What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

I’d like to use this blog post to spark a discussion on the idea of “success.”  It was brought on when Arik, fellow B2B Voices writer, brought the following blog post to our team’s attention.  The post, entitled Finally! A B2B social media success story, describes a humorous use of video by a printer manufacturer in Massachusetts.  The “Destroy Your Printer Video Contest” allowed for submission of user-generated content that shows the best-ever destruction of their printer, which, as Office Space taught us all, is the bane of the office-place existence.

[Short pause to insert Office Space clip... can't let that opportunity pass]

The winning submission of the Destroy your Printer Video Contest was Cottage Revolution, seen below:

I’m not disputing the success of this contest, in fact, it’s pretty darn good (full list of videos is on the ELS blog…).  I would probably want to learn more about how many people called back etc, and might agree that the sale reported on the blog post was probably luck, but it was definitely a great way to engage people and bring eyes to the company.

What I’d like to talk about is what “success” means.  Was it the sale in this case?  That seems to be so for the author of this post.  However, Nathan Dube from Expert Laser Services, had his goals laid out from the get-go, as quoted:

“The focus of the contest  was not ‘let’s get customers’,” he said. ” The focus was to drive more traffic to the website, build inbound links, and create good content.  The fact that we landed a new service and repair customer was not our goal, but it happened.”

By all counts, this was a success.  But there have been numerous, numerous, counts of this sort of success for B2B social media use.  It wasn’t the first.

Look at HubSpot, for instance.  They are strictly B2B with their product offering, but through an incredible content production program, they have significantly increased the awareness of their product, their website traffic has grown exponentially, and their inbound links/SEO have benefited enormously (although, that last part better be true, since that’s their entire business!).  I would also add that if you asked them for their conversion rates, they do find a good amount of actual revenue opportunities from this program.

Another example that I always like is Kinaxis, which offers supply chain management solutions.  To the average consumer, this is not only just B2B, but could be perhaps….a bit dry.  However, their blog is one I use often as a great example of building customer and industry relations and positioning them at the top of their space.  In my opinion, it’s also a great example of following blogging best-practices quite well.  I don’t know the numbers behind the Kinaxis blog, but I would guess that their brand awareness in an industry where most players aren’t thinking about social media or SEO has benefited from their program.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if they too had actual conversion result.

A few months ago we posted a case study on ShipServ. John Watton, VP of Marketing, seemed to think that the program was successful according to the goals he set forth.

You can also check out Social Media B2B for a load of what many consider to be “successful” B2B social media efforts.

So this brings me to my question.  What is success? My answer is that success first of all depends on your goals.  I talked about 4 reasons a B2B company should start a social media program back in April, and many of those weren’t directly sales-related.  The most important process is to decide what you want to achieve and build a strategic plan around that set of goals.

If your goals are much like Nathan’s at ELS, then success is seen with an increase in website traffic, producing great content, and increasing inbound links.  Landing a sale wasn’t on that list.  But that’s ok, because ELS sat down and they identified what they wanted out of a social media program.  There is tremendous value in increasing hits to your website.

Additionally, the entire concept of brand equity originated because there is inherent value in the amount of reach your brand has, and what it’s level of awareness is, as well as whether that image is positive or negative.  So much so that it can be a line item in accounting and is part of valuation.

But I digress.  The most successful programs are the ones that go through that process of goal-setting, and their success is dependent on the decision points of that process.  It’s sometimes difficult from an outside perspective to know what those internal goals are, and we assume success – or lack thereof.  It’s also a lot less clear what the various uses for B2B social media use are from an external standpoint than it is for B2C.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Does success mean a sale?  What does success depend upon?  Are companies that focus on non-sales related goals wasting their resources with the program?  Is their really enough value in things like driving more website traffic or creating a body of content?Do you have other examples of successful programs in the B2B space?

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11 thoughts on “What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

  1. Kate, thanks for referencing my blog.

    The answer to your question is simple. In business, success ultimately must be defined by money. Whether your goal is “awareness,” or “page views,” or “re-tweets,” at the end of the day these measures must lead to a direct or indirect (i.e. brand equity) monetary return or the enterprise will not survive. If you are engaged in any activity, social media or otherwise, that does not somehow increase shareholder value, desist.

