The rise and rise of Social Media
Unless you have been hibernating on a remote island for the past few months, you will have heard of the latest social media fad – Twitter. In fact, in the last week alone, over 60,000 articles (on Google news) have referred to this new form of communication.
The truth is, social media is more than just a fad. Time spent on social media between 2007 and 2008 increased by more than 70 percent, and in February social network usage was greater than web-based email usage for the first time ever. Gen Y population numbers are expected to exceed any other generation by 2017. With 96 percent of them having already joined a social network, this medium cannot be ignored by Australian businesses.
HOWEVER, much of the chatter on the topic of social media has focused on businesses that sell to consumers (B2C) as opposed to other businesses (B2B). Consumer-focused companies like Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Dell, Cirque du Soleil and traditional media outlets are leading the pack, but should B2Bs learn and employ similar tactics, or is social media the domain of the B2C market only?
Social media … huh???
Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. Fundamentally, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. Categories and examples of social media include:
- Blogs (WordPress, Blogger)
- Wikis (Wikipedia, pbwiki)
- Social networks (facebook, myspace)
- Niche social networking (Linkedin, plaxo)
- Microblogs (twitter)
- Sharing tools (YouTube, Flickr)
- Link sharing tools (delicious, digg)
- Instant messaging (skype, Yahoo messenger)
- Virtual worlds (Second Life)
B2C – stop and take note!
According to a 2007 Nielsen report, only 14 percent of people trust advertising, while 78 percent trust recommendations from other consumers. Social media is providing companies with the ability to enter into open discussions with consumers in a way advertising could not and has not. A recent example of its overwhelming power and influence was the Obama Presidential Campaign. Voters in the age group of 18-29 voted for Obama 66 percent to McCain’s 32 percent. Even more amazing was the high turnout rate for this demographic which more than compensated for McCain winning the over-45 and over-65 age groups.
How was this achieved? Obama used social media to not only attract everyday people, but to convert them into engaged advocates. The numbers tell a great story:
- 13 million people on the email list
- 5 million friends on 15 social network sites
- Nearly 2,000 official YouTube videos watched 80 million times
- 442,000 user-generated videos on YouTube
- 3 million signed up to the text messaging program
- 8.5 million monthly visitors to mybarakobama.com
- 2 million profiles with 400,000 blog posts
- 3 million online donors who contributed 6.5 million times.
There was no way this volume and spread of content could have been generated by the presidential campaign alone. Additionally, user generated content is more compelling and trusted than any official production.
But B2C is not the same as B2B.
So, do B2Bs need to run out and record a video for YouTube or create a blog?
The first thing to consider is the nature of the relationship you have with your customers. Either through account managers or direct relationships, most B2Bs will have a closer relationship with their customers and can and should be engaging in these conversations already. Social media has given B2Cs the ability to have these conversations with their customers – something they may not have been able to do previously.
The next point to consider is whether your customers are engaging in social media for business purposes. You need to go to where your customers already are and not just adopt new technology for the sake of being there first. If the conversation is happening, you may want to consider joining, but much of the conversation is still focused on the consumer market.
Lastly, social media strategies, like most business strategies, need to be implemented correctly. This will often be time-consuming and require a financial consideration. Doing this wrong or half-heartedly may result in a complete waste of precious time, or worse, alienating the people who you are trying to communicate with.
B2B – don’t tune out just yet.
There are some areas were B2Bs can (and in some cases must) be engaging in social media.
As we said before, you need to be where your customers are, and there is already strong evidence that some industries, particularly technology, are already there. A recent report from Forrester Research showed that 69 percent of technology decision-makers are “spectators” of social media for business purposes (i.e. they are reading blogs, watching user-generated videos, etc.)
If you are trying to sell to these people, you may want to start putting together your social media strategy. (However, it is worth noting that these buyers, while using social technology, didn’t rate it highly in terms of its influence on their buying decisions.)
The next area where B2Bs can gain from social media is increasing your Google ranking. We all want to get found in Google and one of the ways to improve your Google pagerank is by increasing links to your site. If you develop content that people want to see, read or listen to, they will link to it, pass it to others and may recommend it to sites like digg. All this will increase your Google rank and your web traffic, which hopefully translate into sales.
Following on from this is thought leadership. If you want to be recognised as a leader in your area, then you need to be playing the social media game. This is where a lot of content is being found so you need to be producing it.
Lastly, and probably the most relevant for most B2Bs, is networking. Sites like LinkedIn have taken business networking to a whole new level. If I wanted an introduction to Michael Dell, I am only three degrees separated (one of my contacts is a contact with someone who is a contact of Michael’s). I can find contacts, get introductions and keep contacts up-to-date on relevant events, etc. The more sophisticated CRM systems are utilising LinkedIn and other networking sites to help develop the profiles of your sales targets.
Time is on your side.
So for all those stressing that they naively thought Twitter was something for the birds, don’t worry about missing the boat just yet. Remember the key – go to where your customers are. If you are a B2B, then chances are your customers are not making their buying decisions based on content from social media. However, if you want or need to get into the conversation, then remember to start by dipping your toes in and tread lightly, as for the time being, time is on your side.
Graeme Gladman is cofounder of BrandQuest, a leading Sydney branding/marketing consultancy. He has over 25 years experience as Creative Director leading ad agencies and then as Managing Director/Owner of Batey Gladman and RPM.
Photo: altemark (Flickr)