B2B social media; is it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The latest B2B Marketing Benchmark Report – based on a survey of 274 client side B2B marketers conducted by us here at Circle Research – finally seems to provide a definitive answer. The social media Emperor is getting dressed, but is still in his underpants.

B2B social media has reached the tipping point and in doing so it’s following the classic technology evolution curve.  There was a lot of talk.  Then we saw early pioneers.  Now it’s in the initial stages of becoming main stream with eight in every ten marketers (78%) currently using social media in their B2B marketing activity.

It’s still early days though and most are still dipping their toes in the water – only one quarter (25%) have a clearly defined strategy.  Moreover, the standard approach seems to be trial and error – just one fifth (21%) have received any training in social media.

This haphazard deployment represents an opportunity for the more focussed to catch an edge, but the window of opportunity won’t stay open long.  Most plan to increase their social media investment over the coming 12 months – 76% through greater financial spend and 85% by dedicating more time.

Social media is being used then, but how?

Well, in the main it means the use of social networks, two of which dominate – Twitter (used by 85% engaged in social media) and LinkedIn (77%).  YouTube (66%) and, perhaps surprisingly given its B2C associations, Facebook (67%) also form an important but less prominent part of the mix.  Despite clear SEO and brand positioning benefits, only one half (51%) include blogging in their activity mix.

The big question though is: does it pay?

Those surveyed revealed their performance against various metrics and this provides some clear benchmarks.  Take Twitter as an example.  Analysing the number of reported Twitter followers reveals five milestones of success:

  • Most (43%) are ‘Dabblers’ (<250 followers)
  • One fifth (18%) are ‘Niche Attractions’ (250 – 500)
  • A similar number (20%) are ‘Rising Stars’ (500 – 2,000)
  • Just one in ten (12%) are ‘B-list Personalities’ (2,000 – 7,500)
  • Only the elite (7%) are ‘A-list personalities’ (>7,500)


In financial terms though, the picture is cloudy.  Only a handful (21%) can consistently demonstrate ROI from their social media investment.

This difficulty in demonstrating tangible financial results is reflected in the five most significant social media challenges reported by B2B marketers.  These are:

  1. Gaining internal buy-in (22% spontaneously name as a key challenge)
  2. Finding sufficient time (19%)
  3. Integrating with other activity (16%)
  4. Generating quality, relevant content (12%; see our article on the 7 R’s of thought leadership research for some tips on this)
  5. Inexperience (11%)

It seems then that B2B marketers recognise the rewards to be had through social media, but it’s not an easy ride.


Have you faced challenges gaining internal buy-in?  If so, how did you overcome them?  Share your experiences below…

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) marcoms and advertising research.

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11 thoughts on “B2B social media: Highlights from new benchmarking research

  1. Andrew, very interesting article! Great infographic quality bubble chart of the obstacles. Couple of questions 4 u though on the twitter milestones, not sure what “higher” or “lower” proportion of b2b accounts means in this context? A-list and B-list imply “quality” in terms of relevence to one’s business?

  2. mm Andrew Dalglish says:

    Thanks for the comment Stu.

    “Higher” and “lower” proportion of accounts means the relative percentage of B2B marketers falling into this category (further up the axis a bubble is, the more marketers are in this area). The term “accounts” is used as marketers were commenting on the number of Twitter followers their corporate account has.

    A-list and B-list are based on the number of followers rather than any measure of quality. This could mean that – like some A-list movie stars – they’re popular but of questionnable quality (although I would expect with most that there is a correlation with quality as this would encourage more followers). The ideal would of course be to rate quantity and quality but we settled on the former alone as the goal was to provide an objective benchmark and target for those setting out on a social media journey.

    Hope this clarifies but do let me know if not.



    1. Wonderful explication there, Andrew. Much appreciated! Makes sense.

      There are a few attempts out there to get a feel for “quality” but of course, that’s a toughie to operationalize! Especially in B2B, you might realistically care if you are able to get through to a small group of decision-makers for your business. Quantity for show, quality for dough kind of thing.

      We put together a data viz that tried to plot “influence” (as a proxy for quality) against follower counts:

      But in the final analysis, “influence” as it is talked about seems to be primarily related to “the likelihood to retweet” and “how many people get retweeted” to.

      1. mm Andrew Dalglish says:

        Spot on Stu.

        Liked your Klout score versus followers model. Looks like there’s a tipping point at around a Klout score of 65 where follower numbers start to rise rise dramatically, i.e. hit that ‘quality’ threshold and the community will start to seek you out.

        Also thought the outliers tell an interesting story. Foursquare has relatively few followers but high Klout which suggests a highly engaged, niche audience. Dell on the other hand has a large following but low Klout which suggests they’re good at tempting followers in but poor at engaging them. Give me Foursquare’s position any day!



  3. Mark Walker says:

    Hi Andrew

    Do you have data that shows any correlation between businesses that have a social media strategy with those who have a wider marketing strategy?

    My experience is that the more coherent the marketing strategy the more likely the social media is being approached ‘sensibly’ ie not that it is necessarily driving ahead but that it is being reviewed and included in relevant plans/budgets/metrics.

    Any sign of a link between the two?



    1. Andrew Dalglish says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for commenting.

      The approach to social media in B2B looks very knee jerk at the moment – 78% are using it but only 25% have a strategy. So, seems to be a case of “everyone’s talking about social media; I better do something” rather than a more considered reflection on if and where it fits into wider strategic plans.

      We didn’t cover the issue of whether marketers have a marketing strategy as well as a social media strategy. So, sadly can’t correlate but my gut feel is that there would be one…and a great idea to explore next time we run the survey!



  4. Kerry Hart says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Great article and thanks for sharing. One question that came to mind is one of age. Of the companies who claimed to have difficulty with adoption was there any insight into the demographic of the senior leadership team? A young Groupon type company vs, IBM’ers comes to mind! It would be interesting to know if the failure to adopt has anything to do with a senior resistence to change (yes a little rhetorical) however, I would love to see some hard info if you can drill down!


    1. mm Andrew Dalglish says:

      Hi Kerry,

      Thanks for the comment – interesting thought.

      The age of leadership team wasn’t something we captured so afraid I’m unable to say whether there’s a correlation between this and adoption issues.

      However, I suspect there are more important drivers.

      An analysis of the top 50 B2B Superbrands illustrates this. Fourth out of the 50 in terms of Twitter followers is Marriott Hotels (142,563 followers; Klout score of 60). Bill Marriott, their CEO, is 79. Or take Boeing. They operate in, some would say, a traditional industry and their CEO is 62. They have 19,250 Twitter followers (eleventh out of the 50).

      Seems even old dogs can learn new tricks!



  5. I think that influence a la Klout scoring is really a combination of both the predisposition of the “audience” to be active (ie. to share things) AND the quality of the content itself. Its a bit tough to parse I think. But for those who use Twitter, at least it can be something to track over time (maybe looking at an aggregate Klout count might be even more meaningful than a rate).

    At the end of the day, though, what’s key is the total number of eyeballs of people in your target group that you can direct to your content. That’d be a great question that could be addressed by primary marketing research actually!

    I have a feeling that email might be even more effective in reaching today’s decision-makers than Twitter… but this is no doubt something that is in considerable flux… Cheers stu

  6. Nick says:

    Very interesting findings. A few other thoughts – would be useful to understand what other activities Social Networking is replacing or is this generally complementary to ongoing marketing, research and sales activities. Would also be good to get into understandingwhat benefits are materialising in different industries.

  7. Scotty says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about b2b. Regards

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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