Bruce Plantz, VP-director of content at WATT, was speaking to a group of customers at the International Poultry Expo last year when he mentioned his company's social media efforts, which include Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts for its woodworking, pet food and animal agribusiness brands.
“They looked at me like I was crazy,” Plantz said.
But at the most recent International Poultry Expo, in January, WATT's clients had done an about-face. “Customers were saying, "Tell me more [about social media],' ” Plantz said. “All of a sudden, in the last three or four months, clients have started talking about spending on social media and, more so, how to do it. I think we're at the tipping point.”
Since debuting in early 2009, WATT's accounts have attracted 5,000 Twitter followers and 500 Facebook fans. Separately, the company's social networking sites have garnered approximately 5,800 members.
“We're spending more time and energy than ever educating the sales force on how to sell this stuff,” Plantz said. “From our standpoint, we can now talk intelligently to customers about building social media and developing the content to feed that. If you don't have good content, people won't follow you.”
Social media continues to shake up the b-to-b marketing landscape. With their initial skepticism fading, marketers increasingly are participating in online communities—and budgets are beginning to follow.
B-to-b advertising spending on social media and lead-generation sites is forecast to grow at an annualized rate of 21% and 17%, respectively, through 2013, according to a report released in January by AMR International. B-to-b online marketing spending totaled $3 billion in 2009 and is expected to grow 8% this year, the report said.
AMR's report was based on an online survey of 1,000 b-to-b marketers and media owners. Two-thirds of respondents said online activities must be complemented by traditional marketing. However, just 50% said they formally analyze metrics to determine ROI.
Denzil Rankine, CEO of AMR, stressed that while publishers and marketers have to improve how they measure lead-generation and social media campaigns, they must do so in a more holistic fashion. “They need to discuss with customers more broadly what their objectives are rather than having tunnel vision on a specific metric on a specific day,” he said.
Tom Stein, president-chief creative officer of b-to-b ad agency Stein Rogan+Partners, whose clients include McGraw-Hill Cos. and Rodale Inc., said, “Social [media] is attractive because it can drive the inbound marketing flow. Our experience—and that of our clients—has been that social media programs deliver higher-quality, more closable leads and help move sales leads from the top of the funnel to the bottom.”
United Business Media's EE Times Group, which serves a global audience of 1.1 million people in the electronics industry, has in the past year attracted a growing number of sponsors for social media through programs based on peer review.
In January, for example, it rolled out the NXP LPC1100 Cortex-M0 Design Challenge, a six-month contest and online community sponsored by NXP Semiconductors and Digi-Key Corp.
The contest, which is being promoted on EE Times' various blogs and Twitter pages, encourages readers to build, test and display their designs, based on the NXP LPC1100 and LPCXpresso development tool platforms. Community members will vote to select the best design.
The EE Times Group has done similar contests with Microchip Technology and Texas Instruments, and has another sponsor in the pipeline, said Richard Nass, editorial director of EE Times Group. “We're getting better at community involvement,” he said. “The returns are not yet where we'd like them, but we'll get there.” M