Social media marketing has reached a stage of maturity that places it firmly in the mainstream of marketing channel activity. A new study by BtoB found that 47% of b-to-b marketers are “very involved” or “fully integrated” with social marketing, up from 28% last year, and fully 96% of all marketers are engaging with social media in some fashion.
In addition, social media now commands 6% of the average b-to-b marketing budget, a figure that rises to 9% among best-in-class marketing departments, according to BtoB's “Social Media: From Marginal to Mainstream.”
In short, using social media has become the norm, a regular part of marketing outreach.
“For us, social media is just a line item,” said Kirsten Bjork-Jones, director-global marketing communications at Edmund Optics, a producer of optics, imaging and photonics technology. “It's really all about creating your overall touch plan with customers and making sure you're reaching them in a variety of channels.”
“Nothing is siloed anymore,” Bjork-Jones added. “Everything is interconnected, and you want to make sure social plays an active part in your overall marketing plan.”
Despite the mainstreaming of social and its eager deployment by best-of-breed marketers, the channel still mystifies many, according to the BtoB study. Only 41% of marketers responding reported that they make any attempt to measure social's return on investment. Marketers rated social's performance as a marketing tool at 6.4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 represents complete satisfaction with ROI.
“We know companies largely are unable to measure the success of their social media marketing programs,” said Jeremiah Owyang, industry analyst at consultancy Altimeter Group. “That's been the top marketing challenge for the past three years.”
Owyang said social marketing, if fully integrated within a company's marketing program, should be held accountable for three hard metrics: showing a demonstrable increase in revenue; growing market share and awareness; and producing an overall reduction in marketing costs.
“What's happening is social data is increasingly being appended to customer records and marketers are being able to track customers' behaviors,” Owyang said. “This enables marketers to know how social impacts the customer journey, including sales and acceleration through the pipeline.”
Bjork-Jones is less inclined to burden her social media marketing efforts with too much ROI baggage, however.
“We distribute catalogs, PR releases, videos, email, ads and so forth, and it's hard to tell which leads come from which channel,” she said. “We craft multiple touch points to reach out to people. Overall, I'm more concerned about the overall program and ROI, and not as concerned about individual elements.”
LinkedIn is the channel most used by b-to-b marketers, according to BtoB's study, with 80% engaged in the professional profile site. Facebook (75%) and Twitter (74%) are almost as commonly used, with YouTube (59%), blogging (48%), Google+ (32%), customer communities (24%), Pinterest (19%) and LinkedIn's SlideShare (13%) also represented.
A starker divide is seen when marketers were asked which of these, among others, is their most important social platform or tool. Here, LinkedIn (34%) bested Facebook (19%) by far, with blogging (17%), Twitter (12%), customer communities (10%) and YouTube (5%) following.
James Burnette, director-marketing solutions at LinkedIn, said the company's distribution of content is even more compelling to marketers than the ability to find decision-makers. At a conference last month sponsored by the Business Marketing Association-New York City, he cited LinkedIn's new INfluencer service that features 170 high-profile business leaders contributing bloglike essays to the network, as well as a proliferation of members sharing their own and others' content.
“We're seeing five times the engagement on our platform around content than around jobs,” Burnette said. “Most LinkedIn members are consuming content properties. And SlideShare offers content that has a very narrow appeal, but a very deep one.”
Despite the generally slight adoption of social media metrics, marketers said they're seeing the channel have its most positive effect on their branding efforts. Other goals being positively affected by social media marketing include, in order, product/event production, community building and website traffic boosting. Respondents said an average of 11% of website traffic is being driven by their social marketing efforts.
BtoB's study was based on an online poll conducted in January and February of 432 b-to-b marketers. The sample of respondents was largely from small-to-midsize businesses: 62% of respondents represented companies with less than $100 million in annual revenue. At the other end of the scale, 20% of respondents represented companies with more than $1 billion in annual sales.
Technology companies comprised 30% of the sample. Manufacturing (11%), financial services (9%), consulting (9%), publishing/media (4%) and wholesale trade/distribution (4%) also were represented.