Social Media is often misconstrued as a medium for business-to-consumer or B2C engagement and discounted as a viable communications network for those companies focused on business-to-business transactions. However, B2B, as in any other field impacted by online activity, is faced with a prime opportunity to not only cultivate communities in social networks and other social channels, but also amplify awareness, increase lead generation, reduce sales cycles, and perhaps most importantly, learn and adapt to market dynamics in real-time.
Ignorance is Bliss Until It's Not...
Customers and those that influence them, regardless of industry, are migrating to the social Web at varying paces. While social or digital strategies do not replace proven means that are in play today, they do however, require augmentation and shifts in resources commensurate with the distribution of attention, where it's focused and to what extent.
In my research, programs measured in hindsight are not the only views that offer 20/20 vision. Unobstructed foresight is now attainable and in some cases, predictable, based on our investment in time, energy and creativity in how we analyze online behavior, interaction, and ultimately influence. And, our ability to study and put research to work is only limited by our process for learning and adapting to earn and increase resonance within our target markets.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of listening to focused online interaction, is the ability to breakdown the decision making process and how customers and influencers impact behavior. To say it blatantly, social media makes it possible to identify and segment the specific stages of decision making online and how to in turn, respond in ways that steer interest in your favor. The results of these interactions also lend to the importance of adaptation. As we learn more about the challenges, considerations, and sentiment of our potential stakeholders, we can introduce those insights into future designs, processes, and communication.
If we are not part of the decision making process, we are then absent from the decision.
To help make the case, Outsell recently published its "Annual Advertising and Marketing Study" and in the report, Outsell states that B2B advertising and marketing spending will increase by only .8% to $129 billion. Interactive spending, on the other hand, will escalate by 9.2% to $51.5 billion this year.
As Social Media becomes pervasive in workflow and influence, Outsell's study shows that spending is following the trend. To that end, B2B marketers will increase spending in social networks by 43.3%. While it's not necessarily as alluring as social, company websites are only receiving a boost of 7.5%.
When we study engagement in interactive media, we find that we captivate attention in a very dynamic environment, but we lose them with each click that we either intentionally or unintentionally introduce to lead their experience post engagement. Many times, the click path is aimed right at the company site, and if we were to analyze the design and effectiveness of B2B websites today, we might just find that a large number are stuck in time, representative of an era more aligned with Web 1.0 than Web 2.0. Opportunity clicks, and without defining a rich and rewarding click path as well as an enriching experience, which most likely requires the renovation of the corporate website, all online activity associated with increased social spending, will bear the brunt of defining and capitalizing on attention, within social networks, the moment it's captured.
As part of the study, Outsell surfaced preferences for business engagement and activity in social networks. When asked to rate the effectiveness of particular networks, more than one-half of respondents claimed that Facebook was either "extremely" or "somewhat" effective. LinkedIn ranked second with 45% surprisingly (and not so surprisingly) ahead of Twitter at 35%, which of course, ranked higher than MySpace at 25%.
As eMarketer noted, when HubSpot ran its B2B North America survey, it found that businesses ranked LinkedIn on top at 45% ahead of Facebook at 33% as most effective in lead generation.
B2B, or any business or organization, must evaluate and implement interactive strategies in order to earn relevance and hopefully resonance in order to compete for the present and the future.
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