Comcast, Dell and Kryptonite Locks are brands changed forever by the groundswell—a social trend in which people use technologies to get what they need from each other rather than from traditional sources. B-to-b marketers see these examples and think, “The groundswell is a consumer phenomenon; it doesn't happen in business.”
If you thought this, you would be wrong.
Recently, Forrester Research surveyed business buyers to learn about their social activity. Just as we survey consumers, Forrester used the same methods to review business buyers' behavior—in this case, more than 1,200 technology buyers in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. with 100 employees or more in seven major industries.
But here we asked not just how people participate in online social activity but whether they use Web 2.0 technologies to make buying decisions. The results may surprise many business marketers. Here are some highlights:
? 69% are “Spectators”—they read blogs, watch user-generated videos and participate in other social media for business purposes.
? 37% are “Critics”—they contribute comments or react to content they see in social formats. This is the next most common behavior after reading and watching.
? 29% are “Collectors”—they use social technology to collect information and stay on top of trends.
? 29% join social networks (“Joiners”).
? Only 5% are nonparticipants (“Inactives”).
However, buyers who use social technology don't rate it highly in terms of its influence on their buying decisions, despite the fact that they count on peers' opinions to make decisions. This reflects the emerging state of social media as a key input in buying decisions.
If you're a b-to-b marketer and you're not using social technologies in your marketing, now is the time to start. Because many blogs, communities and other social outreach from firms that sell to business are less than mature, it is a perfect way to stand out. To get started:
1) Understand your audience first. Social programs fail because they start with the technology. Social media represents a fundamental change to how marketing communicates with buyers. Unlike e-mail and Web syndication, social activity is not simply another communication outlet because buyers, not companies, control it.
2) Integrate social applications into other marketing. Don't create a separate social media function; social activity needs to be intrinsic to all customer communication.
3) Learn how to sell social media internally. Tap the knowledge of peer companies that have achieved real business value with social media. You can gather this insight through articles, webinars and networking events.
Laura Ramos is VP-senior analyst at Forrester Research. She can be reached at email@example.com.