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B2B, B2C Social Marketing Practices Move Closer Together, But Still Remain Distinct

B2B social media marketing has lagged behind–far behind–its B2C counterpart. That, though, is beginning to change as more firms begin to explore the value a social B2B outreach can provide, especially as more tools come to market for this constituency and more research studies capture best practices.

eMarketer has sized the growth of B2B social media marketing at $54 million in 2014, from $11 million in 2009.

As companies experiment with such campaigns, though, they must be aware of the differences—some barely distinct, others glaring—in approaches between B2C and B2B.

In most cases the tools for B2B social media are very similar to those found in the B2C environment. Citigroup recently launched a social media campaign, primarily relying on videos to disseminate financial information. Its target base, though, is its CitiDirect BE trade finance and cash management system users–that is, clients in its capital markets and trade finance groups.

However, firms should not assume that any social media tool can be easily transplanted.Michael Healey, president of Yeoman Technology Group, described for Forbes.com a series of tests of a Facebok campaign he ran for a client that has three different sales models: a B2B one, a consultative sales and a B2C.

The test for the consultative sales model was very successful, with Facebook Likes and community traffic tripling during the test, he reported. The B2C channel also increased traffic from Facebook, but showed almost no direct relationship to driving revenue. The B2B site did have a marginal increase in traffic, but the quality of the visits–and related revenue–didn’t justify continuing the work, Healey said.

New Tools for B2B Marketers

Testing, as Healey describes, will be key for success as the temptation to transplant B2C social marketing tools into the B2B environment grows as more and more options become available. Google and Facebook have announced a series of changes over the last several weeks, many of which focus on social retail–and its integration with online ad targeting.

Recently, Google included a +1 on ads in its Google Display Network. They come with footnotes at the bottom of the ad showing how many others have +1’d it and if the person is a friend of the viewer, it will reflect that name and possibly profile image as well.

Previous experiments with similar B2B social-generated advertising–namely at Linked In–have already proved this concept to be a dud in the B2B world.

For a short period earlier this year, it published in-house ads using members' names and pictures in some cases, who had indicated they were friends or fans of the business. Members were outraged and LinkedIn agreed to stop.

Other Differences Between Content and Delivery

Another issue B2B marketers must watch is the changing preference for social content among their target customers–preferences not likely to be reflected in the B2C community. Over the last twelve months, there has been a significant decline in consumption of three out of five major B2B technology collateral types, according to a study by Eccolo Media.

Consumption of product brochures/data sheets went down 13%, from 83% last year to 72% in 2011, while white paper consumption decreased 22%, from 76% to 62%. Consumption of case studies dropped 25%, from 67% to 50%. The consumption of podcasts and video remained more or less unchanged from 2010 to 2011, however, with podcasts climbing only 5%, from 40% to 42%, and video holding steady at 59%.

When asked if they had started using any new types of collateral in the past six months, 34% of respondents said no. But twenty-eight percent reported that they began consulting white papers for the first time in the last six months.

Twenty-four percent named company web pages as a new source of information, and 20% cited podcasts.

Mobile Content is Also Part of the Mix

The study also identified a growing shift toward viewing content via mobile device among consumers of B2B technology collateral. Close to four in 10 (37%) US corporate technology decision-makers say they have consumed this sort of content on a mobile device. Still, the shift to mobile is not nearly as pronounced as it is in the B2C space.

Executives are still using desktops more by a wide margin, with respondents reading 56% of white papers, 58% of case studies and 53% of product brochures/data sheets at the desktop. Downloading and printing was also more widely reported than mobile viewing, while product brochures were three times more likely to be received as printed material than white papers or case studies.

Corporate Websites – the Underutilized B2B Asset

One asset that companies do not appear to be making the most of is the most obvious – the corporate website.  These are the clear leader in online lead generation, according to a study by Demandbase. In it, the percentage of respondents citing corporate sites as their top lead source is 64% higher than the 14% citing email, the second-most-popular online lead source. In addition, respondents cited corporate sites at a rate more than seven times the 3% who cited social media.

Undiscovered Gold for SMBs

This echoes another finding from a separate survey. Eden Platform found that a standard web page can deliver more advertising value than many companies realize. According to its study, each page on a small business website produced an average of 55 unique visitors during the measurement period.

Small businesses often pay between $2.00 and $3.00 per website visitor using other online advertising methods like paid search engine ads and banners. This means that an average website page generates $137.50 of advertising value each month, or $1,650 of advertising value each year. Adding one new page of content to a business website each week can be as effective as having a $90,000 advertising budget, the study concluded.

The Missing Link

For most sites, though, more is required before such numbers are realized, as the Demandbase survey discusses. Once consumers make it to the corporate site, they often aren't being properly engaged with content and information.

"Regardless of its origin–social media or e-mail, banners or search–traffic driven from online marketing initiatives always intersects at the website," says Chris Golen, CEO. But "while businesses are investing heavily in their sites, the study shows that they are then ignoring the very audience they worked so hard to attract."

Despite the popularity of corporate sites as a lead source, only 20% of respondents said they feel like their business leverages its corporate website to its maximum potential. The rest of these firms don't, for example, track and report on unregistered user or know where they are losing on-site consumers.

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