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Social marketing in b-to-b: Living up to the hype?

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What is the reality of social marketing? Does usage match up to the hype and high expectations? Or is this already an overblown marketing fad, even in these early days?

 IDC is beginning to see excellent examples of use, where social   marketing is moving beyond experimentation and is beginning to put down roots as a "value-adding" contributor within the marketing mix. Our latest research from IDC’s “2012 Buyer Experience Study” shows that 84% of IT buyers are accessing social media to keep up with trends and stay connected. 

However, of that same 84%, only 19% believe that social media has influenced how they interact with vendors and make purchase decisions. It would seem that tech vendors and tech buyers are inhabiting many of the same social media spaces, but social marketing as a more intentional effort to influence buyers still needs work. 

Tech marketers are learning that they must give before they expect to receive, and focus on creating social media interactions that are highly relevant and provide value to buyers.

IDC is closely watching levels of investment and attention to the deployment of social marketing. How much is actually being spent in this area? What is the marketing-mix allocation of scarce monies and human resources to work on these initiatives?  IDC starts by looking at investment and activity in social marketing. When one examines the actual allocations. the results are surprising. Investment in social marketing tools and programs is just 1.3% of the discretionary budget for a large IT vendor. As for the human resource: dedicated social marketing talent is just 0.7% of total staff –or in other words, a part of one person's time.

The infrastructure and tools to support social marketing must  come in to place.  Our research also shows that social marketing tools are at the top of the CMO’s shopping list for 2012. Only 34% of marketers surveyed currently agree that they have access to the right information at the right time to support decision-making, analysis, planning, or forecasting.

We are still in the early days of this. I cast my vote on the side of optimism, and believe that social marketing execution will, in time, be a core element of the B2B marketer’s tool kit.

In the meantime, assess where are you on your progression towards delivering value, and earning the rewards of social marketing.  Here are three tips for social marketers:

  • Don't rush the listening process:  Our parents taught us to "listen before you speak" and here is a great place to remember their words. IDC is seeing good usage of social marketing for the key activity of "Listening and Monitoring". In fact, "just listening" to the conversations about your company–without even "saying" anything–is an excellent way to step into this new media. Many companies are rushing this step, which has limited their ability to meaningfully engage with their targets. Data from IDC's 2012 Buyer Experience Study shows that buyers are most commonly found in communities and blogs, making them an excellent source of relevant conversations.
  • It's not only about presence, it's about influence. Always prioritize the value that you can bring to your audience. Help educate them. Help connect them with their peers. These are attributes that they dearly seek, versus being "sold to" by their tech vendors.
  • Invest and evolve: Continue to invest in social marketing and increase proficiency. The relatively low level of dollar and staff outlay will grow quickly in the coming years. At the same time, there should be a relatively sizable gain in cost per impact vs. traditional media. Social marketing is capable of providing high impact at a relatively low cost. Invest and increase proficiency to achieve higher levels of impact.
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