Social marketing for B2B: to use or not to use?
Potential for B2B companies
Challenges for B2B companies
Strategy and tactics
The usage of social media and the Internet has increased substantially over the past few decades. Business-to-Consumer (hereinafter refer to B2C) include social media into their marketing strategy to achieve marketing aims and objectives of the company. Business-to-Business (hereinafter refer to B2B) companies have also started to use social media in their marketing activities. In addition, B2B companies have understood the potential in getting a feedback from consumers as well as establishing communication not only with consumers, but also with partners of the Internet and social media (Keinänen and Kuivalainen, 2015).
In spite of the popularity of social media marketing, its importance in shaping commercial online interaction and its huge potential in supporting brands (Christodoulides, 2009; Leek and Christodoulides, 2010; Lindgreen et al., 2010), there are limited researches of how social media communication has impact on success of brands, especially B2B companies. There is insufficient evidence of data and researches on how social media helps to B2B companies to achieve their marketing aims and objectives.
The aim of this paper is to analyse existing academic literature and researches and to discuss the role of social media in B2B field. The second, this paper proposes the evidence of social media importance for B2B companies. The third, it illustrates online tendencies in social media for B2B companies. The forth, this study explains why B2B companies are lagging B2C companies on social media activities.
Social marketing for B2B: to use or not to use?
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) identify social media as: “a group of applications on Wide World Web that permit to create and exchange content between users. Social media platforms include: social network (Facebook, Twitter), professional networking websites (LinkedIn), media sharing websites (YouTube, Instagram), discussion forums and blogs (Agarwal and Yiliyasi, 2010).
Organisations include social media in their online strategy and suggest to their consumers to follow their pages on social nets by putting direct links to Facebook or Twitter from their corporate websites. They use the social network to communicate and promote their brand (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010).
Some people believe that new technologies and social media might not be suitable to B2B companies, because of the specific of their field. Buehrer et al. (2005) emphasizes internal and external difficulties in adoption of new technologies by B2B companies. Certainly, some researches claim that many B2B companies adapt very slow to new technologies and trends due to barriers such as lack of budget, time, necessity of taking some trainings, negative attitude about effectiveness, as well as unfamiliarity with the particular technologies and tools (Buehrer et al., 2005). Earlier studies directly connect the size of the company and innovative adoption. The researches propose that smaller companies are more flexible and accept innovations and new trends faster than large companies (Frambach and Schillewaert, 2002).
Michaelidou et al. (2011) stresses that almost three quarters B2B small and medium companies in the study do not use social media to achieve their marketing goals. The reasons for not using social media are the following: most of the companies believe that social media are not effective in their industry for achieving marketing and business goals, less than half of companies that do not use social media are not sure in effectiveness of social media in B2B. Limited knowledge of social field, as well as limited resources and experience make small and medium businesses unconfident in using social media channels to achieve marketing aims.
This anecdata has been supported in a recent B2B study on social media. In 2015 only slightly more than a third of B2B marketers had a documented content strategy, less than half had a verbal-only strategy and less than 15% had no strategy at all. However, the study stress that B2B marketers who have a documented content marketing strategy get better outcomes than their colleagues, who do not have a documented strategy (Contentmarketinginstitute.com, 2016).
Potential for B2B companies
Baird and Parasnis (2011) claim that most people use social media for personal purposes, such as staying in touch with family and friends. Besides the study emphasizes that business companies believe that customers interact with organisations on social platforms not to get some information about new products or services, but to get some benefits (discounts or sales).
Michaelidou et al. (2011) emphasizes that more than 90 percent of B2B companies in the study use social media to attract new consumers, 86 percent use social media to interact with their existing audience, 82 percent with the help of social media expect to increase brand awareness, less than half of companies in the study expect to get feedback and information from their customers.
