Social media: an indispensable B2B marketing tool or over hyped?

Do B2B marketers underestimate the worth and potential of social media? Or has its value been overstated? Fujitsu’s marketing director Simon Carter and Marketo social media strategist Jason Miller go head-to-head in this contentious debate.

Social media: a waste of time for B2B marketers or an underused resource?
There are few examples of successful social media campaigns that have generated sales in the B2B market. Part of the problem is that marketers and especially their agencies have leaped on the social media bandwagon. Cost conscious finance directors believe that social is a “free” resource and encourage inexperienced marketers to drop the tried and tested in favour of social media and then wonder why they don’t get results.
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If you are a B2B marketer and not using social media in 2013, you are simply missing opportunities. The lines between B2B and B2C are becoming increasingly blurred – there are no longer any excuses for a B2B brand to avoid social media for brand awareness, lead generation, connecting with customers, and building buzz. Anyone who calls social media a waste of time needs a new strategy. 

Can social media change B2B marketing?

Digital has changed marketing. The economy has changed marketing. Bad weather changes marketing. So social media must have some effect. But my role as a B2B marketer is barely affected by social media. In 2013, I can’t see any results from social media yet. That will change – but slowly.
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Social media has changed customers’ expectations of response times, however. When people sent letters, they expected a response within 10 days. But as we have moved to e-mail, and increasingly Twitter and online chat, the customer expects an instant response. This has profound implications on how business operations are run. Similarly, social is 24/7, yet few companies have back offices that can cope with this type of demand and few are prepared for the process reengineering that would be required for their business.
Social media has already changed B2B marketing – 70 per cent of the buying process in a complex sale is already complete before clients are willing to talk with a sales person. This reinforces the importance of a social presence. Along with Google searches for product information, buyers and prospective clients are also searching for information inside of social networks. In addition they are increasingly asking their peers for recommendations and advice across social media. Social media is the perfect tool for staying top of mind during this decision making process. 

Can social media lead to new business?

Yes, it can in B2C. It can also lead to lost business. Look at reports of how Trip Advisor has affected hotel and restaurant bookings on the back of poor reviews In B2B, I have yet to see significant business that has been won solely through social. Social can influence a purchase decision – when positive things are being said or planted via blogs. But this is dependent on your customer being a social user – this is much harder to predict in the B2B world. Fujitsu has started to use social media for tracking prospective and existing customers on LinkedIn and Twitter to help build our stakeholder map of the individual. But this is not a substitute for real engagement.
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Social media can absolutely lead to new business, but social alone is not enough. It should be viewed as another channel for your marketing efforts and part of your overall marketing strategy. B2B marketers need to try every platform out there to see which ones produce results. For B2B marketers LinkedIn is an obvious place to start, but don’t count out Twitter, Facebook, or even Google plus and Pinterest. All of these social media channels play a role in SEO. With the growing importance of peer-to-peer recommendations, social is only going to continue to become more vital for driving new business. If you are not on board yet, you are already behind. 

What is the best social media tool for B2B marketers?

Blogs can be a useful way of communicating with a potential customer, so long as they are regular bloggers themselves. LinkedIn and Twitter can be useful to get a better understanding of how your prospective customer thinks and acts. YouTube is sometimes helpful to lead a stakeholder towards a video or film adaption of your service via a banner advert or digital link. This only works as part of a wider marketing campaign – whether any of these channels could stand up independently is less convincing.
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The best tool for a B2B marketer is a listening platform such as Radian6 coupled with an engagement tool like Hootsuite. Marketers can find, listen and analyse the conversations relating to their industry and product. After you have a solid understanding of what is being said and who is saying it, then it’s time to engage and add value to those conversations. The insights you gather from listening are key for developing the types of content that will help your businesses to be included in these conversations. 

Social media ROI: can you measure it in cash?

The one advantage of social media – and most things digital – is that it is highly measurable. But if you do get a sale it is very hard to attribute that solely to social media – making the ROI calculation harder, not easier.

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The ROI of social is often perceived as a mystery but it is simple to measure. Marketers can measure the referral traffic back to a brand’s website using Google analytics and track conversions from these new visits. You can gate content using landing pages across social channels, including paid ads, and finally you can assign a metric to the overall engagement levels of social channels and measure the increase or decrease. Tying your social efforts back to a marketing automation solution is another easy way to measure the ROI from using social for lead generation. A solution that includes social applications can add a social layer to all of your campaigns giving them a measurable boost in engagement and overall reach. 

Is B2B marketing an art or a science?

Marketing has many artistic skills. A creative pitch influences us – whether that is face-to-face, off the page, online or via a social channel. That is the same whether it is B2B or B2C. Marketing should be at the centre of all businesses: everything a marketer does should be measurable and should add value to that business. We have to be artists, but in a commercial way. This is why companies that only have finance, operations and IT on the board will never be successful at growing their business.
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The art of B2B marketing comes into play with a creative marketer that can produce the right kind of content and messaging to fuel campaigns. A modern marketer should be grounded in a solid mix of art and science. B2B marketers now have the ability to walk into their CEO’s office and quantify their marketing campaigns and prove that their efforts are driving revenue. 

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