Measuring Outcomes in B2B Social Media – It’s Time to Start

About quarterly, we host a group of about 15 marketing and communications professionals at our Weber Shandwick Minneapolis office to discuss issues related to B2B digital and social media issues. We held our most recent one a couple weeks ago, “Social Media and ROI: Dare We Talk About It.” Yes, I’m just getting around to blogging about it now, but it’s worth highlighting.

Prior to the roundtable discussion, we asked them all to fill out a short, rather unscientific online survey just to give a sense of where they were at collectively regarding measurement – especially the ROI kind – and social media. Most of them participated.

For the record, the group represented a variety of industries – high-tech, executive education, advertising, healthcare, manufacturing, etc. Most of them are now employing social media of one kind or another – often with blogs or LinkedIn, with Twitter emerging. And the number one challenge they’re having with measurement? Where to start.

Nobody should feel bad about this. For most B2B companies – especially those who don’t use the Web as their primary sales channel (i.e. e-commerce) – the last year or so has been a period of experimentation and cultural adaptation to social media mores. It’s been very much about reassuring senior executives, corporate counsel, IT executives and many others that this transparent, two-way, personal and highly responsive way of communicating with stakeholders need not put brand equity at risk, threaten the company with lawsuits, destroy productivity or endanger intellectual property. Whew, with all that to worry about, it’s tough to focus on what social media CAN do!

So our message to our attendees, and to you, is this:  When you are in test and trial mode, you are generally investing few resources – whether people or hard costs. If there’s insignificant Investment, we don’t need to work very hard to justify Return. But that party is over. The saying goes that you should “measure what you treasure,” and realizing significant results from adding sophisticated digital and social media programs to the communications mix will cost money. It’s not fair to expect the company to just hand it over.

And I wouldn’t be satisfied with the “You don’t ask for ROI on the phone system, do you?” argument. That might fly in boom years, but it’s an invitation to get your budget slashed in a tough one. How many of you were installing sophisticated new phone systems in the last recession? Not many. And we know how damaging it can be to stop a social media program once we start one.

Up Next From Me:  “Getting Started.”  (hint: social media measurement isn’t fundamentally different than measuring outcomes for any other communications program)

The slides from our discussion are posted here.

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About Aaron Pearson

Aaron Pearson is a senior vice president in the technology practice of Weber Shandwick, a global communications firm. He is also an adjunct instructor at the University of St. Thomas Opus School of Business, where he teaches a master's course in communications technology. His B2B experience includes industries such as healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as functional audiences from IT to HR.

7 thoughts on “Measuring Outcomes in B2B Social Media – It’s Time to Start

  1. It's true that social media in many cases is in need of some process efficiency improvements, but that's to be expected. Until people figure out best ways to engage, it's difficult to address the productivity issue. But I do hope to see much better tools and systems for managing social media in the future, ones that don't sacrifice authenticity. Thanks for your comment Santosh.

  2. Hello Aaron,
    You are correct the measurement is difficult to quantify. I'm in a small business that started based on the following I have built on Twitter. So knowing the value of the business gained is imperative to our survival. I have tried small tests along the way to see what the influence of my comments have, this can be revealing and humbling. Thanks for the article!

  3. You're welcome, good for you! It's simpler in a small business to isolate those factors but your experiences might be insightful for those of us trying to separate tools like Twitter from the noise of a more complex mix of mar-com programs. I'd be interested to learn what surprises you discovered.

  4. The rich social profile information from various social media platforms that allows marketers to do hyper-targeted advertising also enables sales people to do more targeted prospecting than ever before. Web 2.0 has created an abundance (many would argue a surplus) of social and professional information. This information overload has itself spawned a new category of sales tools and processes dubbed Sales 2.0. Conceptually Sales 2.0 is all about using Web technologies to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the buying process for both buyer and seller. In the context of information overload, the idea is to leverage technology to identify relevant business events and relationships from across thousands of sources and present this intelligence in such a way that sales people can easily act on it.

    Read more on how B2B models of businesses are generating better ROI using Social Media at this blog post: http://blog.insideview.com/2010/04/27/connectin

  5. I'm a fan of the connection mapping concept. The surprising thing there is how unintuitive those connections are. In fact, our partner Community Analytics has found that, on average, B2B companies are not targeting or are completely unaware of 80% of their most important potential advocates. Only way to discern that info is through research and it's not cheap but it's unquestionably powerful. Of course, you can leverage those networks of trusted influencers with or without social media, but I'd advocate a balanced online/offline approach.

  6. I'm a fan of the connection mapping concept. The surprising thing there is how unintuitive those connections are. In fact, our partner Community Analytics has found that, on average, B2B companies are not targeting or are completely unaware of 80% of their most important potential advocates. Only way to discern that info is through research and it's not cheap but it's unquestionably powerful. Of course, you can leverage those networks of trusted influencers with or without social media, but I'd advocate a balanced online/offline approach.

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