There seems to be a perception that social media is better suited for business-to-consumer brands than business-to-business marketing. This view is supported by a lack of easily accessible social media success stories in the B2B space — on the Internet and at conferences. But it is a misconception.
Without a doubt, there are countless impressive B2C success stories, including the funny Bodyform video created in response to a disgruntled Facebook post and the successful Old Spice video campaign. But social media is also extensively and successfully in use for B2B marketing. We simply might not hear about it as much because the examples are not as entertaining.
B2B social media is best suited to generating awareness. To just pick a few examples, social media can help build thought leadership, increase the reach of events or strengthen your brand. Social media can also foster action and engagement. Used properly, social tools can help you leverage advocates and influencers to spread your message, generate content for you and even generate leads.
When a B2C campaign goes viral, you are likely to hear about it. When a Global 2000 company manages to increase reach, action and engagement with their target audience, they either keep it quiet, as their success provides a competitive advantage, or it simply is not an entertaining enough story to get much media coverage.
The B2B vs. B2C marketing difference
B2B marketing often requires a different approach than B2C marketing, mostly due to a difference in sales cycles. The B2B sales cycle is generally more complex and of a higher dollar value, and the purchase decision is less emotional.
For example, my co-author Michael Procopio writes in our upcoming book “42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing”: “A car is the most complex thing I buy in my personal life, and yet it seems very manageable. When buying the car, I do all the research on a few web sites, check with some friends on Facebook, and then finalize my decision with a test drive. My choice is as much emotional as based on facts. Once I pick what I want, I just need to get my better half to okay the purchase. Done.”
In B2B, on the other hand, multiple people with potentially different pain points need to agree to the purchase — especially as deal sizes increase. The sales cycle typically runs several months with different stakeholders participating at different points in the process. Unlike selling a piece of consumer electronics, many people can say “no,” and the “wow, this is cool” factor is minimized by the many meetings to discuss the purchase.
B2B vs. B2C social media tactics
B2B marketers have a smaller set of social media marketing tactics available than B2C folks, and generating immediate sales from a great campaign is rare.
Some social media sites have higher success rates for B2C than B2B marketing and vice versa. For example, Facebook has been most successful for B2C in terms of lead generation. This is true to a large degree because B2C marketing can provide instant discounts and offers that do not make sense for the sale of complex B2B products to large corporations. Conversely, LinkedIn is one of the most successful sites for B2B social media marketing but is not used much for B2C.
It has become common knowledge that the majority of B2B buyers search for a solution online instead of waiting to be contacted — a scenario known as “pull marketing.” Social media can play a key role in improving the “findability” of your information. The fact is, as confirmed by the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, that “those investing a minimum of 6 hours per week in social media marketing saw improvements in search engine rankings. Marketers selling to other businesses were more likely to achieve this benefit (59%) than those selling to consumers (50%).”
What B2B and B2C have in common
It is equally difficult for B2C and B2B marketers to create a viral video. “You might have better odds playing the lottery than of becoming a viral video sensation,” Chris Wilson writes in Slate.
What is also common between B2B and B2C marketing is that both must create and frequently update compelling content, focus on engagement and interact directly with their audience to be successful. The main difference in B2B is that you must think about the overall sales cycle, who is involved and how to address each individual’s needs with the right content at the right time.
I think there is no doubt that there is a lack of available B2B social media use cases. My upcoming book, “42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing,” due in December, is hoping to close that gap.
Natascha Thomson is the owner and founder of MarketingXLerator — a B2B social media marketing consultancy — with a focus on using social media to connect people for business impact. She is also a co-author of the book “42 Rules for B2B Social Media Marketing.”