Social Media Analytics for B2B… Useful or Useless?

Considering that I work as a Social Analytics Strategist, this post is going to seem somewhat unusual in that I am questioning the value of what I do. However, I feel its good for us all to step back and take a balanced look at what we do every so often. If we can’t be realistic and honest about the type of value we can deliver then what the heck are we doing. So, here we go! :-)

I am a huge fan and an active user of Social Media and have no doubt that it is going to completely transform how B2B enterprises interact with clients, the approaches they take to share information, and the types of personal relationships that they develop with those clients. However, I am very conservative regarding the short to medium term benefits of social media analytics in B2B scenarios. I do believe that social analytics delivers real value, however I don’t believe its the panacea for all our customer relationship challenges and in the short-term I believe we need to be very realistic regarding what metrics to believe, and extremely focused regarding how to apply those metrics. But why write about this now?

Firstly, last week I was looking at some Social Media League Tables (Dachis Social Business Index, Social Media Reputation Leage Table, and Sociagility’s Top 50 Social Brand Value) and what struck me was how B2C overweight they were. This is not hugely surprising since such league tables tend to be heavily influenced by volume of interactions (size and chattiness of fan base) which naturally favors B2C. This is totally understandable since other qualititative measurements, such as conversation impact, are extremely hard (if not impossible) for an external analytics company to measure. However, this does put into question the B2B value of a broad spectrum of social media metrics that are out there today, from influence to sentiment to share of voice.

Secondly, I was looking on the Internet to see who else was talking about the social analytics distinctions between B2C and B2B, and I found it quite difficult to find any good papers examining the subject. The few that I did find were trying to push B2C numbers, such as sales conversion rates, as though there was no difference. It’s kinda mind boggling how people think they can get away with such blatant misrepresentation.

Thirdly, I have been recently working on Sales Force Automation, investigating the various ways social media, and derived insights, can be integrated into a sales process in order to; increase the sales funnel, reduce time-to-close, and increase close rates. The more I look at this problem, the clearer it becomes that social media analytics can add discrete value at certain stages of the B2B sales process. However, not necessarily in areas where its frequently positioned for B2C. For example:

  • Inceasing the sales funnel: I am not convinced that social media analytics is going to do much by way of generating new B2B sales leads. Unlike the consumer space where the customer relationship is shallower, the enterprise decision process and associated buying indicators are incomparable. How can I compare the thought process of a consumer buying a $500 iPad with an enterprise buying a $50,000 database system? As social media adoption matures, and it gets more tightly integrated into the business, this will likely change. However, its a bit of a chicken and egg situation at the moment.
  • Reducing time-to-close and increasing close-rates: This is where I see some real potential in terms of using analytics to provide the sales organization with a greater insight into clients that they are already working with, or that they are tracking. Targeted content & social analytics can fill gaps in the enterprise’s understanding of clients. For example; knowing that one of your clients is attending a competitors conference or tracking the event hashtag is a key piece of information you want to know about. Alternatively, knowing that a competitors client is attending a conference of one of their competitors, is also a great piece of information that might influence your sales approaches. This is where I see Enterprise Social Networking as a key component, and spoke to this at Social Media Week earlier this year, “Social Analytics: Current Challenges, Future Opportunities @SocialMediaWeek.

So back to the question of the blog post…

Yes I do believe that social media, and associated analytics, is valuable within the B2B context. However, I also believe that we need to be realistic about the role it will play and the value proposition in the short to medium term.

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5 Comments to “Social Media Analytics for B2B… Useful or Useless?”

  1. How refreshing to see you tackle a complex subject area that virtually no ‘name analyst’ groups are doing and posit some excellent points in discussing the contrast between value of social analytics for B2C vs B2B

    Perhaps your best point Managing Communities & Social Networks @ Web Scale: Pushing water uphill http://bit.ly/HINB8X is unlike B2C personal relationships which tend to have stronger and longer ties, B2B work relationships tend to shuffle and rearrange as you move through different projects.

    Yet we’re led to believe B2C social media analytics methods to score influence, reputation, reach from Klout, Kred, PeerIndex et al where relationships and issues are shallower are also supposed to address more complex B2B problems.

    The good news is there’s emerging social analytics tools that do address the B2B context issue for dynamic fluid aggregation of people and ideas like for enterprise decision processes ;)

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  2. Yep Steve, its kind of amazing that there isn’t more discussion out there. No doubt that will change over time as this is clearly a market that needs some attention. And thanks for your positive feedback on my blog post, “Managing Communities & Social Networks @ Web Scale: Pushing water uphill”. It’s a topic very close to my heart :-)

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  3. How timely, Marie…I’m pitching social media analytics to the entire C-suite (including CMO) of a big B2B company later this week. Those stronger B2B relationships can be further strengthened by understanding the activities as well as the reputation of those other businesses. And depending on the attributes of the B2B relationship itself, those things could impact your business (future supply/demand, associative reputational risk, etc.). You also may find new partners, suppliers, vendors, etc., where social channels may help you both identify and qualify them. And you’re looking for overall trends as well, of course, which could influence current or future decision-making. So absolutely I think social media analytics is useful for B2B, it’s just that the usage scenarios may differ from (yet still overlap with) those of B2C.

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  4. Ya got it in one Bob :-) For B2B its more heavily weighted to relationship building and deeper understanding so social media analytics supports existing lead generation techniques as opposed to replacing them.

    Good luck with your meeting, I have no doubt you will rock it!

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  5. There is a lot of misgivings and misconceptions about social media,what it is and where it can be used. Most of the social media professionals treat it as another broadcast medium and nothing else because that’s what industry folks have been trained in (broadcasting) since the advent of news paper advertising or probably even before that. The information flow has always been unidirectional but with social media it’s not just bi-directional it omnidirectional, which makes it baffling.

    So, yes I agree with Steve when he says you are tackling a complex subject area and it’s indeed a very refreshing to see a discussion that contrast between value of social analytics for B2C vs B2B.

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