Ed Weatherall of the IDM recently likened Twitter to the Emperor’s New Clothes.  It’s surrounded by hype but when we look closely it often has limited relevance in B2B.  This bold position could explain why Ed was Happy Slapped to publicise last year’s B2B Marketing Awards.

Despite the risk of suffering the same fate I’d like to join the campaign for common sense.

Ed, I’m available for any future petitioning, rallies or door knocking that you have in mind.  In the meantime I used an invitation to speak at the HORIZONT B2B Advertising conference in Frankfurt recently as an opportunity to take the crusade to mainland Europe and add some nuance to the debate.

It went something like this…

There’s no doubt that the latent power of social media in B2B is potentially huge.  For example, LinkedIn claims to have 65 million members in over 200 countries.  It also seems to be the case that B2B marketers have bought into the idea.  In the latest B2B Barometer study 78% agreed that B2B social media is more than simply a passing phase.  Furthermore, 70% plan to increase spending on social media over the coming year; 1 in 10 significantly.

Impressive statistics.  My contention though is that social media is not of equal relevance in all circumstances.  Rather, I suspect its relevance is driven by four considerations.

The first two concern whether to become involved.  The stronger the community identity within your target market the more important social media is likely to be.  For example, IT professionals tend to form stronger communities than Office Managers.  But just because there’s a strong community this doesn’t mean you should dive in.  The consideration then is whether you will be welcome.  For example, some communities are deliberately closed to suppliers whilst others such as Juniper’s J-NET are actually facilitated by suppliers.

The remaining two considerations concern how to become involved.  What level of engagement is there with your product category?  This will drive the level of interest in you or anything product related you might have to say.  In situations where there is low engagement the question then becomes how you might add value in other ways not directly related to your product area.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.  By mapping strength of community identity against welcomeness, category engagement and ability to add value the most appropriate approach to social media emerges.  You’ll need to watch the video for the detail but essentially in cases where community identity is weak then social media is either irrelevant or simply another broadcast tool.  However, when community identity is strong social media comes into its own either as a listening channel or somewhere to actively engage with your target market.

So, when we expand the debate beyond Twitter to social media in all forms, nuances emerge.  Social media can be relevant in B2B but not in all situations and not always in the same way.  The Emperor is perhaps not naked but is in his underwear.

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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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