Last year Leader Networks, a Boston area consulting firm that specializes in B2B social media and the global not-for-profit think tank Society for New Communications Research, teamed up to conduct a comprehensive and global study of the usage of social media for B2B interaction. Fifty-five mostly for-profit organizations of various sizes participated. The study examined the following topics:
- How organizations are currently leveraging social business efforts
- The use of social media tools, internally and externally
- The readiness of organizations to utilize social media tools
- Intentions of social business strategy
- Social media marketing strategy and the ability to leverage and operate same as social business initiatives
Companies studied were mostly present on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google+ and their company-sponsored blog, in that order. The study distinguished between social media marketing, which it defined as the use of social media platforms for marketing and social business, defined as using customer information gleaned from social media marketing to enable more efficient and effective decisions, actions and outcomes within the organization. The study also developed a continuum of social media use:
- Socially Familiar- organization is present on at least one platform and has policy guidelines; the organization is experimenting to learn what works
- Socially Present- organization has minimal or limited social media staffing, strategies, or policy guidelines; brand advancement forms the core of information communicated
- Socially Enabled- social media platforms form the basis of customer outreach; moderate to significant levels of budget, staffing, policy guidelines and strategies are in place and utilized optimally
- Socially Integrated- organization has significant use of the above indicators; communication is two-way, with much customer engagement; information gleaned is incorporated across the organization
Companies usually approach social media involvement through a few Socially Familiar staff members who experiment with various platforms to figure out what works best for company objectives. After about 3 – 6 months, those staff members will present their findings to direct-report management and request approval to advance to the next level. At the Socially Present stage, selected social media platforms are used to broadcast brand awareness messages and marketing campaign information. Communication is primarily one-way. This period usually lasts 6 – 24 months.
At the Socially Enabled stage, communication is primarily two-way and information is deemed actionable. Social media staff gather and disseminate information from social media communications deep within the organization, where it impacts R & D, customer service, technical support, marketing campaign strategies, sales distribution choices and other functions. Social media may play a role in nurturing relationships with organizational partners and suppliers. Tangible social media ROI is recognized. The final stage, Socially Integrated, is only rarely achieved at this point. In fact, this stage may not fit the objectives of most businesses.
Insights brought forth from the study were what one would expect. C-suites executives are rapidly accepting the inevitability of social media and budgets are being made available to support staffing, which is based in marketing departments. Social media strategies are being developed and social media guidelines are being drafted (by legal departments). Brand reinforcement, rather than customer engagement, is the primary goal of B2B social media strategies at this time, but lead generation (sales departments), R & D and customer service (operations departments) are emerging as important players. Linking the social media strategy to business needs and performance metrics to measure ROI is becoming more common.
Nevertheless, in most cases, funding for social media initiatives remains low. More than 50% of respondents reported that their companies spent 5% or less of their IT budgets on enabling social media platform tools. 23% reported that their organizations had no plans to spend on social media.
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