the B2C companies surveyed lacked a full time social media staff member.
  • Only 10% of B2B companies surveyed have retained an outside agency or consultant to assist with social media marketing. 28% of B2C companies, on the other hand, have.
  • Of the B2B companies surveyed, the largest group (45%) said they have a "basic social presence but no significant marketing." The largest group of B2C companies surveyed claimed to be involved with non-paid social media marketing on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, White Horse, which has a practice dedicated to B2B social media marketing, concludes that "social media plays a significant and ever-growing role in the marketing arsenal" of B2B marketers. But one statistic from its survey is perhaps far most revealing: 46% of the respondents reported that the perception that social media was irrelevant was an internal obstacle in getting social media initiatives approved. Only 12% of B2C respondents cited this as a problem -- the largest gap between B2B and B2C respondents amongst all obstacles listed.

One could look at the data and conclude that B2B businesses are simply slower in 'getting it' when it comes to social media but I actually think the data raises an interesting question: are B2B marketers actually more strategic than their B2C counterparts?

Obviously, it makes sense that B2C companies are trying to embrace social media at a much greater clip than B2B companies. B2C companies have very different relationships with their customers and prospective customers, and social media is a natural fit for reaching them.

But that doesn't mean that B2C companies aren't social. To the contrary; the world of B2B is already quite 'social.' In some respects, B2B commerce is arguably far more social than B2C commerce. Existing relationships often drive sales, and companies and their salespeople are always working to build new relationships through various channels which are extremely social, such as trade shows. The importance of relationships in B2B commerce is logical: most B2B companies sell to a much smaller audience, so investing in relationship-building is usually a must for success. After all, chances are you're not going to sell a $100,000/year software license without going through a 'courtship' process that involves extensive one-on-one interaction and engagement.

From this perspective, if B2B companies aren't adopting online social media in the same fashion as B2C companies, it isn't so much an indication that they don't get it, but rather that they understand that the most popular (and hyped) social media platforms don't always offer the best opportunities to build meaningful relationships. Because of this understanding, when they do use social media, they might be more likely to be cautious and skeptical. That, in turn, may support a far more strategic use of the medium. Indeed, White Horse found evidence that B2C companies were embracing areas of social media that "support traditional B2B marketing activities", such as third party forums and podcasts. On the surface, that seems like it's probably more thoughtful than simply adopting the social media soup de jour.

Interestingly, in a day in age when a lot of what's taking place in the social-media-sphere increasingly looks less social and more uninspired, it seems that B2B companies might be able to teach their B2C cousins a lesson. That lesson: just because you have a 200 piece toolset doesn't mean that you have to use every tool in it to get the job done.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 June, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2403 more posts from this author

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Oliver Jaeger

The last sentence sums it up nicely " just because you have a 200 piece toolset doesn't mean that you have to use every tool in it to get the job done" But the sentence should be completed with "but you need to know which tools you need to get the job done. Don't just pick something." The shot-gun approach usually doesn't work for B2B due to the more focused (or should we say small) target customer segment (e.g. one specific industry, one specific tool, one geographic area,...) But that can be a positive as a smaller segment makes it easier to identify the tools that will reach the target audience and your defined goals.

over 6 years ago

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James Warren

We are a global B2B organisation and have seen some fantastic results using social Media.

Through various trials and tribulations it has become quite clear that in order to succeed, the vital first step (that is often over looked), is to identify which social media medium your customers are using. For example, for us, Facebook has been a complete flop and the time and effort that went into developing a strategy and implementing it was, on some levels, a waste of time. However, by going through the process with Facebook, we have been able to roll out a hugely successful LinkedIn campaign - which has far exceeded our expectations, in terms of followers within our various groups. The same can be said about Twitter.

As far as having a dedicated social media role within a B2B organisation I don't think it's essential, especially not in the early stages. If you have a clearly defined framework it is possible, as we have proved, to empower key staff within the organisation to manage social media activity as part of their role. It doesn't have to be a time consuming chore.

I also think that many organisation who are starting out with their social media marketing activities should be realistic about what they want to achieve. You can't go in feet first piling on the hard sell - people will run a mile and you will cause damage to your brand. Remember, social media is about building relationships. It is also a very good idea to intergrate your social media properties and messages with email , your blog and depending on your industry, offline marketing materials. This can be very powerful.

over 6 years ago

Ignacio Seron

Ignacio Seron, Sem Specialist at Ecweb

Hi P Robles, I want to contact you. Are you in Chile already? Could you send me a tweet to @iseron ? Thanks Ignacio

over 6 years ago

Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson, CEO at NewLeaseG2M

Provocative headline I suppose. This is 2010. Intel has 220,000 Facebook fans and they don't sell chips to consumers. IBM has 139 official Twitter accounts and they don't sell to consumers. Interestingly I think your conclusion that B2B coys might take a more considered approach may be right, I don't have any data. They certainly think about frameworks and the things that @James mentions. I think that you chose a bad example with your $100,000 software licensing example. This is a field in which we work - transforming software companies into success Software as a Service companies. I can assure you that people (companies) buy $100,000 worth of software and much more without any direct engagement - all based on a web-centric engagement. As far as internal resistance and "not seeing the relevance of social media" in B2B companies, in 2010 then that's really their problem. As we say, the time for evangelising social media is over. Meaning that there are enough alert, agile, B2B companies who "get it" and are ready to move to "how" that we don't need to waste our money on educating the laggards. By the way, there are other credible sources/surveys which show that B2B is actually ahead of B2C. Walter Adamson @g2m http://xeesm.com/walter

over 6 years ago

Clinton Mancer

Clinton Mancer, Director at Integrati Marketing

Great article it got me thinking... thank you. I think that the 3rd wave of the Internet/WWW application will bring in a new dynamic of B2B sharing which is long-term and not company specific or 'role based' (for existing customers/prospects) in organisations. The relationship will be managed by asynchronous data from the social apparatus and driven through mutual exchange of value, trust and of course permission. It will BE relationship driven and the relationships will (if valuable) will be managed proactively through a referential network. Some of these networks will be public some will be semi public and a lot will be exclusive and for all intense purposes specialist and private. Social Networking in B2B is not new, we all know this. The difference is that now as it is digitised and can be updated/refreshed so quickly 'we' as yet have not built the model to nurture the possibilities. Fundamentally the new wave will be far more humanising and the technology merely and enabler. I think B2B marketers understand more about human interaction as marketers than our Mass Consumer Marketing cousins! Thank you for getting me thinking... I now have a Thesis topic!

over 6 years ago

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Maks

I think that the 3rd wave of the Internet  application will bring in a new dynamic of Partners Program

www.catalogue.comuv.com/1_44_USA.html

over 6 years ago

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Michael Kleist

It seems to me that many b2b companies love the tools on social media sites like Facebook but are struggling to find the platforms that fit their specific needs. For example, the idea of “matching” or “suggested matches” tied to real-time updates once you connect are fabulous for b2b sales staff—if the matches are relevant. This means that categorization can be even more important for b2b than b2c. In international trade advertising for example, where b2b social media is working well, buyers and sellers don’t want to know each others' university or former employer they want to be matched by product. A guy exporting containers of BBQ grill from China wants to be matched to volume BBQ grill importers. In this setting the tools are very similar to Facebook but the implementation is less about the “media” and more about the “commerce”.

over 6 years ago

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sara

I agree with you maks

about 5 years ago

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Jeff

All this sounds great, however, I am missing success story of B2B company. Could you give me any example?

over 4 years ago

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