Social Media Use Soars Among B2B Marketers: Really?

On July 20, BtoB Magazine, in conjunction with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) published findings from the June 2009 online survey of 172 client-side marketers, 77 self-identified as primarily targeting B2B.  You can find the online version of the article here.

My colleague Josh Bernoff spoke at the ANA/BtoB conference today, called “B-toB Marketing in the New World“, and dropped me a quick note to say that his presentation — where he talked about “The Social Imperative in B2B Marketing” – was well received. He also shared an offhand remark along the lines of “those B2B marketers could sure use your help.”

At first, I found Josh’s comment a bit out of kilter with the title of the BtoB Magazine article, “Social media use soars among b-to-b marketers”. How can Forrester’s leading expert on social media strategy, co-author of Groundswell, find the ANA audience needing to know more about how to use social media successfully?  Then it dawned on me: use and success are not necessarily the same here.

The online article doesn’t include a key chart from the physical publication. The chart shows the percentage of b-to-b marketers using, or planning to use, the following “newer media” platforms.  (Again, planning and doing are two different things.) Reading directly from the July 20 chart, the data looks like this:

Your own Web site = 99%, email marketing = 94%, SEO-organic = 79%, Online ads/banners = 73%, SEM-paid search = 71%, Webinars = 66%, Social networks/social media = 57% (question: why lump these two together?), RSS feeds = 46%, Viral video = 42%, Podcasts = 38%, Video-on-demand and Wikis = 36% each, and Mobile, Gaming and Second Life bringing up the rear at 18%, 7% , and 6% respectively.

Surprisingly, not too different from Forrester survey findings published earlier this year. (See Figure 6 in particular).

The title touts the main finding, that among the 77 who responded, 57% of b-to-b marketers in this survey say they are using social media as a marketing tactic (remember, this is labeled as social network/social media), up from a mere 15% in 2007.

But let’s look at the numbers a little more closely: the first 6 items in rank order are not typically considered “social” media, but rather interactive tactics that many marketers have embraced gradually during the past number of years.

I think combining social networks and social media gums things up a bit because most marketers look at things like blogs, podcasts, microblogging (Twitter), open social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), wikis, and even video as the more “social” tactics emerging in the new campaign toolbox. So, having a corporate blog, for example, could lead respondents to say “yes, I am using social media,” and inflate the number a bit.

I’m guessing subscribers to the ANA can get a final version of the report and look at the data directly. But this article highlights how — despite the hype — “social media” is an emerging concept and the definition of what is “in” social media (and what is not) is not commonly shared.

What is more interesting is a paragraph from the August 3 press release published by the ANA prior to the start of the conference.  To quote, it says:

“In 2009, the most effective newer media platforms were as follows: Search engine marketing (SEM) (65 percent), Own Web site (59 percent), Search engine optimization (SEO) (55 percent), E-mail marketing (45 percent).”

Ah, so when evaluating whether these marketing approaches are ”effective,” the “social” media don’t yet meet a majority of B2B marketer expectations. While use is soaring, that use is still fairly experimental, and questions about how this activity pays of in direct business value begin to arise.

Today, Josh told the Chicago conference audience, “to reach B2B buyers with social technologies, concentrate on objectives.” This is a key theme in Groundswell, a tenant of our POST method for setting social strategy, and the principle behind Social Technographics – you have to understand how your audience engages in social activity, and what you want to achieve by engaging with them, to make social media succeed.

Perhaps the most interesting points were made by several of readers who left comments about the July 20 article online, in particular Liz Stott, Marketing Strategist, Penton Media.  You should read the whole thread, but I can’t help but quote Liz to close this post:

“My only word of caution to marketers would be to determine if your prospects/customers are really using SM for business decisions, before you dedicate full time employees to community building roles. Marketers see SM as “free” – but it’s not free at all, especially when you consider the Value of Time, and the high costs associated with community building personnel.”

Couldn’t of said it better myself.

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