You can no longer segment your business customers into those who use social media for business purposes and those who do not. Why not? Because according to Forrester’s newest B2B Social Technographics® numbers, fully 100% of business decision-makers use social media for work purposes. Other stunningly high numbers: 98% of business decision-makers are Spectators (they read blogs, watch videos, or listen to podcasts), 79% are Joiners (they maintain a profile on social networking sites), and 75% are Critics (they comment on blogs and post ratings and reviews), all in the context of their business activities.
Therefore, it’s no longer a question of whether you should use social, but how. B2B marketing executives no longer need convincing to invest in social. However, social marketing efforts are maturing beyond experimentation — where measuring results is secondary — to science. At this more advanced stage of maturity, marketers need to understand exactly how and when their customers are using social and target them differently in each stage of the customer life cycle.
Your customers don’t make blanket use of “social media,” “social networks,” or “communities” in general. Instead, they use specific social networks and communities for specific goals, both personal and business-related. The communities your customers visit for personal reasons are not always the ones they use for business purposes.
For business purposes, the No. 1 and No. 2 communities aren’t specific public social networks but “niche” communities focused on specific objectives. For example, business technology buyers might visit IT Central Station or Spiceworks to learn more about multiple competing technologies at once; alternatively, they might visit a community managed by a single brand, such as the Cisco Communities or SAP Community Network (SCN).
Premier Farnell — an electronics components supplier with $1.4B in 2012 revenue that also operates as Newark in the United States — has a goal to sell to a broader range of design engineers by offering them resources throughout its projects. To do this, the company built a community called element14, which offers resources about all types of electronic design topics and — crucially — does not focus just on products that Premier Farnell supplies. The community has about 120,000 members, and 5% to 7% of them click through from the community to the transactional portion of Premier Farnell's site each day as fully qualified leads. Premier Farnell shows that large corporations can generate substantial new business by offering potential customers vendor-agnostic reasons to visit a new community.
The community also generates new content for the rest of the company's marketing, as 45 experts create a series of new content in the community which provides another reason for customers to return; in fact, a third of the community members return every week.