Social Media Strategy for B2B Technology Companies
We've cited Forrester's Social Technographics research several times on this blog. It's useful because it helps answer questions that should be asked as the VERY FIRST step in developing social media strategy:
- Who are my buyers and what are their personas?
- What sources of information influence their buying process and where does social media rank among those sources?
- What social computing behaviors do your buyers have?
Over the summer, Forrester updated its Social Technographics research for business technology buyers (purchase required). Forrester uses a ladder to represent the escalating degrees of social computing behavior (see image).
What its most recent data shows is that overall, 86 percent of business technology buyers use social media in some form. This compares to 81 percent of U.S. consumers.
It also shows that overall social media use is declining slightly as compared to 2010, when 88 percent of business technology buyers used social media.
The greatest drop came in the "Conversationalist" category, which corresponds to IT folks that "update status on a social networking sites" and/or "post updates on Twitter." The only two categories that saw a slight increase were "Critics" and "Spectators". Social participation also varied by role.
Where Does Social Fit In The Purchasing Decision Mix?
What was more valuable about the research, however, was the data from Forrester's survey of business technology buyers about the sources of information that influence their purchase decision-making process. Responses included both traditional and social media-centric sources, and the social media ones ranked in the bottom half, with only "professional social networking sites (not including LinkedIn and Facebook)" being cited as "my primary source".
Blogs were viewed as important sources by approximately 18 percent of respondents. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter brought up the rear at about 11 percent or less saying that these were important sources of information. Websites, in-person events/conferences and print publications were the top three ranked sources.
What Does This Mean?
It means that it's important to know what those professional social networking sites are that are not LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, then spend time determining the dynamic of the interactions on those sites. Invariably, the reason IT buyers spend time on these sites is not only to gain knowledge from peers, but also to build their business case for a large technology purchase.
As Forrester states in its report, the focus of social media strategies needs to shift from quantity of followers, impressions or page views on general social channels to the quality of engagement between these buyers and a vendor's technical and subject matter experts. These engagements are also more personal with individuals that can be identified as leads and who are associated with sales later in the interaction lifecycle.
What are these "professional social networking sites?" They vary depending on the role of the technology buyer and their industry, and they range from sites created by industry associations like the Institute for Supply Management, media companies like TechTarget's IT Knowledge Exchange, emerging Q&A forums like StackExchange, Quora and LawPivot, and tried-and-true sites like Slashdot.
What is essential to the execution of participation in these targeted social networks is a consistent effort by those technical experts with vendors to drive these engagements, combined with a content strategy that is meant to help buyers build their business case and solve their problems.
As always, we'll be keeping a close eye on how this data from Forrester and similar data evolves in order to have the insight necessary to develop and execute effective social media strategies. At the same time, it's worth asking your best customers what professional social networking sites or forums they spend time on to build their knowledge, and factor those into your strategy.
What insights have you gained from this type of data?