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Using social media to enhance marketing isn’t just for consumer marketing companies like Coca-Cola, Netflix and Starbucks. Marketers in B2B companies are finding strategic benefits from using social media too.
That was the conclusion of The Use of Social Media in B2B Marketing and Branding: An Exploratory Study conducted by Ross Brennan, a reader in marketing at the University of Hertfordshire in Hertfordshire U.K. and Robin Croft a reader in marketing at the University of Bedfordshire in Bedfordshire U.K.. The findings were published in the summer 2012 (vol. 11, no. 2) issue of the Journal of Customer Behaviour.
To find the potential of social media for B2B marketing, Brennan and Croft first laid out four strategic capabilities that today are considered key to successful B2B marketing. These are:
- The ability to develop an information-based approach to business-to-business branding
- Managing buyer-seller relationships
- Facilitating trusting relationships between buyers and sellers
- Creation of a market driving brand strategy (that is, not just responding to market trends, but helping to create them)
The researchers then examined the role and impact of social media on achieving those capabilities. They did this by performing content analysis and text mining of B2B marketing practitioner literature and by examining the social media practices of 10 large B2B technology companies. Half of those tech companies were based in the United States, while the rest were in Europe and Asia. The size of the companies studied ranged from 16,000 (Qualcomm) to more than 100,000 employees (Oracle). Other companies analyzed were Intel, Cisco, STMicroelectronics, Hynix Semiconductors, SAP Enterprise, Renesas Technology, Infineon and Symantec.
Based on their research, Brennan and Croft concluded that several of these companies were using social media to enhance the four key strategic marketing capabilities (described above), and that U.S. firms were furthest along. Companies that are using social media are using the tools to position themselves as thought leaders, to take a market-driving role in the sector and to build relationships with a range of stakeholder groups.
For the “managing buyer-seller relationships” capability, Brennan and Croft showed that larger U.S. companies are building substantial virtual B2B communities on Facebook and have significant audiences for their content-rich materials on YouTube, Slideshare and elsewhere…. “It appears that companies such as Intel and Oracle actively encourage staff to engage in conversations without undue corporate interference or control.”
The researchers also found that some companies are using social media to create a marketing brand strategy “by building knowledge leadership through a sustained application of social media, particularly the use of content-rich materials such as white papers, blogs and podcasts.” In the case of companies such as Oracle, the process was as extensive as it was sustained: “They seemed to exploit every opportunity to provide the marketplace with detailed evidence of their clear leadership in ideas, vision and strategy.” While social media can enhance B2B marketing, the researchers point out, adoption of these tools is “by no means universal.”
For another example of how a networking B2B firm is using social media to enhance its relationships with key stakeholders, see our recent interview with chief marketing officer Vala Afshar at Enterasys Networks titled Creating a Culture Where the Best Ideas Win.