The majority of IT decision makers are turning to social networks to guide them in the purchasing processes, a recent study from LinkedIn and Forrester Research found.
The survey determined that 85 percent of IT decision makers have used one or more social networks (most often LinkedIn) for business reasons; 59 percent have used a social network in the purchasing process itself; and 73 percent have interacted with IT vendors via social networking.
According to the report, there are four primary reasons for decision makers’ recent heavy reliance on social networks:
- To learn and benefit from trusted peers
- To quickly and efficiently find information
- To connect with relevant vendors
- To acquire a broader business network.
In a recent CIO.com article, Mike Weir, LinkedIn’s head of category development, explained that social media no longer simply comprise an awareness platform, but they are “a critical source of influence across the entire decision-making process.”
Weir recommended that IT decision makers join and become active in relevant LinkedIn groups. Participants in these groups are active players in disseminating important information and building trustful connections that will help IT decision makers with their purchases, he believes.
It's clear that IT decision makers can benefit greatly from LinkedIn connections and information provided in LinkedIn groups. The challenge that LinkedIn faces is that many groups have become hotspots for vendor spam -- postings by marketing, sales, and other vendor employees used to promote their products and services. Some groups are well moderated and keep out vendor spam, while others are less diligent.
In light of this reality, the No. 1 reason listed above for participating in social networks during the purchasing process -- to learn and benefit from trusted peers -- gets sidelined. IT decision makers are left with the questions: Is it easy to find trusted peers on LinkedIn and other social networks? Are there reviews we can rely on?
While the information provided by social networks like LinkedIn, as well as industry analysts, can be very valuable, another survey from Forrester Research indicates that the most important content to technology buyers is access to “peer experiences” and “product ratings and reviews."
On a Quest for Knowledgeable Reviews
Information is everywhere. But when it comes to trusting reviews, IT decision makers want to hear from their peers, a Forrester study found.
Sites such as Spiceworks and my company, IT Central Station, enable decision makers to tap into high-quality technology product reviews for reference during the technology buying process.
Technology pros need a way to exchange information with their peers without being hounded by vendors. A “trusted peer” is not someone who is paid by his or her company to write a product review or share an article in LinkedIn that promotes their employer -- it is a real IT expert who has used a product or service and has valuable advice and recommendations to share with other IT professionals. Reviews by real users, especially users who also are experts in enterprise software and hardware, are the ones that IT decision makers urgently seek out in the purchasing process.
These opinions from real users complement the role that industry analysts and consultants play in the decision-making process. There will always be a role for analysts, consultants, and vendor input in the complex enterprise technology procurement process. What’s new today is the emergence of social networks and product reviews as an influential factor in how companies allocate budgets in the $3 trillion market for enterprise technology products and services.
What do you think? What are the most valuable sources of information in the technology buying process? Add your comment below and let me know what you think.
— Russell Rothstein is co-founder and CEO of IT Central Station. Follow him on Twitter at @RussRothsteinIT.