Social Media vs Social Business

Social Media versus Social BusinessSocial 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.

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Steve McKeeSteve 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.

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4 Responses to Social Media vs Social Business

  1. Colin Crabtree says:

    @Steve, The nature of the consumer you are dealing with in a B2C situation in a social media context is most likely a digital native, someone who grew up in the era of social media and demands instant gratification and prefers and trust instant information from others in their social network as opposed to doing boring Google searches. Thus the adoption rate is much easier. You already have a susceptible audience that demands interaction in this manner and are fully aware that the power has moved to the consumer.

    The rest of the consumers are digital immigrants. While they may subscribe to social media concepts, they never grew up with them and will never have the same mindset. These are people who look up “Italian restaurants” on Google, then filter them for location and make a cold call reservation.

    They would not put out a twitter of Facebook request to all and sunder asking for recommendations on Italian restaurants in the area expecting to immediately receive responses that are rich with information that is detailed and relevant to them as its based on people who know them and their tastes and the recommendations provided on specific dishes are based on this. Valuable information on a real life experiences at the restaurant are also received. This information is real, reliable, relevant,immediate and full of life.

    I submit that many of the B2B companies are filled with a majority of digital immigrants still and while a consumer is a single entity representing one persons online profile that they want you to see, a Business represents a collective of individuals, a vision, a strategy a board of directors, etc. so the engagement rules and conditions for social media are different and probably more structured.

    There would probably be more sense in seeing B2B as collaboration media, where the sharing of knowledge from both companies benefits both companies more than going it alone…

  2. Roy Luebke says:

    All business is social. What has changed is the introduction of new channels.

    Any organization has multiple constituencies. Business leaders set up communication goals for each group. Social media is just a new channel to get a message across, or to support a discussion.

    A key issue for B2B companies is that they think social media equates to sales. They think they should use social media simply to sell more stuff. That is the tactic CPG companies are using because they think they can influence the individual to buy more stuff.

    Instead of thinking sales, people should be thinking about their communication goals for individual constituencies and establish a social media strategy for the channel. There are internal people to influence and external people, you just need to focus on what you are trying to achieve first and then how the channel can help you meet those goals.

  3. Nick Wreden says:

    Steve: I think you are absolutely correct. Branding often starts with a relevant name. Think of “global warming.” Every time it snowed the term got discredited. Think of where the debate might be today if the concept had been termed “global climate change.” Naming the paradigm shift “social media” or “social marketing” immediately made people think of tactical communications channels or persuasion tools (and think of how eyes roll when the subject of marketing comes up). Additionally, the term got saddled with the petty, frivolous things done with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We need to take a page out of IBM’s playbook and start calling it “social business” in everything we do. For example, I was a professor of Social Media at a large international university, but I got them to change the title to Social Business.

  4. Braden Kelley says:

    For a more in depth article about Social Business here on Innovation Excellence, please check out:

    http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/02/01/rise-of-the-social-business-architect/

    or get the PDF here:

    http://bradenkelley.com/Rise-of-the-Social-Business-Architect.pdf

    Are you ready to transform your company into a social business?

    @innovate

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