Social Media Is a Waste of Time for B-to-B

There. I’ve said it out loud. Now let the crucifixion begin. But before you write a retaliatory remark, hear me through.

While I strongly believe that B-to-B marketing strategies can leverage many different marketing channels, I don’t think social media is at the top of my “things-I-must-do-to-help-drive-my-business-forward” list. Why? Because too many brands still need to get their act together in the basics, before spending precious resources chasing their tails on platforms that will yield very little to the bottom line.

So before you write me a nasty post suggesting that I’m old and out of touch with the times, consider these basics about your B-to-B product/service:

  • Website: Yep. This is where first impressions are made, so it better be designed and organized for easy navigation. And, it better be intuitive—allowing visitors to find their way around and get to the information they’re seeking without having to fall down a rat hole or two. Is the information arranged in a logical fashion (no, not the way your company wants it, but how your target audience THINKS)? Can information be downloaded and printed without sucking my printer dry of ink? Are there high-end videos to watch that are informative, engaging and helpful? Relevant case studies to my industry? Quotes/endorsements from users? White papers that truly examine an industry issue without making self-serving claims about your company? On a scale of 1 to 10, what score would you give to your website? If it’s less than an “8,” stop spending time on social media initiatives and get your website in order first.
  • Customer Service: Have you ever called your own toll-free line or emailed your own company as a “mystery shopper?” Who answers and how quickly? How are you treated? Is it easy to get your questions answered without being transferred? What kind of follow up is in place? Many companies separate this step from the rest of their marketing efforts and it often exemplifies everything that is wrong with your organization, which no amount of social media can fix. Remember, it’s easier to sell more to an existing customer then it is to find a sell to a new prospect, so if the after-purchase experience is less than stellar, stop chasing your tail and concentrate on getting your customer service house in order.
  • Industry Presence: No matter what product or service you sell, there are probably one or more industry organizations/conferences/events that attract potential prospects. This is where many targets go seeking information and your brand needs to be part of the discussion. Attending trade shows does NOT necessarily mean plunking down cash to have a booth on the trade show floor and handing out useless promo items, although that can be helpful if done right. What it does mean is that you need to get engaged in the event. Find out how to become a speaker, or participate in a roundtable discussion. Build awareness of your brand and your knowledge about issues facing the industry and the role that your product/service plays to help solve that issue. This is the original world of social media—not an online, digital presence that has no real value unless someone “clicks” but true engagement and dialogue between two individuals where one has a pain and the other one can solve it.
  • Relationship Building: Before LinkedIn and webinars, we all attended conferences, listened to speakers, met over cocktails and exchanged business cards. We followed up, stayed in touch and reconnected when we needed help finding useful products or services. I admit that I love LinkedIn as a tool for organizing my contacts, but the Discussion Groups can be quickly taken off topic or slow to take off in any meaningful way. If you have a solid topic that is of value to your industry, hire a researcher/writer and get an article/whitepaper written. Then share it with potential prospects, post it to one of your industry sites, send it to an editor of your trade publication. Every digital outlet is begging for valuable content and you could place yourself at the top of the knowledge chain through this endeavor. And everyone likes doing business with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Speaking of LinkedIn, if you’re in sales, you need to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile posted. And please, use a professional picture of yourself, and not one of you and your dog or the one taken by the camera on top of your computer (which is creepy looking, by the way). When you talk about your current employer, make sure you’re using consistent language about your brand. Look to your marketing or PR department for the 25-word description you know exists. Make sure you create a thorough profile and reach out to past customers / clients for endorsements—they do get read, believe it or not.

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.
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Comments
  • Dudley Stevenson

    I couldn’t agree more and it is about time someone said it. I see businesses more focused on their social media presence than marketing fundamentals.

  • Heather Sloan

    I agree with your article that you need to have your business "house in order" before you invite prospects to visit your site. However, once your processes are honed and your website is lead-gen ready, there’s no better source for B2B leads than LinkedIn groups. I post links to my blog articles and white paper offers to a variety of insurance professional groups and I generate more than 50% of my leads through this valuable resource. Try it!

  • Tim Leets

    I totally agree with the article. Too many companies get excited about the buzz of social media without making sure the house is in order. Social Media is not a magic pill that makes everything right in marketing.

  • Mark Bonacorso-Work

    While I don’t agree 100%, I’m glad someone said it. For me, the jury is still out on B2B social media, however while it can be argued that B2B social media does little to affect the bottom line, B2B companies should at least be listening!

  • Roy

    Hurray! At last someone who recognizies the relative importance of each "marketing" challenge. In our case the targeted personas spend almost zero time with twitter, don’t see any value in facebook (friends get invited over for cocktails) and wish LinkedIn lived up to its original potential/promise.

  • Peter Hochstein

    Sincere congratulations, Carolyn, for being the first person in the crowd I’m aware of to cry out, "The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!"

    I’m not sure who all those tweet-addicted people out there are, but if they spend their time in the Kingdom of Tweetamania, with regular detours to Facebook Land, I start to wonder if anybody’s minding the store.

  • Born Again

    Are other countries and cultures using Social Media for business in a big way?
    Or is it just our own "USA! USA! USA!" self absorbed, pat-each-other-on-the-back, attention craving society who seem to think "sharing" is more noble than individuality.

  • Stella Oefinger

    As a marketer, I never make a blanket statement about something not working because as soon as you do, someone is making it happen. While I agree that huge efforts shouldn’t be spent in social media for most B2B businesses, it’s can be a mechanism to keep your face in front of your target, especially if your competition isn’t even trying.

