Is social media effective for B2B brands?

This is an article by Alex Neale.
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Alex Neale

Alex Neale

Facebook, Twitter, WordPress; not sites I would have typically associated with working life before embarking on my career in PR. As someone who has always had to keep my personal and professional lives separate, I found it a little exciting that I was allowed, encouraged even, to explore and maintain my presence on these platforms for ‘work purposes’ (I still smugly tell my friends).

Social media has always been associated with the consumer and it has been utilised by business to consumer (B2C) brands in several highly successful campaigns – Starbucks, Coca Cola and Skittles to name but a few. Not only does it offer a quick, easy and often painless channel through which to communicate with their consumers directly (thanks to fan pages and opt-in groups), but the increasing amount of personal preferences – like and dislikes, favourite films, books, foods – that its users are revealing about themselves mean that brands are able to get to know their customers better than ever.

It’s clear to see the benefits of investing in social media for B2C clients, but what good can it do for business to business (B2B) clients? Can it provide any value at all?

B2B social media: tried and tested

Social media is considered by many – typically the older generation – to be the downfall of society. They call us lazy, anti-social; they even blame the riots on our obsession with social media. We ‘Generation Y’, tech-savvy, forward thinking PROs are currently facing a never-ending battle in persuading our B2B clients that they would benefit from a little social media to spice up their campaigns.

Many of them are still of the opinion that social media is ‘fluffy’ and far too informal, and above all they believe that they won’t reach their potential customers via a Facebook fan page or a blog.

However, several B2B brands who have taken the risk beg to differ, such as IBM:

Earlier this year, IBM implemented social media elements within their B2B ‘Watson’ campaign fantastically, achieving international coverage.

IBM’s Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. Earlier this year, Watson competed on the quiz show Jeopardy!, in the show’s only human-versus-machine match-up to date. Over two games, Watson beat Brad Rutter, the biggest all-time money winner on Jeopardy!, and Ken Jennings, the record holder for the longest championship streak of 75 days.

In the lead up to the event, IBM posted around 30 short videos on YouTube, racking up more than 1 million views. It chose to feature the researchers and engineers who built the computer rather than the corporate suits, offering interesting content to both Jeopardy! fans and potential customers. Since the event, Watson’s Facebook page now has more than 17,000 ‘likes’ and its Twitter stream has more than 6,000 followers.

IBM also involved IBM bloggers who have attracted their own followings over the years and researchers used Reddit, a social news site, to answer the top 10 questions about Watson and the contest.

The results of the IBM Watson campaign were phenomenal and this case can help illustrate that the use of social media in PR campaigns is not just a fad but offers a very real and exciting prospect for the future of PR, particularly to B2B companies.

The future of B2B social media

So, what is the future of social media for B2B clients? Do PROs continue in their battle to persuade their clients of its value or The results of a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released last month revealed that almost half of B2B companies are not measuring return on investment or using only basic qualitative measures when it comes to social media.

Despite showing that B2B some of those polled had invested up to £1.18m on social media, the majority appeared to have “limited strategies” that fail to exploit sales opportunities.

It also found that less than 12% of organisations surveyed have full time social media teams in place.

Of course a B2B social media campaign must be taken with a different approach to that of a consumer campaign – your targets are businesses which will undoubtedly interact with a social media platform in the same way as a consumer.

However, ultimately all business people are consumers and, now more than ever, those lines are constantly being blurred. Perhaps the solution is to take away the concept of B2B and consumer campaigns being polar opposites and use elements of both to create a campaign that appeals to a potential customer’s business objectives and consumer preferences to maximise the impact.

Remember, a social media campaign is always going to be noticed by a real person, not a computer, no matter whether it’s a consumer or B2B campaign. Social media, including blogs and business profiles on Twitter and Facebook, can communicate the values, philosophy and personality of a business far more effectively than simply listing it on a website homepage. It allows customers – those people who represent the target businesses – to understand your client’s messaging a little better and feel a little more acquainted with those who run the business.

Discuss this article with Alex on Twitter here.

(Disclosure: Alex works for the Hotwire Group, where our social media editor also works)


  1. As you show, PR is an adaptable tool.

    But what’s happening to the ‘trade and technical’ press that was once the mainstay of traditional business-to-business PR activity?

    Their controlled-circulation, advertising-funded business model looks under threat from the web and social media.

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