Despite all the attention that social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn get as a way for marketers to expand their reach, technology buyers are not using them as primary sources of sources of purchase information, reports research firm Forrester. Print publications and company websites still far outweigh social media when it comes to informing IT buyers and it looks like that is not going to change anytime soon.
It is easy to use a Facebook page or a Twitter account to expand a brand’s reach. Set it up and start posting and the marketing department hits its “reach” quotient for the quarter. Yet, for business-to-business (B2B) technology suppliers get little value from their social media initiatives. Hence, Forrester recommends businesses augment their social media strategies to become more effective sources of information for making technology-purchasing decisions.
As far as influence, Facebook is key to the decision-making process of 13% of businesses analysts and 11% of IT infrastructure operators. LinkedIn does significantly better in this category, with 26% of business analysts but still only 11% of IT operators (perhaps be the same group of IT employees). For Twitter, the numbers are 8% and 4% between analysts and IT, respectively.
For the time sink that social media can be, those are not great numbers for marketers looking to expand brand awareness. The top sources of influence for decision-makers were websites followed by word-of-mouth from colleagues and then in-person events like trade shows or conferences all. Part of this has to do with the nature of enterprise buying – it is a market ecosystem that does not change quickly. Buyers tend to use the sources they trust and often those sources are going to be other people they know and can physically interact with. Think of it like this: you ask your colleague how he/she solved problem “X.” Colleague says they used “X” product. What do you then do? Turn to the Web and look up that companies Facebook page or go to the company’s website?
For smaller consumer businesses, Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to increase engagement and hence foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations. It is cheap and potentially viral. Enterprises are insulated from the viral nature of the social Web because the vetting process of technology decisions lasts longer than the typical Internet meme.
Forrester recommends and integrated approach. Instead of a stand-alone social marketing channel that screams into the Internet ether, tie it up with product and field marketing of the brand. It is a more cooperative and resource-intensive approach, but the results should be greater than setting up camp on Facebook with an “open for business” shingle on the door.