Even B2B marketers need friends

As CMOs and other non-technical stakeholders take a greater role in IT purchasing decisions, the role of business social media sites as a marketing channel for B2B sales is evolving, as well. A study conducted by Forrester Research and LinkedIn, IT Purchasing Goes Social, found that business social media sites are becoming a place where IT decision makers go to validate information, says Mike Weir, head of category development in LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions Division.

The study, which included 400 North American IT decision makers—from those that owned the budgets to those that made the final purchase decisions—found that 73% have engaged with IT vendors on a social network. Moreover, 59% of IT decision makers “rely” on the social networks for purchasing decisions, whereas 46% use online periodicals.

Ultimately, while IT decision makers still learn of new products or solutions in traditional channels like email, business social networks are where those decision makers turn to next to get more insight into what they just learned.

“IT decision makers are three times more connected with peers and others than the average LinkedIn user,” Weir says. “They’re three times more likely to follow companies, four times more likely to follow tech companies.”

Given these behaviors, Weir says, vendors need to develop a trusted social presence and focus on providing the right content, which “can drive huge efficiencies for the marketing team.” Vendor presence, he says, should be conversational and engaging—tactics can include building a social media group to invite customers to participate in dialogs and services, or building a group around a certain IT topic and participating in the conversations. “It’s not about directly driving sales,” Weir says. “It’s about participation to maintain trust or relevance so [prospects] don’t flock to a different group.”

That vendors are now engaging in strategic decisions around social media marketing marks a tremendous shift in the way business social networks had been used as few as two years ago. “[Back then] it was utilized more as an awareness vehicle,” Weir says. “[Vendors] would make a brand more aware simply by being present in a social media context.”

The challenge for B2B marketers, however, is maintaining a constant and consistent presence—in other words, being always-on. Simply understanding the basic capabilities of the social media platform is table stakes, Weir says. More difficult is targeting the right demographic. “You need to know which audiences and members are important to you. It’s going about building a campaign while still meeting the marketing objectives you have.”

Regardless of which IT decision makers B2B marketers decide to target, the most important consideration is that the conversations they initiate must fundamentally be about value, Weir says, specifically the value a vendor’s products will provide to IT decision makers.

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