About a month ago, I had the pleasure of participating in an interview for Internet Evolution’s Web radio broadcast. Among the topics generating considerable conversation was the use of social media in a B2B context.
Though much has been said and written about the commercial use of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) to connect directly with consumers, it seems to me that substantially less useful information is published about social media’s potential in the B2B space.
As a distributor of wines and spirits, our customers are strictly limited (by law) to retail establishments like liquor stores, bars, and restaurants. Because they have obtained their alcoholic beverage licenses from the state, we know exactly who our customers are. Frequently, we know them even before they know who we are and realize they are highly likely to do business with us. (We distribute some very popular brands exclusively.) Therefore, end consumer marketing and outreach is the province of our customers and/or our suppliers.
Given these circumstances and market conditions, my company’s senior marketing and sales executives and I spent the better part of a year attempting to determine what place and value social media had for our organization.
Embarking on an effort to discover our place in the social media world, we sought the advice of “expert” industry, technology, and marketing consultants, as well as college students savvy in the use of the technology. We kept our Facebook posts fresh with lively, sometimes provocative, content. We attempted to engage page visitors with opportunities to participate, using invitations to fun events like tastings and recipe contests. We designated product specialists (e.g., tequila, wine), wrote blogs, and equipped them with Twitter accounts with which to develop followings.
Over time, we experienced steady increases in friends, likes, and followers. When we analyzed just who these people were, however, we discovered that they were predominantly employees, their families, and friends. Although our product specialists did gain some traction, their followings were on the lighter side, measuring in the low hundreds. Though some customers and their friends and families did participate, we instinctively realized that building a community took time, and that we would need some patience to determine the efficacy of our efforts.
We even went so far as to seriously discuss and contemplate the development and distribution of mobile apps for the iOS, Droid, and BlackBerry platforms as a means of driving customers to our portal. Again, given the limited target audience, the introduction of a mobile app would do little more for us than provide some oblique business intelligence and demonstrate our technology prowess.
It has been more than a year since we implemented our program, and we’ve seen little discernible effect on sales, demand, brand awareness, usable business intelligence, or even facilitation of community. In the end, we had little choice but to conclude that our participation in the social media space is of limited direct benefit.
Despite our experience, many continue to believe, and some even insist (including several of the listeners to the IE Radio interview), that B2B social media is relevant and beneficial.
If this is indeed the case, then several questions come to mind: Have we missed something in our approach or not given the program sufficient time to evolve? Have we overlooked something obvious, or is our target community already too defined? We continue to maintain our social media presence and would drive it further -- if there were a B2B destination.
— Brian Margolies is the CIO of Allied Beverage Group, New Jersey's largest distributor of wine and spirits.