  • Rick Stoner

    Talk about a headline that doesn’t match the content. I’d argue the real takeaway here is assessing the priority level of social media when evaluating it across the entire marketing mix of a brand, something any social media nerd with an understanding of the big picture can’t disagree with. But hey you got my click-through and comment. Touché.

    Tying social media to the bottom line impact of organizations is more difficult than say, a website, but its not impossible. Examples a plenty but IBM comes to mind: http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2010/09/21/evidence-that-social-media-really-does-drive-sales/

  • colltreese

    Like all marketing channels, social media marketing works best when it works with others. So in some sense, I do have to agree with you but as far as counting social media out of a B2B must-do, I have to politely disagree.

    Consider the fact that this is a blog post–something that I consider to be a form of social media marketing. How can we discount the value of social media in the B2B space when we’ve just inherently proved the pudding via this exact channel?

  • onholder

    I agree with Carolyn completely. We are a small company selling our productsservices to other small companies. When I ask our customers if they get any business from their presence on FB, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter or anything else, they laugh out loud. I can’t name a single customer (and most of these are B to B) who says they get any business return at all from the time and money they have invested in social platforms. Like the author says – show me the money.

    Having said that – a personal plea. I would love to see Target Marketing spend a bit more time focusing on SMALL business marketing. Reading the posts and listening to the webcasts doesn’t help solve our marketing issues much – all TM and webcasts are about larger companies with actual marketing departments. I’m talking small companies with just a few employees. We need marketing help and ideas as much as the big guys!

  • Laffsabunch

    Carolyn–thank you! I say this to clients and they look at me funny (funnily???). I think you are spot on and no twenty- to thirty-something geek is going to tell me any differently. A great direct mail package, good newsletter, and the tools you’ve outlined above are the real key. Bravo!

  • http://BillKrueger Bill Krueger

    You won’t get crucified by me! We do a lot of work in b-to-b, and honestly don’t get the question very often. We’ve found most b-to-b clients are sorely deficient in basic marketing strategy and initiatives that could seriously move them forward in their markets, but their internal staff, which are often displaced engineers or customer service folks, are all responsible for at least 2 jobs. We try to get them to concentrate on the basics first.

    However, they also sometimes make things out to be bigger than they have to be- it’s not required to do a PR splash for every new product, new training class, or staff and pricing updates. A simple post to their web site, and a Twitter post with link back work just fine for that, and everybody can afford the time for 140 characters. Of course there need to be policies and strategy, but most find it do-able. Small steps!

  • Frank Lopresti

    I like this article, even if the headline is a bit misleading. I would argue however that all companies have to have some form of SM presence, as it is an extension of the website. Think beyond "website" and consider your company’s "web presence." SM also plays a role in SEO, search, and directing web traffic. Website and web presence are the legitimizers. Think about it: if you’re looking at two different companies and one has a website, and the other has a website AND a SM presence, who looks more established? Who is your gut telling you is the safer bet?

    Facebook is useless for B2B, but B2C should be all over it.

  • Ed Personius

    Excellent article and excellent priority points. At the core of your argument is the fact that "Social" Media is not actually social; it is a way for people to make drive-by commentary and remain at arm’s length. This has a value, but it is limited. NOTHING will ever replace in-person interaction, which is an inherent point that you make. Many of the points you make are also true of old-line media and marketing; there has to be a meaningful business objective. The place at which all media fails is where the tool is used improperly or ineffectively. People who argue the most vehemently in favor of the value of Social Media are rarely bottom-line decision makers, and very often have a vested interest in Social Media (as in, it’s their job or their obsession.) The point of business is to MAKE MONEY. If it doesn’t directly lead to that objective, then it will always come into question and scrutiny. Social Media needs to lead to transactions more often and in more direct, trackable ways. (Note: a "click" is not a transaction!) If your "social" campaign is producing sales transactions, then you need to take Carolyn up on her challenge and weigh in. So far, none of the dissenters in this thread have produced one shred of personal evidence that their social marketing efforts are producing sales. Not sayin’ it isn’t possible, I’m just sayin’…

  • dschulenberg

    If "industry presence" and your "website" are important to B2B marketing strategy as you pose, then you’d be a fool to ignore the power of social in the empowered buyer cycle – starting with search value alone.

    The biggest challenge – and opportunity – for B2B is to understand (measure and attribution) the customer decision journey including digital and offline influences.

    Social is not the end all, be all but ignoring it is limiting your market visibility, engagement and lead gen options.

  • Will

    ABSOLUTELY AGREE and have been saying this for years! I applaud you!

  • systemgroupinc

    This is a great topic! Yes, it is important to build the foundation before you decorate a house. However, you haven’t mentioned cost (an all-important factor). Social media can be an excellent tool for companies who cannot afford to overhaul their website or get "in" as a tradeshow speaker. We’ve just released an infographic on this issue, and would love to know your thoughts. You can see it at http://ow.ly/fGJF7

  • Josh Ewin

    Good post, Carolyn. I think the assumption that social media for B2B is a low ROI activity is incorrect though. If used well, it can be a source of new business and new media relationships. More importantly, platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can be used by B2B companies to develop customer relationships and understand your prospects and existing customers better. Is ROI clear cut with Social, no; you’re never going to be able to measure ROI on social like you would with a media buy or PPC. But it should be a part of a B2B company’s overall marketing strategy.

  • Christy Kenyon

    Oh Carolyn! You are so on the mark! Great post, as always.