According to the Contentmarketinginstitute.com (2016) research more than 90% of B2B marketers consider social media an effective marketing tool for B2B and use it in their daily work. Anecdotal evidence proposes that social media is an essential tool for B2B organisations (Shih, 2009). Barnes (2010) believes that an effective marketing strategy should include social media tools, due to advantages and opportunities, which B2B company could achieve by smart implementation of this strategy. With the help of social media business companies can communicate with their existing and potential consumers and generate value for their brands through information, knowledge, conversations, relationships and e-commerce (Sharma, 2002; Breslauer & Smith, 2009; Tsimonis and Dimitriadis, 2014). In addition, B2B organisations could use social media not only for interaction with their customers, but also to build strong relationships and trust with prospective partners in terms of B2B sales (Shih, 2009). Earlier researches stress that because of the non-transactional nature with the help of social media it is very easy and comfortable to collect feedback and information from consumers and to initiate two-way conversations with them (Enders et al., 2008; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Moreover, communication through social media channels can help companies to recognize problems that they have and find solutions to them (Shih, 2009; Tsimonis and Dimitriadis, 2014).
Michaelidou et al. (2011) stresses that according to the study almost a third of B2B small and medium businesses use social media, the majority of them use Facebook (more than three quarters) as a platform to meet their aims. Moreover, tha studu shows that companies, that implemented social media in their marketing strategy as a rule use more than one social platform. In addition, half of the companies do not invest into social media or they use only 1% of their marketing budgets. Besides none of the B2B firms in the study do not plan to diminish their investments in social media, while almost half of the companies in the study plan to increase their investments into social media.
In addition, Schulze (2013) emphasizes the following most popular B2B social activities: posting content on a company blog; building relationships with social influencers and bloggers; using different sharing platforms, such as YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare. Additionally, in 2016 content marketing trends in North America include: social media content- other than blogs- 93% of B2B marketers use social media to achieve their marketing goals; case studies- 82% of B2B marketers use this tactic. More than 80% of marketers use blogs and in-person events. Less than 80% of respondents in the study post articles or videos on their website. Besides, B2B marketers in North America use illustrations, photos, white papers, infographics, webinars and online presentations as their content marketing tactic to achieve business aims (Contentmarketinginstitute.com, 2016).
Challenges for B2B companies
Business experts and academic literature agree that in general B2B marketers fail business-to-consumer (herein after refer to B2C) marketing specialists in theory and practice of social media usage (Adiele, 2011; Bruhn et al., 2014; Fiore and Schneider, 2016). One reason is that in general interest to social media has been constantly increasing since 2004, while the specific interest in social media of B2B only appeared in 2010 (Michaelidou et al., 2011). Another reason is that services and products that B2B companies suggest to the customers are often more complex and complicated than B2C services or goods. According to Chernov J., Vice President of Marketing at Kinvey, B2B companies have problems with social media because many of them do not understand that social media requires a combination of business and technology approaches” (Marx, 2013).
Additionally, Dibb and Simkin (1993) consider that B2C consumers are more indulgence-driven than B2B customers. This is the reason why in B2B communication the message and media reliability for interaction with consumers are more essential. What is more, B2B marketers face more difficulties than B2C because they should find the balance between casual and informal style of messages to be understandable for their target audience and at the same time not to create a frivolous impression (Habibi et al., 2015). Also B2B products and services are more knowledgeable than B2C. Greater product sophistication means that B2B buyers tend to depend on more information about the product due to the higher level of risk included in high-value purchases. As a result customers prefer to research the information about the product more carefully and detailed, using different channels (Jerman and Završnik, 2012; Jussila et al., 2014). What is more, social media allow consumers to get greater knowledge by searching various online communities, blogs and forums.
One of the challenges that B2B companies and marketing managers face is too many social media platforms and types of contents. In addition, all social media activities should be coordinated with the sales funnel stage giving the permission to decision-makers to access various types of information regarding to their buyer readiness stage and receptivity to information types (Habibi, 2015).