How B2B Buyers Really Use Social Media: Insights from the 2012 Buyersphere Report

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The annual Buyersphere report from BaseOne, in conjunction with B2B Marketing, Research Now, and McCallum Layton, consists of interviews with B2B buyers who have made actual business purchases in the last 12 months. By asking detailed questions about the actual journey the buyers went through, the report gives what it calls “concrete, reliable findings [that can] be used to convince your clients, persuade your bosses, and defend your decisions”.

The full report can be downloaded at (Note: The report surveys buyers in the UK, France, Germany, and Italy so is obviously focused on European buyers, but I believe the insights below are relevant to all markets.)

I was particularly struck by the actual data that showed how buyers are using social media in the process, especially by age. Some key findings:

  • Overall use of social media in buying is still somewhat low. “Word of Mouth” and “Web Searches” are both the most frequently used AND the most useful sources of information, while LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter were the least commonly used and the least useful source of information.

  • However, there is a big difference by age. Twenty-something buyers are twice as likely to use social media somewhere in the buying process (49%) than 31-40 year olds, and almost 4X as likely than those aged 51+. The report highlights the big impact this will have in upcoming years.
  • Responders said that “word of mouth” (WOM) is the most useful source of information, and it is used at every stage of the buying cycle. However, different-aged buyers think of “word of mouth” differently. Those over 30 are much more likely to ask for opinions and recommendations in person or over the phone or email; those under 30 are actually more likely to define word of mouth as something that happens socially.
  • When social networks are used in the buying process, they are most commonly used in the last stage of final buyer selection. This is especially true of Twitter, presumably where buyers tweet looking for final opinions and recommendations before making a final decision.
  • The Opportunity for Social

Given the relatively low usage of social in today’s actual B2B buying, but the rapid growth ahead as millennials become more involved in key purchases, there is a significant opportunity for companies to unlock the real value of social media in their B2B marketing. But this will likely require thinking different about social. Too many companies use b2b social media only for “company-to-buyer” communications, listening and responding and publishing their own content over posts and tweets. These are important “table-stakes” activities. However, the Buyersphere report corroborates the findings of the excellent Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages study, which is that buyers have low trust and find less utility in what a company has to say about itself socially.

Instead, what buyers really trust are the recommendations and referrals from their peers and friends. This means the real promise of the social isn’t just about responding to comments and updating your feed. It’s about facilitating peer-to-peer recommendations on your behalf and turning your customers and fans into an army of powerful advocates. One way to do this is to use social to amplify every campaign you are already running. For example, if someone clicks on your email to download a paper, they’ve expressed interest in the content, so if you also make it easy and rewarding for them to share the paper with their network, you will get broader exposure and more responses for the campaign you are doing anyway. (I call this the “social amplification”.)

Leveraging the power of peer-to-peer communication delivers significant benefits:

  • No cost: Social sharing is the best free advertising, but more importantly, it is seen as earned, thus giving a brand an “earned” media lift. People are on social media not to hear from advertisers, but to hear from friends. When a marketer’s email is shared, the brand can reach a staggering number of people.
  • Authenticity: Because a consumer chooses to share it with his friends, consumers see the message as authentic, trustworthy, and worth their attention.
  • Access and opportunity: The email communication, initially directed at one customer, becomes a far-reaching messaging tool.

We’ll be writing more on this topic, so stay tuned, and in the meantime download the new whitepaper Email Marketing 5.0-How Leading Brands Like Molson Coors Are Winning By Combining Social And Email to learn more.

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