After revisiting the topic of ROI, the other old (but not that old) chestnut on the agenda at June’s S&M forum was social media.
It was a nice conjunction of topics, given that social media remains something of a grey area for many B2B marketers in terms of ‘what good looks like’ and how they measure success.
And it was great to be joined by Joel Harrison of B2B Marketing Magazine, who talked through the findings of their latest benchmarking research on the topic.
So, what progress have we all made since their last report in 2011?
The first impression was rather disconcerting – apparently we’re not getting very far at all as an industry – or may even be going backwards.
B2B social media stuck at the start line?
Among the dispiriting snapshots were:
‘Social is still not a core channel in B2B’ – nearly half see it as of ‘only some’ or of ‘limited or no’ importance.
‘No improvement in strategic thinking’ – over 60 per cent are ‘only doing ad hoc social media’.
Joel rightly pointed out that this is reflected in some pretty uninspiring, woolly objectives, with ‘drive traffic to website’, ‘branding and positioning’ and ‘strengthening thought leadership’ dominating the responses.
Only a third of respondents said they thought of using it to actually generate leads.
And an even smaller minority claimed they could actually track the value they were getting out of it.
So far so gloomy – which prompted one of our guests (who I happen to know is a social media advocate) to ask simply, ‘does it work, then?’.
A few reasons to be cheerful
At this point, I surprised myself. I found myself thinking this was all a bit too pessimistic – and I speak as a former social media sceptic.
Here are some reasons why:
I couldn’t forget about one particular CTO who told us how he used social media to broadcast his professional frustrations in the hope that a supplier would come back with an innovative response.
I couldn’t ignore how the best business networkers already know that social media offers an uncluttered and direct channel to people at the top of large organisations. One was there in the room, by the way: 26 face to face meetings from 100 Inmails is a pretty powerful example!
And I couldn’t forget that time-poor, information hungry business leaders often look for quality aggregated content. Which social media certainly does do well – and gives us marketers the inside track on which snippets and influencers our targets are most interested in following.
Forget the grand strategy?
Most of my reasons to be cheerful are related to lead generation and nurture scenarios. Unsurprising given that these are a TMP speciality. But this is also the point.
If a large number of B2B marketers say they don’t have a social media strategy, perhaps that’s because ‘social media strategy’ is too grand a term. There’s a bit of PR here, a bit of internal comms there, a sprinkling of events management, brand awareness, some talent recruitment, a dash of market intelligence, etc. etc. That’s a lot to think about.
And as social media is now so widespread, and part of so much of what we do, is it really sensible to have a separate ‘strategy’ for it? Or should ‘strategy’ be reserved for your overall marketing plan and major objectives like acquiring new prospects, shifting positioning or growing customers? All of which should have a dash of social media at their heart.
However, for the sceptics out there, why not simply start ‘having a go’, experimenting with these channels in those different areas, using some imagination and following the lead of some of your brightest stars on the ground, you’ll start to see what does work. And that doesn’t seem like such an intimidating challenge.
So, for example:
If you’re aiming to generate leads with senior decision makers, it might be worth checking to see if they’re connected to one of your best advocates on LinkedIn. Or if they used to work with your CIO. Or have retweeted something that’s perfectly aligned to your proposition. Or are currently sitting in the next row at the conference keynote…
I get the impression these little experiments and examples are already being repeated across much of marketing’s remit, and as they happen, social media interactions are finding their own natural best fit with the more traditional channels.
To paraphrase Brian Potter, ‘Social media: it’s the future, I’ve tasted it’.
What do you think? Let us know.
Read part one on ROI