B-to-b marketers have traditionally used a steady diet of white papers and nurturing initiatives to form relationships with prospects. But a new study by IDG Connect -- a research and lead generation division of the International Data Group -- shows that IT buyers will soon look to social media as the single most important content source to inform their buying decisions.
When compared to editorial content and vendor-created content, social media is currently the least critical source of information for IT buyers, the study found. But in two years, buyers expect that equation to flip as they increase the weight given to social media from 31% to 37% for influencing investment decisions. In the same period the weight given to editorial and vendor content will drop to 31% and 32%, respectively.
Social is already playing a role among the vast majority of IT buyers. According to the study, 86% use social media today in their purchase decision process.
"The reliance on social media as the avenue to get peer insight continues to increase," Bob Johnson, principal analyst and VP at IDG Connect, said in an interview. Just a few years ago, Mr. Johnson noted, social was given a weight in the mid-20% range. But now, social is rising in importance as conversations that once took place offline are moving to networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google plus.
Buyers are putting more weight on these conversations as they engage vendors later in the buying process, Mr. Johnson said.
"Vendors are going to need to have tighter integration between their social-media efforts and their demand-generation activities, or their broader go-to-market efforts," said Mr. Johnson. He noted that vendors will need to provide buyers a clear path to the right information through social channels.
The study also found that buyers engaging on social networks are far more interested in educational content as opposed to transactional and promotional content. That suggests that, while increasingly important, it's not yet the place to seal the deal.