Where is B2B Social Media Going?

Robin Carey
Robin Fray Carey CEO, Social Media Today LLC

Posted on April 24th 2012

Where is B2B Social Media Going?

We hosted a webinar as part of our weekly series three weeks ago with two of the smartest people in social media that I know, Maggie Fox and Elisa Camahort Page. Their hour-long conversation was mostly about the study that BlogHer recently conducted about the social habits of women who spend time online, but for a while their thoughts drifted into a more general direction about what is effective, durable and thoughtful in online marketing.

In two words, what was true when Elisa, Maggie and I started out in social media six or seven years ago remains the same today: search and blogging.

Yes, folks, those good old tried and trues.  Why?  True enough, the United Nations of social media, Facebook, has a gazillion members by now, but to hear marketers talk about it, you’d think all those were doing was planning coups and playing games.  It’s just not working all that well, yet, and yes, you’re going to get some great data from Facebook and gather half a million fans of your page if you hire Buddy Media, but what the hell are you going to do with them?

The C-Suite still hasn’t embraced social.  In IBM’s recent survey of 1,700 CMOs, 68% responded that they felt “underprepared” with social media.  Anecdotally, I can tell you that many CEOs think blogging is for mommies and nuts, and they only joined Facebook so that they could appear cool to their kids in college.  They are not looking for jobs on LinkedIn, although they may be double-checking a lower-level hire’s resume there.  They think Twitter is for someone like Ashton Kutcher or the Kardashians, if they even know that much about it. 

That’s not to say they don’t sort of now “get it,” and appreciate that it can make money, and that in 10 years their successors will be all over it, but this is the reality now. 

Which is why you will still see more B2B marketing spend going to the Masters over a couple of weeks than to Facebook, LinkedIn, or even to the PR firm creating the curated site over a year.  (Ok, that’s an exaggeration.  But of the $35B spent on digital advertising last year,  $2.9B was on B2B, ,and this includes all inter-active advertising, of which roughly 7.4% by some estimates was for social.)

But even though we can expect the anti-social C-Suite to retire someday, why are we looking to a future that will be, in some respects, déjà vu all over again?

Have you ever tried to search for a computer system on Facebook? Or even a buzz saw?  You are not, repeat, not going to get the best information about that product or service, you are going to, at best, get a fan page.   But you will, with a lot of pushing and pulling, get that info with search.   So B2B marketers will still be focused there, even if the way to get there is more elaborate than it ever was before.   It involves the word on everyone’s lips right now: curation (or the two words, content marketing.)

Curation is everyone’s game now.  Whether it’s the company that wants to emulate IBM’s Smarter Planet or the mid-size company that is using something like Curata, companies who sell business-to-business and depend on something more than a tweet to make their case and build thought leadership, are gravitating either to having their PR firm or their marketing departments curate online content that is relevant to their cause.  The problem is that curation alone does not help (much) with search.  (Although I’ve yet to be convinced that high-quality, exclusive content alone helps with search either.)

Online community is everyone’s game now.  It could be completely internal or it could involve customers, developers, prospects or influential, but everyone wants to have an online community.  Incentives to return, however, are still a mixed bag.  This is no different from B2C platforms face, and why there are so many ghost towns on the web.  But it still remains the basic tool that can be sold to upper management.  They get it.  But the biggest challenge for online community is content, which remains for most communities the main reason for coming back.   Gamification can help, since we’ve all found out that we have itches in our brain that can be directly scratched by a clever game, but in B2B, you’d better not have that place look like Words with Friends on your screen when your biggest investor is looking on.  Here’s the thing, though.  There is a ton of spam out there in open communities.  Enterprises and perhaps even individuals are going to start paying real money to have someone “curate” not just the content but membership.

Quality content (let’s define that as something that is both true and interesting) is not going to remain free and certainly will become the thing in shortest supply.  While the shock of the new to respected journalists, who used to command $3 a word from Time Inc and now have to settle for 15 cents, is our short-term outlook, this is going to change.  You’re already seeing Forbes (and to some extent, our company) finding novel ways to reward content providers, but look to more of this as technology on the one hand provides more access to content (and by content I mean primarily blogging, for the reasons stated above) and search continually reverts to what people want to read about. 

