I recently surveyed 55 marketers, including many at b-to-b companies, about their satisfaction with social media tools. While the results aren't statistically valid, they yield some interesting insight on how the media landscape has changed.
Respondents said that in 2006 their companies were using an average of less than one social media platform each. By last year, the average had swelled to more than eight. Equally interesting were the satisfaction ratings. Just two of the 55 respondents said they perceived the ROI on their social media investments to be negative, while 46 rated it somewhat or very positive.
There's both good and bad news in these trends. Businesses have clearly turned the corner in their adoption of social platforms, but the rush to join the party indicates that they may be reverting to the mass-market mentality that social marketing explicitly rejects.
The mindset of mass has been ingrained in the marketing conscience for a century. In a world in which the only efficient way to relay a message to a small number of people who cared was to bother a large number of others who didn't, big media was the only game in town.
Online media have flipped this equation. Success is now defined by the ability to establish meaningful conversations about very specific topics. Quality displaces quantity, and relationships replace messages.
A lot of marketers are having a hard time grasping this because they spent so many years doing the opposite. They see new channels as a way to build another mass audience for the same old messages. They wear their Twitter follower count as a badge of honor. They miss the point.
Social media are called social for a reason. They are a means to create relationships between individuals. Human resources professionals at Sodexo Worldwide have learned this. The big food service and facilities management company has all but discarded job boards in favor of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a variety of conversational tools. The reason: They found that initiating conversations with applicants before moving them into the recruitment funnel improved both recruiter efficiency and candidate enthusiasm. Along the way, the volume of applications jumped 25% in two years, while recruitment ad spending dropped $300,000.
The new challenge for b-to-b marketers will be to exploit the potential of social media to create connections between all their employees and all their constituents. This will present enormous governance issues as we begin to “media-train” entire companies instead of just a few individuals. That's a topic for future columns. For now, the challenge is to discard the old economics of mass and embrace the value of one-to-one. M