This was originally published as a guest post at OpenView Labs
So your B2B company invested heavily in social media marketing, and the results were underwhelming to say the least. Were you incompetent or just unlucky? The fact is, you might have been doomed from the outset – you just didn’t realize it.
If you haven’t already experienced this pain, here’s how to avoid being lured into relying on social media when it’s not appropriate.
Just as your car will never attain the EPA advertised mileage rates, your marketing strategy may not see the results implied by social media gurus, authors, and consultants. The EPA does its mileage tests in lab settings with new vehicles, special fuels, tires properly inflated, the AC off, no external cargo accessories, smooth roads, and no traffic. They’re not trying to game the system; they simply need a repeatable test to accurately detect improvements.
How B2B social media is different from B2C social media
Social media experts are not trying to game the system, either. They highlight outstanding successes to inspire others about what is possible under certain circumstances. But many (if not most) of the social media success stories they relate are for B2C vendors. The truth is, social media usage for consumer purchases is very different from social media for business purposes (just like mileage for a Prius differs from that of a Dodge Ram truck).
I wrote a post recently on why Twitter’s influence is overrated for IT leads. In the article, I noted that although IT executives may have personal Twitter accounts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are used for business purposes. Surveys that simply ask IT execs if they use Twitter will mislead B2B vendors targeting these professionals into assuming Twitter is a more important marketing tool than it is.
It’s similar for blogs as well. Many business executives report that they follow blogs, but if you dig in, you may find the only blogs they read are on ESPN.com and TechCrunch.
Here is another example. A recent research study of hospital executives involved in IT purchases reported no use of LinkedIn. One respondent complained, “[LinkedIn is] overrun by vendors and recruiters.” We learned that these people were in such demand that they didn’t need LinkedIn to help them get their next job. This may change over time, but the way to find out how much of your target audience is engaged with social media channels for work is to ask all the people you encounter in your sales and marketing efforts.
The same survey of hospital decision makers were also asked about webinar attendance. Relief: most of these buyers attended webinars. But an important lesson was that the webinars they attended were from the associations they belonged to, not from vendors. As a result of this insight, the client wisely avoided wasting marketing budget promoting their own webinars and found ways to participate in association webinars instead.
Unless you are selling to B2B marketers…
Marketing automation vendors aren’t trying to deceive you either when they share their impressive results from social media. But you aren’t likely to get those same results for one important reason: marketing automation vendors sell to marketing professionals. Unlike with CFOs or vice presidents of development, experimenting with social media to stay current on new marketing tools is part of the job for most B2B marketing pros.
As a result, the social media efforts of marketing automation vendors reach their targets more frequently than yours may, assuming you have a different target audience.
Bottom line: There are some inexpensive ways to experiment with social media, such as tweeting or posting on LinkedIn about your new eBook, for instance. But you should hold off on big investments in social media until you validate that they are appropriate for your target audience.
After all, it’s not just B2B marketers who use social media for business purposes. IT security professionals, for example, avidly follow Twitter and blogs to stay abreast of newly discovered security risks. The key is to learn about the social media use of your target audience and react appropriately.
Finally, ignore surveys that don’t distinguish between business and personal use of social media. Poll your own prospects and customers to learn which — if any — social media they use for business-related issues.
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