    That's one of the reasons this case was special. While you project that other B2B efforts “probably” resulted in sales, we really don't know. Success stories in B2B have been few and far between. I know … I've looked!

    I believe this will change as the economy improves and B2B gets serious about these new media channels.

    I hope you will conitnue to read my blog and actively cotnribute to the discussion. Thanks again!

  2. Mark, interestingly, I agree with you wholeheartedly!

    I think we're applying “success” differently. I this case (and in many of our client cases) we look at social media separately from the website. In a situation where website traffic, which has been pre-identified as the goal of social media, increases due to social media efforts, then the social media component was successful. If there were no sales as a result, then usually the website needs to be re-evaluated because it's own effectiveness to convert is probably low, or perhaps the sales team needs some work.

    I tend to look at social media as a channel that brings someone to the point at which they must make a decision. Much of what happens in the social media world can effect that decision, yes (emotion, brand awareness and image, conversation, relationship building) but at the end of the day – and especially with B2B companies – it usually comes down to website/sales team etc.

    Hope that makes more sense, but I think we're on the same wavelength, just doing the breakdown differently :-) (Again, HubSpot is a fantastic example of the type of success that you're looking for, and they have the numbers to back it up).

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  4. Lol that video was amazing. I think this is a very timely and interesting topic for b2b marketers because the success of a viral/social media marketing campaign is on a different level than b2c due to the longer buying process. i think the success of a viral campaign can not be determined by sales, or leads for that matter. The success has to come from page views, submissions, and over all awareness. The internet is the easiest way to get reccomendations on products and services so the more people out there who have your company's name in the back of your mind (and a good impression of it) the more likely a lead will come from them. A successful viral b2b marketing campaign that comes to mind is from Serena Software and their Mash It video that took over facebook and drove tons of traffic to the website. I think the amount of awareness a company can get from viral campaigns is how you need to gauge the success.

  5. Kate, thank you for this post. It's great to have some examples of b2b cases that have worked. I agree with Mark that ultimately everthing boils down to money coming in and that is what will convince . However, other aspects such as driving traffic to a website and brand awareness are also what some businesses find important. So thanks to both you and Mark and I look forward to reading future posts.

  6. Thanks for the post Kate, good stuff there.

    I agree with the other commenters that ultimately the business must make money from its activity. However, the link between social media activity and final sales is not often a direct one. It's important to determine what role social activity plays in the entire process and to be clear about the specific metrics for that individual part. (This is especially important in B2B where we are typically dealing with complex sales often over extended timelines.)

    So we may decide that one facet of our activity is there to generate awareness and visits to our site. Another maybe to deliver engaging content at different stages of the sale.

    This is where social media ties in to marketing automation and where we can plan in the different triggers that improve our chances of a sale. Then we get a far better picture of precisely which activity is delivering which results (and tune our approach as we go). It's in no way perfect, but it's a start.

  7. Thanks for the post Kate, good stuff there.

    I agree with the other commenters that ultimately the business must make money from its activity. However, the link between social media activity and final sales is not often a direct one. It's important to determine what role social activity plays in the entire process and to be clear about the specific metrics for that individual part. (This is especially important in B2B where we are typically dealing with complex sales often over extended timelines.)

    So we may decide that one facet of our activity is there to generate awareness and visits to our site. Another maybe to deliver engaging content at different stages of the sale.

    This is where social media ties in to marketing automation and where we can plan in the different triggers that improve our chances of a sale. Then we get a far better picture of precisely which activity is delivering which results (and tune our approach as we go). It's in no way perfect, but it's a start.

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  9. Great article – I think you really highlight the importance of using social media for B2B companies, and also that current social media sites are not ideal for B2B companies.

    Also like to share with you http://www.MyTradeZone.com, which is a B2B social networking site.  The key difference for MyTradeZone is that only businesses can sign up and create their company profile, list products or services, request price quotes, and follow other businesses.

    PS. Spelling error in the last paragraph: “Is their really enough value” ; “their” should be “there.”

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