Written by: Evgenia Morozov
Image: (Social Media and B2B)
By now, in 2016 everyone is aware of the great development of the technology, the rise of the internet and the emerged Web 2.0. Not only individuals but also businesses have witnessed those major changes and have tried to adapt to it.
Today the internet is full with different social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. that continue to develop and multiply. Furthermore, more and more people move to portable gadgets in order to be reachable everywhere and at any time. According to Kingsnorth (2015) someday this will lead to a completely mobile world where using social media as well as wearable technology will be the norm.
What we can see from the business point of view at the moment is that the companies operating in the business-to-consumer sector seem to have acknowledged this simple truth and adopted to the changes as they could clearly recognize the benefits and the potential of the digitalization especially in terms of marketing and sales (Lacka & Chong, 2016). While those companies became leaders in using the new technology we cannot observe the same trend in the business-to-business sector. Why that is the case and what benefits can the social media offer business-to-business companies?
This article aims at revealing the poorly usage of social media by the business-to-business sector on the example of companies in the security systems industry with the goal to encourage future B2B marketers to engage more with social media as they have become our present and will be our future.
What is B2B all about?
Before answering the previous questions it is important to look at the business-to-business markets as they differ a lot from the business-to-customer markets. The first big difference is the product. It can be said that business products are by far more complex. They often require customization for each buyer but simultaneously have to meet strict standards. Moreover, the whole buying process can be very complex as well including many different people within the company that make decisions. Hence, the companies have to put a lot of effort and time to close a deal (Tanner Jr. & Raymond, 2016).
Another important feature of B2B markets is the great reliance on personal selling. Here the salespeople have much more personal contact with their customers and set a high value on keeping a close and long-term relationship with them (Tanner Jr. & Raymond, 2016). This can be connected with the facts that the B2B business consists of a few but large buyers where one customer can bring huge revenues at a time (Marketing-Insider, 2015).
With that said we have the answer to the first question about why the B2B business is reluctant to use social media. It is because of these special characteristics that the marketers think of social media sites as being relevant only for consumer brands and not for the B2B sector (Brennan and Croft, 2012; Lacka and Chong, 2016). Richter (2015) provides statistical evidence for this phenomena showing that only 41% of the marketers acknowledge LinkedIn as an important channel, 30% acknowledge Facebook as important and 19% think that Twitter is useful. The reason why the B2B marketers have this perception of the social media lies in the traditional way of conducting business in that sector where customer relationship management plays a very big role. The cooperation between B2B business partners is primarily based on trust and therefore is more intense and direct. Hence, the B2B marketers believe that this kind of relationship can only be achieved through personal interaction (Lacka and Chong, 2016).
B2B companies in the security systems sector – a descriptive example:
Of course there are some B2B companies that have successfully implemented social media into their marketing strategy such as Intel, Cisco, IBM or Oracle (Carqill, 2015). But the sad part is that there are not that many of them. A lot of the B2B firms are still struggling with digital marketing as it is not that easy for them to understand how exactly social media can help them to promote their products or establish good relationships with their partners. A good example in that case are the companies in the security systems sector. All the characteristics mentioned before are 100% applicable to this industry. Moreover, it has to be considered that the most firms have been there long before the social media was born and already had their established way of doing business. With such an inflexible structure and conditions it is generally difficult to implement any changes especially when it concerns such a big issue like the social media.
The following table shows the numbers of followers of small and medium sized B2B companies that operate in the security systems sector. Though the collected data only contains seven companies that are all German, it is already enough to prove the point of the poor usage of social media platforms. It serves as a good portrayal of the current state that B2B small and medium sized firms are in and it is not bounded geographically but concerns the B2B companies in the whole world also working in different sectors.
Image: (Table with followers)
The table reveals that the companies are most active on Facebook followed by LinkedIn. Youtube however, is used very poorly and Twitter seems not to be used at all by some of the companies. It is important to mention though that Twitter is not as popular in Germany as it is in other countries (Smith, 2013), what might have an influence on the usage of this platform. Anyhow, it is clearly visible that the companies listed here do not have many followers in general. Moreover, it is not observable how many of them are actual customers or potential new customers. Putting it in other words, most of those likes can come from the employees that want to show their support for the company which is not necessarily bad but should not be the purpose for establishing social media pages in the first place.
