b-to-b use of social media outpaces b-to-c

Much has been written about the convergence of business-to-business (b-to-b) and business-to-consumer (b-to-c) marketing communications based on the premise that ultimately we are all consumers.

Much has been written about the convergence of business-to-business (b-to-b) and business-to-consumer (b-to-c) marketing communications based on the premise that ultimately we are all consumers. Yet a fundamental difference remains. The b-to-b world is largely relationship-driven, while the b-to-c world is essentially product-driven. This is having a discernable impact on how b-to-b and b-to-c companies are using social media.

Business.com, a leading business search engine and directory, conducted a social media benchmarking study in late 2009 that came to the somewhat counter-intuitive conclusion that b-to-b companies were more likely than b-to-c to maintain company profiles on social media sites. They were also more likely, according to the study, to have a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, with b-to-c companies holding the lead in Facebook and MySpace.   

Even without a follow-up survey for support, it is safe to say that both b-to-b and b-to-c companies have since ramped up their social media agendas. b-to-c companies, for example, are learning that social media surveys can provide the same quality results as costly formal market studies. At the same time they can provide data points for the entire country, which is beyond the capabilities of even the best funded research studies which are typically conducted on a major metro or regional basis.

When b-to-c marketers use social media to build their brands, the emphasis is on the fashionable, the trendy, the must-have. That's not to say it's all about instant gratification – some consumers actually research products and services before they buy – but b-to-c brand building tends to be more emotional than informative.

Contrast this to b-to-b brand building, which in the case of my company focuses on our technical expertise, problem-solving capabilities, and innovation. To support this position we are launching an “Ask the Expert” blog, inviting questions for our application engineers, and offering access to our extensive archives of tutorial articles. Each week will focus on a specific vertical market for our products, as well as other topics of interest such as failure analysis.

Feedback will be maintained in our CRM system, which will serve as a central repository for customer concerns, new product ideas, and other pertinent information.

Just as social media is dramatically reducing the cost of market research, YouTube is providing an economical way for both b-to-b and b-to-c companies to showcase their products in action.  LinkedIn, one of the first mainstream social networks devoted to business, is being used by both to recruit talent.

As social media continues to evolve, both b-to-b and b-to-c marketers will no doubt have even more opportunities for meaningful interaction with their constituencies. But the very nature of those constituencies – one based on professional need (think steak), the other on personal interest (think sizzle) –will continue to differentiate how b-to-b and b-to-c companies use social media to meet their business objectives.

Janet C. Jessen is VP of Global Marketing, Innovation & Engineering for Garlock Sealing Technologies in New York.

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