After spreading like wildfire among consumers, and then among business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, social media applications are poised for an assault on the next level, business-to-business (B2B) companies.
But, for now, this appears to be a breaking point in the relentless march of social media. Marketing executives, who will be key to the growth of social media in B2B, are generally sold on the idea of leveraging social media, yet strangely are reluctant to actually implement it, according to “Making Social Media Pay” (PDF), a report released Monday by Accenture.
Accenture, which surveyed more than 200 marketing executives, found that just 8 percent of U.S. B2B companies are extensively leveraging social media, even as 65 percent have identified social media as important to their companies.
“The vast disparity between belief and action was a big surprise to us,” said Kevin Quiring, managing director of Accenture’s North American Customer Relationship Management unit, in an interview with CMO.com. “[Respondents] believe that social media is important, but they don’t have confidence in how or where to place their investment.”
Accenture identified several reasons for the disconnect, though a few strong themes emerged in the survey. Many respondents simply fear they could make the wrong social-media investment. Others said investment was held up because their CEOs were not convinced it would be a long-term success. And many of those who had made social-media investments weren’t confident about the investments and “19 percent had no confidence in those investments at all.”
Quiring said few B2B companies are sure what results should emanate from their social-media investments. “Companies need to be able to make a clear connection between social media and broader customer initiatives, while clearly defining and measuring results,” he said.
Accenture defines useful social media for B2B as covering a wide range of applications, from Facebook and Twitter to email and company forums. With the B2B social-media universe threatening to expand widely, Accenture prefers to view the emerging field as “social CRM,” in which a variety of customer strategies and objective complement each other.
“With social CRM, companies can optimize their use of social media by making it part of multichannel customer engagement strategies that encourage customers, business partners, and other key stakeholders to participate in the company’s day-to-day business,” Quiring said.
Noting that no software vendor offers a complete B2B social-media platform, Quiring suggested that these companies create their own social-media technology platform for the aggregation of disparate applications and strategies. For instance, Accenture has been working with one company to integrate tools like Radian6, Newsdesk4, and Meaning Mine to develop social-media monitoring capability.
“Measure, measure, and measure,” urged Quiring, who stressed the importance for B2B companies to track the results of their social-media efforts. Although he admitted it can be difficult to do so, he said it is important to begin somewhere to define the metrics that social media is intended to boost, whether they be service costs, brand awareness, new product ideas, or potential life-time value of a customer.
“You have to measure something and ultimately scale it,” he said, indicating companies can get their feet wet slowly and build their social CRM platform gradually. Over time, different metrics can be merged to obtain more useful data. The information can seem to be conflicting at times, Quiring observed--for instance, when rising revenues and growing customer satisfaction seem beneficial, but in reality are caused by pricing products so low that profits are hit too hard. An effective social CRM strategy will grow over time as B2B companies tweak it, add new metrics, and learn to exploit its results, he said.
Of course, there are some B2B social CRM platform implementations today, but these are pioneering affairs in the field; some of these are already paying off for their creators, and for their corporate and consumer partners as well. As examples, Quiring pointed to Dell’s Swarm online group-buying platform, MyStarbucksIdea.com for customer product suggestions , Proctor & Gamble’s Connect+Develop for product ideas, and Best Buy’s “Twelpforce” Twitter app for customer service.
Quiring also cites Bank of America’s B2B online community, which not only enhanced its own visibility and image with a social-media application, but attracted an audience of small businesses that took advantage of coaching from BofA professionals while also exchanging ideas with their peers.
Although few of the respondents in the Accenture survey have implemented B2B social-networking applications, the respondents were clear about their desires for B2B social media. In descending order, their hopes for social media are to increase engagement and positive customer experiences, 60%; influence brand reputation, 59%; create new revenue opportunities, 52%; respond to customer demand, 4 %; reduce costs, 25%, and keep up with competitors, 24%.