Using social media is not complicated but it is a hard job. It requires a lot of time and effort especially if you are working in a niche. According to these results however, it can be said that the companies are not using the social media platforms to their full potential. Only some of them are trying to at least be good presented at one of the platforms like Bosch Security Systems on Facebook or Mobotix on Youtube.
Inspiration - the great diversity of social media use:
As already mentioned, the B2B marketing went through a transformation from transactional to relationship approach, and then from information to social media marketing (Brennan and Croft, 2012). Given this situation I would like to encourage current B2B marketers to engage more with social media by showing how useful the different platforms can actually be for the business.
Moore et al. (2013) summarize the general benefits of using social media in B2B context by stating that they enable interpersonal disclosure and dialogues, help collecting information about product preference, establishing the brand positioning and conducting consumer research. Furthermore, they facilitate internal communication, employee recruitment and retention as well as process and product development (Moore et al. 2013). Social media can also be helpful with sales and customer relationship management.
According to Moore et al. (2013) social media sites are very useful for the B2B salespeople in terms of “prospecting, follow-up and after sales activities”. The usage of professional networking platforms like LinkedIn allow B2B salespeople to connect with professionals, partners and customers and that way execute their relationship-oriented selling practices online (Moore et al. 2013). Moreover, Buss and Begorgis (2015) claim: “There is a positive correlation between social media usage and salesperson outcome performance which implies that SM (social media) is a strategically and operationally useful sales tool.”
Regarding the Customer Relationship Management (which aims at achieving goals through establishing close relationships with the customers by satisfying their needs (BusinessDictionary, n.d.)) it can be said that social media enables important interactions between the organization and its customers. Social media make it possible to react faster to customers’ needs and concerns which lead to intensified dialogs, customer satisfaction and greater loyalty (Buss and Begorgis, 2015).
Looking at the different platforms in particular many other advantages for B2B companies can be revealed. Facebook for example can help an organization to create fan pages, build substantial virtual communities and encourage dialogs (Brennan and Croft, 2012). Twitter can also be effective in terms of dialogs as it can satisfy the customer’s needs for interactive experience, active conversations and higher information access (Buss and Begorgis, 2015). Then there are Youtube and other video sharing channels that can be used to provide content-rich materials and are able to create big audiences as they enjoy a very long information life spans (Brennan and Croft, 2012; Buss and Begorgis, 2015).
Finally, there are the social media apps that can also be very convenient. In their article Wang et al. (2015) argue that those apps perfectly suit the purpose of communication internally as well as externally. On the one hand, they are applicable in terms of facilitating and speeding up the communication among the employees. On the other hand, they enable the organizations to communicate their brand, establish visibility among customers, display recent information, win new customers, gain insights into their needs and support their involvement (Wang et al. 2015). Moreover, social media apps can also be appropriate for tasks like communicating with suppliers, acquiring new knowledge, identifying business opportunities, developing the products, gaining insights into the industry trends and many more (Wang et al. 2015).
The most interesting fact though is that all those platforms can be connected with each other through tags and cross-referencing which allows the company to squeeze the greatest possible benefits out of them ensuring the maximum amount of attention and visibility (Brennan and Croft, 2012).
All in all it can be said that B2B marketers have to decide themselves which platforms to use and how in terms of what is more appropriate for their business strategy (Brennan and Croft, 2012). But it cannot be denied that the social media is of an essential importance and cannot be avoided or ignored. The gap of social media use among B2B companies must be assessed seriously. It is never easy to move away from old habits and the usual way of doing business but it is also not productive to live in the past. Changing the attitude and the strategy would require many discussions within the company among the management and the other employees. But once adapted, the social media strategy can thrive and bring its’ reward.
I believe, for today’s B2B marketers it might be of help to introduce social media workshops, where they can learn how to use each platform in the best way. Since they do not necessarily belong to the social media generation they might not know how exactly to use it. However, it is key for B2B marketers to understand their audience and provide the right content. Therefore some of them might need guidance and support at the beginning.
No matter the easiness of the use, working with even one social media platform can be already a full-time job, hence the companies might require a whole team to work on it or will need to outsource this activity. Even if the changes are supposed to happen very slowly at the moment, it is certain that the upcoming generation of marketers will lift the business-to-business sector to another level of social media use as it is our future.
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BusinessDictionary (n.d.). Customer Relationship Management: Available at: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/customer-relationship-management-CRM.html [Accessed 06 February 2016]
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