Social Media's Impact on B2B Technology Decision Making
For a long time, we've known from CIO's and our clients that the Gartner Magic Quadrant was on the short list of technology decision making factors. This has been slowly changing, as we've seen data from the likes of Forrester that reveal that more IT decision making is based on feedback and influence from peers via social networks.
As I cited in a blog post last year on social media strategy for B2B technology companies, the social media sources ranked most highly as a primary source of information for purchase decision making are "professional social networks." According to Forrester, these don't include LinkedIn, so the question is, what are these networks?
Until recently, it has been niche networks and more traditional online discussion groups, but new networks have come on the scene to fill the need. These have included Q&A-based sites like StackExchange, Quora, TechTarget's IT Knowledge Exchange and IT Toolbox.
The most recent entrant is IT Central Station, and it is unique in that it is a dedicated ratings and reviews-based site focused solely on enterprise technology products. CEO Russell Rothstein positions it as a "Yelp for CIO's" in a Wall Street Journal blog post published a few days ago.
“It’s Yelp for enterprises,” according to IT Central Station CEO Russell Rothstein, who co-founded the service along with Naftali Marcus, the startup’s vice president of development. The service, in private beta since May 2012, lists hundreds of IT product reviews on products from more than 1,400 vendors. To be listed on the site, products must be actively used by 15 enterprises, which the startup defines as having 1,000 or more employees and/or generating $250 million in revenues a year.
The team seems to have thought through how to preserve the integrity of the site as an unbiased community by limiting the ability to post information and opinions to IT users only, as well as making their identity anonymous on the actual postings.
An immediate question that came to mind was how successful this would be if truly limited to CIO's, as my experience has been that this level of buyer is not active on social networks. I posed the question to Rothstein via Twitter to understand the demographics of the community, and he confirmed that it's open to any technology buyer, and it uses LinkedIn to verify the identity of the reviewer.
Vendors can pay a fee to respond to reviews ($500/month) and also can contact reviewers privately via e-mail, but only if users opt-in to allow this contact. IT Central Station also encourages vendors to ask their best customers to submit a review of their products on the site, as part of a customer community program.
This last point is important. There was much debate recently about an article written in HBR about the death of traditional marketing. A key point made there was the importance of customer community programs that energize a company's best customers to become promoters via sites like this. Since 62 percent of B2B tech buyers are likely to post reviews online (according to Forrester's data above), it's likely that they will review the enterprise tech products they use now that they have a forum. Energizing a company's best customers to submit reviews is a key way to leverage this new service.
The introduction of this service also reinforces the trend towards new services that are fulfilling the need of IT buyers for "professional social networks" to share information and opinion. This increases the need for active social media listening programs and a changed culture and mindset inside tech companies to respond and engage in the right way so that when buyers enter the sales process, they are positively pre-disposed to companies' offerings. We have been helping our clients with these needs for several years through our integrated social media and PR services.
What is your reaction to IT Central Station? Does this concern you or do you plan to embrace it?
Following is a nice overview video from IT Central Station.