Firefly’s Phil Szomszor says there’s no “perfect curve” in B2B social media

Date: 15 November 2012 16:41

When I think of PR social media gurus, I imagine Siobhan Sharpe from the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve delivering her web strategy for the Games. In her view, Myspace was the best channel because it has the fewest number of people using it, and therefore is the fastest growing and most exciting.

She also highlighted that social media during the Games wasn’t all about the sport, but public opinion about athletes and “all aspects of them”.

It’s not surprising that the PR industry was lambasted in this way – there are a hell of a lot of people making claims about social media that just can’t be supported and I’ve heard more than the occasional “perfect curve” quote from so-called gurus.

It’s in the world of B2B PR that this anti-social media attitude is most prevalent. And while I agree that there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with social media, that doesn’t mean to say that it should be dismissed altogether – in fact, I’d argue the future of B2B PR is digital.

Let’s face it, readership of print publications is suffering in B2B, just as it is in the consumer world. Press relations plays an important role in communicating with our audience, but we need to embrace new channels and ways of telling client’s stories.

That’s all very well, you might say, but there are plenty of reasons against doing B2B digital PR. OK, let’s hear them ...

“Hardly anyone watches/reads my content” – First up, with B2B PR you have to get over the numbers barrier, because the universe is smaller. We’re not trying to make a Gangnam Style viral effect with B2B content. And that’s not a bad thing. Success in B2B looks different: if it helps to create a lead, it’s worth more than getting a bucketful of views.

Also, with a smaller audience, it’s cheaper to distribute and easier to target (as long as you know who you’re aiming at).

“You can’t measure it” – PR has hardly got the best reputation for measurability. For years our industry measured its success based on the cost of a completely different one: the dreaded AVE. But once you get your head around PR being more than press relations, you can see that there are umpteen ways of measuring success, whether it’s through Google Analytics, Apollo or the likes of Klout, Kred or Peer Index. I’m not saying these are perfect, but when communication is online it’s intrinsically more measurable.

“I can’t afford it – it’s expensive for what it is” – Social media is like anything else: it’s a waste of money if you do it wrong. Producing content, whether it’s writing a blog, tweeting or videoing customers at the sales conference, doesn’t have to be expensive.

The problem is that many PR agencies have become press release machines and that’s an extremely cost effective way of distributing news. But press release news distribution is losing its effectiveness as the number of channels diminishes. While social media content is more expensive than distributing a release, it’s inexpensive compared to other marketing activities, such as trade shows and direct mail.

“The purchasing lifecycles are too long for social media” – Yes, you’re going to spend a longer time selecting a new piece of accounting software to roll out in 50 countries than you are to buy a new digital camera, but to me, that means that an organisation needs to spend longer building up trust. You can’t spend all that time face-to-face with your prospects, but digital PR is an excellent way of building on the relationship that you begin offline. And as the lines between personal and professional lives blur, social media can add to the client relationship in most business cases.

“People aren’t using social media for business” – Why would business people only want to get their news in print or via traditional broadcast channels? The answer is, they don’t. And why are videos, blogs, infographics and podcasts increasingly popular? Because they’re interesting (OK, maybe not in all cases) and easily consumed in bite sized portions.

There are 10 million people on LinkedIn in the UK: that’s about a third of the working population. A similar number of people use Twitter in the UK, while a Hubspot survey found that companies that blogged more frequently closed more deals.

An eMarketer study of Fortune1000 companies found that 82 per cent of employee respondents trust a company more when the CEO and leadership team communicate via social media. Meanwhile, an eConsultancy survey found that 67 per cent of marketing decision makers agreed that social media is integral to their marketing mix (and only 11 per cent disagreed).

I think it’s fair to say, lots of people are still in “receive mode” when it comes to social media in a B2B context (perhaps Twitter aside), but this will change as organisational culture gets used to people airing opinions and realises that its workforce is the biggest marketing department it could wish for, and actively encourages social media.

As Siobhan Sharpe said in another of her famous descriptions of social media: “What we’re looking at here guys is a complete game-changer”. In that respect, I agree.

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    Great article Phil. Although I have to say that there are lots of "Perfect Curve" agencies in B2B that are promising all sorts of unrealistic things (particularly in terms of follower numbers). You article (rightly) focusses on the reality of B2B social media. Looking forwards to hearing more.

    Name: Peter Thomson
    Date: 21 Nov 2012 09:26 PM

    Yes, I agree and the worry is that they're just buying followers/Likes/+1s anyway. And the fact of the matter is that high follower numbers isn't necessarily a sign of success in markets where the universe is small to start with.

    Name: Phil Szomszor
    Date: 22 Nov 2012 11:06 AM

    Social media has been around for quite a few years. Amazing that it is still such a hot topic of debate; it proves that the industry has still got lots to learn, especially when it comes to the numbers game, as echoed by Peter. To me, social media is not a silo activity, it is an extension (or another tool in the toolbox, if you like) of communications. If your audience is there then embrace it.

    Name: Chen-Lee Tsui
    Date: 22 Nov 2012 11:07 AM

    Nice post Phil. Now the operational difficulty with social media in B2B is the capability to actually identify your target and key influencers because you are often talking about niche markets. A good tip to get started: look at your clients and prospects and listen to them.

    Name: Nicolas Chabot
    Date: 23 Nov 2012 08:56 AM

    Thanks Chen. Yes, I agree, it's amazing that people are still playing the justification game. But that's what made me think about summarising some of the main objection points. It does feel like the industry's starting to make progress though... Also thanks for your comments Nicolas. I don't think being in a niche market is a problem (you adjust the numbers accordingly) but it can be difficult finding the right people. Generally it's not too bad if a company is trying to influence people with a similar job title - e.g. marketing directors or developers - but it becomes harder when the influencer group becomes more fragmented or difficult to pin down.

    Name: Phil Szomszor
    Date: 26 Nov 2012 06:25 PM

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