While for B2C companies, using social media to acquire and exchange knowledge with customers and internally is all the rage, new research reveals that many B2B companies fail to see the potential of social media – and even when some managers see the potential, the company fails to provide support for social media initiatives.
Business-to-business (B2B) companies differ from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies in many ways. B2B company products are often more complex and require greater lead times to produce, there are fewer customers, and because of the complexity of the products, the relationship between customers and suppliers are closer and more personal. For many in B2B industries, these differences explain why communicating through social media internally with customers and externally with suppliers might work for B2C, but not for them.
A team of researchers confirmed the poor reception of social media technologies in B2B industries through a study of 125 Finnish B2B companies. Using in-depth, structured questionnaires, the team focused on social media adoption in the context of knowledge management: acquiring knowledge from external and internal sources, adapting the knowledge as needed, and disseminating the knowledge throughout the organization. With most B2B products requiring a significant exchange of knowledge with suppliers and with customers, many B2B experts see knowledge management (KM) as an area of great potential for social media technologies.
The study revealed that for knowledge management and to support knowledge-intensive business activities, B2B companies are far more likely to use traditional digital tools than social media tools. Digital tools included digital meeting tools, shared storage space (e.g., Dropbox) and document management systems (e.g., Lotus Notes). Social media tools included blogs, social networking platforms, video sharing (e.g., YouTube) and social office tools, (e.g., Google docs). There were some differences based on sector (electronics and business consulting industries were more likely to use some social media tools), and turnover (higher turnover companies used more social media platforms to connect with customers and suppliers). In the case of interactions with suppliers, companies with a greater number of employees used social media more extensively.
Other results from the research included:
The research reveals that there is some awareness on the part of B2B managers of the benefits of social media tools for knowledge acquisition and management, and that that those benefits are not being exploited in their companies. There is little support from companies, especially smaller and medium-sized companies, to integrate social media, however. In fact, a portion of the respondents believed that social media was not even allowed in the company.
In sum, social media’s function within B2C customer relationship management strategies is well known, but many managers and employees in B2B companies have not recognized the full potential of social media for acquiring external knowledge and disseminating that knowledge internally.
Managers who want their companies to invest in social media technology have to educate sceptics within the company of the opportunities that social media tools offer. Real world, practical approaches such as case studies might be most effective. The challenge of convincing social media sceptics is especially pronounced for external knowledge; the potential for intra-company communication and knowledge dissemination is more readily accepted.
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