April 24, 2014

4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on social media for an ITSMA client. The marketer in charge of the company’s social media effort gave me a clear edict: “Look, I don’t want you focusing on Facebook, okay? We don’t see the value of it for B2B and we want it off the table. Every time we talk about it, we have an endless argument that leads nowhere.”

Seemed a bit harsh, but I had to admit that I had been harboring my own doubts about the value of Facebook for B2B for a long time. I’m not saying that B2B companies shouldn’t be on Facebook. I think every company should be on Facebook. There are just too many people passing through those turnstiles not to put up a sign somewhere. So I think B2B businesses should have a Facebook page that shares whatever content the company is already producing. Why not? It’s yet another channel for reaching customers and the effort required to set up a Facebook page and create RSS feeds of your content to update it is pretty small.

But let’s put this all in context. What is B2B marketing all about? Relationships, right? And I just don’t see what’s good about Facebook for creating relationships in B2B. Much of what works on Facebook seems to fall into two camps:

  • Charity. I see many brands launching altruistic campaigns on Facebook to get attention and burnish their reputations.
  • Contests/giveaways/games. Much as people at trade shows will do just about anything for a t-shirt, it seems pretty easy to get people to click the like button if they can get free swag or get a chance to win something. EMC, Cisco and Intel have had success with this kind of focus for some time now.

But I notice a few things about B2B efforts on Facebook that leave me skeptical:

  • Engagement is campaign focused and temporary. I see brands investing effort in campaigns around a particular event or contest, but what about the space in between? If the only way to get people interested in your content is by giving them stuff instead of wisdom, how are you supposed to sustain that connection over the long term?
  • Conversation is banal or non-existent. The B2B pages I’ve seen on Facebook are broadcast focused. Lots of big graphics and calls to action around the above mentioned swag and charitable causes, but I’ve never seen anything in the way of substantive discussion that anyone would mistake for thought leadership, as you would on say, a good blog post by a subject matter expert.
  • The like button is a blunt instrument. There’s no denying the power of Facebook as a platform. Its sheer numbers mean that brands get tons of likes. But click on that like button and X,Y,Z Company is in your Facebook stream forever (with no clear way to get rid of it) along with the stuff you really want to read from your BFFs. That’s gotta get old pretty quickly. Research shows that people unlike brands on Facebook nearly as often as they shut off other channels and for all the same reasons: “too frequent, irrelevant or boring communications.”
  • The perception of Facebook as a consumer platform persists. I keep waiting for Facebook to buy LinkedIn or Twitter and just put an end to the business vs. consumer distinction. But until they do, it seems that the perception will persist. Is it any wonder that B2C marketing techniques dominate? Facebook just doesn’t seem like a good source for B2B thought leadership.

Again, I’m not saying Facebook shouldn’t be part of a B2B social media strategy, but its utility as a platform for building a deeper relationship with B2B buyers still seems limited. What do you think?

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It’s official: Marketing owns social media management. Now what?

We just completed our ITSMA survey on social media. I’ll be reporting some of the major findings here and at ITSMA.com over the coming weeks.

But one finding sticks out. Marketing owns social media management. That’s right. It’s our job.

In our survey, we asked, “In your company, is marketing the catalyst for social media being used by others in the company (product development, HR, etc.)?” 68% of our respondents said yes.

That means that if we are to keep up with our competitors, we’re going to have to take the lead on developing a strategy not only for marketing with social media, but for getting the rest of the organization involved as well.

Will social become a silo within marketing?
This has big implications for how we organize marketing. The biggest implication is that we cannot afford for social media to become a silo or an add-on to our existing marketing organizations. Marketing as a percentage of revenue for technology services companies is at an all-time low—less than 1%. The Great Recession certainly has played a role in that, but the percentage has been dropping more or less steadily since before the dotcom crash, when it averaged about 3%.

Back then, we could still run lush print ads, design fancy brochures and whitepapers, create monster trade show booths, and wine and dine CIOs at the Super Bowl. And to business people, that all represented value. Salespeople and businesspeople could see the talent and creativity in the ads and brochures, relationships being made at the events, and the business cards in the fishbowl.

Today, we do a lot less of that stuff. That’s not to say that these more traditional tactics don’t work anymore and should be abandoned. But we have to find ways to stretch the dollars we do invest in those tactics farther. And we have to use other tactics that, in and of themselves, build trust and relationships with buyers.

That’s where social media comes in. So much of what I see out there today treats social media as a standalone. But the real successes I’m hearing about in B2B use social media to support and extend more traditional tactics. Such as using online communities and social media to build up interest and discussion about our traditional live events both up to, during, and after those events.

Reorganize in an integrated way
So the question for marketing becomes, how do we integrate social media? That was the number one goal of respondents in our survey for the coming year.

Social media consultant Jeremiah Owyang has a good post about different ways that he sees companies organizing for social media that you should check out. It will jog your thinking. But the question I have after reading his post is how does this fit with our existing models of marketing?

As I told Jeremiah in a comment on his post, I don’t doubt the rigor of his (as always) insightful thinking. But I wonder, are companies really reorganizing around social—and should they?

From our research we see that marketing tends to own social media for the rest of the organization. So we’re really looking at how much the marketing function is going to change as a result of social. Today, we see most marketing organizations divided up between corporate and field marketing (central and local) and basically divided up between marcom and everything else. So the real question is how does social impact the ways that we organize marketing today and how does it integrate with the things we already do?

I don’t think we can afford to create a social media silo inside the larger marketing organization. Do you? How are you fitting social into your organizational models?

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