Social Media’s Branding Problem
Accenture recently surveyed 200+ B2B companies with revenues of more than a billion dollars and found that a large majority agree on the importance of social media. So far so good. But they also found that only eight percent of those companies are heavily engaged in social media today. Why the discrepancy?
The survey’s authors suggest that it’s because social media is new and “many simply don’t know how to proceed.” No doubt that’s true, but it doesn’t explain the discrepancy between the differing rates of social media adoption in B2C vs. B2B companies. Nobody knows how to proceed, but consumer-facing companies are moving into the learning process more quickly and deliberately.
Another factor may be that it’s easier to connect social media to business goals in consumer-facing situations. But most professional marketers are past the training-wheels conception of social media as “Facebook-and-Twitter-and-photo-sharing-apps” and understand the power of one-to-one networking and collaboration. There’s got to be another reason.
I have a hunch—more of an observation, actually—as to what that reason may be. Social media itself has a branding problem.
Think about it: In the rough-and-tumble world of B2B sales and marketing, purchase cycles are longer, customers more sophisticated and decisions more complex. B2B marketers have always proudly thought of themselves as different from consumer marketers, and the term “social media” sounds, well, a bit lightweight. This isn’t a party, after all. It’s business.
Within the walls of a consumer company, social media advocacy is cool; in a B2B organization it may be seen as frivolous. Oh, sure, B2B execs will give the concept of social media lip service; it’s so current that they don’t want to appear out of the mainstream by dismissing it. But when it comes to staffing and investing in social media strategy, well let’s just say it’s easy for them to find other priorities.
I’m not sure who invented the term, “social media”, but I’m pretty sure no one considered its branding implications. No matter. Since nobody owns the brand its perception problem can’t hurt anyone other than those who misjudge it. I guess that’s like a lot of things in life.
Steve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/stevemckee.