The advent of Web 2.0 – the use of social media tools for marketing – has created new ways to communicate, collaborate and share content. Businesses that market their products or services to consumers (B2C) were first to realise its potential, not least through social networking sites such a Facebook. But research suggests that the benefits can be just as significant for businesses that market to other businesses (B2B).
Social media encompasses the activities and behaviours of communities of people who gather online to share knowledge and opinions. Social media, or otherwise ‘user-generated communication’, now represents a prevalent source of information. It has changed the tools and strategies companies use to communicate, highlighting that the information control now lies with the customer.
Despite the popularity of social media and, in particular, social networking sites, their importance in shaping commercial online interaction and their potential to support brands, focuses largely on consumers in a B2C context. To date, there has been little systematic research on how social networking sites are used by companies, particularly B2B companies, and how they contribute to brand objectives.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that social media is important for B2B companies. B2B companies can use social media, and specifically social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to communicate with their customers and suppliers, build relationships and trust, as well as to identify prospective partners in terms of B2B selling.
This is supported by recent research among SMEs, which identified a number of perceived ‘B2B benefits’ including attracting new customers, cultivating relationships, increasing awareness, communicating brands, receiving feedback and interacting with suppliers. In addition, the adoption of social media by B2B salesforces has been found to improve sales processes and ‘relationship selling’.
This study builds on the limited literature on social media in a B2B context and sheds light on the extent of the usage of social networking sites, perceived benefits and barriers, as well as common metrics used by B2B organisations to evaluate the effectiveness of the sites as a marketing tool. Key findings include:
Methodology: Data was collected from a sample of 5,000 organisations in the UK derived from a permission-based mailing list. The questionnaire was sent to one marketing executive per targeted business. Although 148 fully completed questionnaires were returned (3% response rate), 105 were retained as these represented B2B organisations.
Based on evidence highlighting the important role of branding in the B2B setting, leaders of B2B firms should promote the use of social networking sites to create customer value, for example, by interacting better with customers, as well as by building and fostering improved customer relationships.
By being closer to their customers, B2B companies will be able to create a unique brand identity and differentiate themselves from the competition. Customers can also benefit from the company’s use of social media, by being better able to communicate with the company and provide feedback.
In common with B2B organisations in the study, leaders should be aware of the number of customers attracted via social media, using this as a key measure of the effectiveness of social media and social networking sites as a marketing tool.
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