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Social media in B2B marketing in 2016

Over the years on this blog, I’ve blown a bit hot and cold about social media for business marketing. ‘Warm and cold’ might be more accurate, for I’ve never been that convinced about its effectiveness. Don’t get me wrong: I love social media. I’m welded to my Twitter account, and I even look at Facebook a few times a week. Just not really for work, that’s all. Maybe the clue is in the name. Usually, ‘social’ activity takes place outside of work.

Perhaps if we described marketing communications as ‘non-social media’, that might demonstrate the difference.

However, when I look back at the period when I was most enthusiastic about using social media in business marketing, even then I was more concerned with ensuring our companies all had presences where it mattered. That advice still stands. Despite Google+ being on life support for conversation, you need to be set up with Google My Business. Even if you don’t take part in the discussion and publishing opportunities on LinkedIn, you need a company page there and a policy for staff profiles.

The problem with the very biggest social media ‘platforms’, however, is that their success has rendered any efforts to use them for B2B purposes almost invisible. People use them for information and entertainment, rather than taking action. Things might have gone another way …but they didn’t.

I used Twitter last year as part of supporting a political campaign, and regularly received retweets which took my message to a combined audience of hundreds of thousands. While the many visitors this generated for the website being promoted was welcome, they only represented a clickthrough rate of less than 0.1%. Our business to business marketing messages will be far less compelling, and might only reach an audience of hundreds. Any clicks at all might be considered a miracle. It’s no surprise that most of the B2B companies I know who are persevering with Twitter do so on the basis that it’s worth a few minutes’ effort each week in exchange for the odd few web visitors it generates, but it’s nothing they’d really miss.

While Facebook gives you more of a web-like presence, I’ve not seen any evidence of that presence generating much traffic to websites, which is really the main outcome we can target. Again, B2B marketing communications is just too far removed from what users want from Facebook. The up-and-coming social media channels, Instagram and Snapchat, seem to have even less relevance.

It’s hard to believe, but social media is still in its infancy. We’re all getting to grips with the implications of being able to send messages to (and receive them from) the rest of the world, at scale, instantly. For business communications, the conversational elements seem to offer more potential than the broadcast aspect which we’ve jumped on first; but always being there to chat with prospects and customers is going to be a big commitment.

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