Which brings me to video.  On the one hand, video is exciting, images are user-friendly and some of the great B2B brands like IBM are using it to sell product, and to train.  We’ll probably see a lot more video and a lot less viral, since as more brands play they will be less experimental and more cautious and utilitarian in its application.  Since the price of producing video has plummeted (even the Wall Street Journal uses Skype) but it’s not search friendly and what busy executive wants to wade through even three minutes if he or she is not certain what they are going to find out, or solve.  They want a summary, and oh yes, that would be text.

Compliance, compliance, compliance.  We won’t move forward into large-scale adoption of social in B2B until we have greater, real-time controls in place that make federal, global and state agencies happy about privacy and regulatory concerns.  As Tom Chernaik, CEO of Cmp.ly told me recently, “Often it is assumed that only the traditional regulated industries need to comply with regulations in social media but, in fact, all marketers must consider Federal Trade Commission guidelines that require clear and conspicuous disclosure, even in individual Tweets, Facebook Status Updates and even Pinterest Pins.  These requirements extend not only to external bloggers and influencers, but also to employees, agencies and vendors who promote or endorse products.  Advertisers must ensure that social media policies are mandated, make sure that those policies are clearly communicated and monitor for disclosures in their programs.”

Geoffrey Moore, in his groundbreaking book Crossing the Chasm (the bible of tech vendors in the 1.0 era), took the classic bell curve analysis that he learned at Rand and applied it to how people adapt to new technologies.  (Is there a person on the planet who doesn’t know about “early adapters”?)  With B2B, we are still in the “early majority” phase, but moving towards late majority, particularly if the compliance needs can be sufficiently met.  We’re going to need scalable, reliable technologies, but we’re going to need to offer, yes, all you hippies out there I’m sorry to tell you this, greater control.  Will B2B social be the same?  Yes, I think so, and I think the rewards will be more efficient, accountable, and innovative (if not so disruptive) enterprises.

Robin Carey

Robin Fray Carey

CEO, Social Media Today LLC

In 2007, Robin Carey founded Social Media Today, LLC, one of the first companies to manage online B2B communities that connect large organizations with people they want to influence. A veteran of the big-book print media world that included Fortune, Newsweek and BusinessWeek, she had built her reputation on architecting powerful strategies that delivered to blue-chip corporate clients and their agencies ways to corral and connect with their customers, and equally importantly, their customers’ trusted influencers. As traditional media went digital, and the internet went social, Robin was one of the first to realize that the emerging social media platforms offered huge promise to corporations seeking to interact directly with, and learn from, their customers, their employees, and experts from the Ivy Towers, the Street and the Hill.

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Comments

Robin, this is really great insight. I especially wonder about this given that the US is so far ahead of many overseas companies in social. A company like Blue Arrow in the UK could benefit massively from stepping up their social media game, but I'm guessing resistance in the C-suite, as you say, is the problem. Perhaps offering greater control, as you mentioned, is the solution to convincing them that this wild and crazy online marketplace could benefit them.

Thanks, Henry.  

Many thanks to Paul Gillin for research help on this post. 

Content, C-Suite reluctance, and compliance are taking dead-aim at social media.  Add in search and B2B traction, and those are my big take-aways from your insightful piece. I think the C-suite reluctance is one of the bigger issues. many of the C-Suite denizens I work with are not blogging or tweeting, or if they do, that taks is given over to a PR or communications person. That usually means there is very little personality in the posts. I think that the real power of C level execs being involved in social media is the trickle down effect. If the CEO embraces a social media strategy, and actively links in to the bounty that's out there, then it almost becomes a mandate in the organization. Thanks for the more than 140 charcter thoughtful insights, Robin. Loraine Antrim.

I wonder if CEOs would feel more comfortable just becoming great curators... if they understood the value of confirming the good thinking of their influencers and employees.  Marc Benioff does a bit of that, and I think it works well for him, yes?

Robin this is very insightful. I'm wondering at what point will C-Suite executives recognize the value of connecting with other organizations that are immersed in social. Companies run the risk of watching competitors surpass them when it comes to social engagement.

Good point, Sandra.  Probably at the same time that they feel more comfortable on the compliance side.  But also when the new generation takes their place.

Social media isn't going anywhere, at least not in my opinion. I spend a lot of time on the newer networks like www.Formvote.com , etc.