Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn and other public social platforms offer compelling access to the masses for Business-to Consumer (B2C) companies. But for Business-to-Business (B2B) companies, there may be fewer strong reasons to devote extensive resources to public social platform presences. Not only that, B2B companies appear to be choosing differently than B2C companies when deciding where to invest their resources in social.

Social Media Examiner’s recent survey (PDF) found that while Facebook was the number one choice for B2C marketers, with 67% claiming it as such, Facebook only garnered a nod from 29% of B2B marketers. And, while B2C picked LinkedIn as its 4th favorite platform, B2B picked it as an equal to its top choice, Facebook. In a separate study done by B2B Marketing, Twitter was chosen by most B2B businesses as their platform of choice, with LinkedIn coming in second and Facebook fourth, behind YouTube. In the same survey, 61% of B2B businesses described their social media use as “ad hoc” with their primary goal being to drive traffic to their websites. Not only are B2C and B2B seeing different value in public social media, but they also are differing on what platforms work the best for them. It follows then that B2B companies might do well to also consider their differences from B2C as they develop their social strategies.

There are large B2B companies such as General Electric, Agilent Technologies, and Cisco Systems that corral huge followings of everyday consumers with their engaging and entertaining social media content. According to Larry Sepe, corporate social media and intranet manager, Employee Communications at Agilent, social media provides the company with a platform to engage its audience by telling the Agilent story and by providing the information that its customers, shareholders, and prospective employees may need to make informed business decisions.He says the company sees social media as a way to build stronger relationships with its stakeholders.

For very large companies with multiple product lines, spending social media resources at the consumer level may make perfect sense, but for others there may be a sweeter spot, and that lies with the intended audience.

It’s all about the audience

“There are definitely organizations in B2B that should be doing social, but the biggest question is, ‘Where’s your audience?'” asked Jason Alba, author of He uses GitHub as an example of a social site where programmers congregate and so now, technology recruiters see that as a place to be because it makes more sense than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. He says that whether it’s B2B or B2C, there are two key questions to ask:

  • Where’s your audience?
  • What’s its level of engagement?

Alba says that if the audience is there, but not engaged, then it’s questionable how effective a presence might be. He cites a LinkedIn jobs group with more than 100,000 people, and he questions how relevant and interesting a constant stream of job posts can be, and ultimately that makes him wonder how engaged the audience might be. He says it’s not like all 100,000 people are getting interested in whatever the message is. Then too, he sees overzealous moderating as also being a damper on engagement.

Eve Mayer, CEO of Social Media Delivered, also emphasizes knowing where your audience is. “Just because it is the latest ‘cool’ social platform doesn’t mean it is where your target audience is hanging out,” Mayer said. “There is a fine line between thinking outside of the box and developing great content that never reaches its target audience.”

Getting the mix right

It’s also not taboo for a company to be involved more heavily on some platforms, and maybe even not involved on others. Mayer points out that a company selling insurance could use Pinterest, but says the probability that it will drive insurance policy sales is low. Considering geography can enter the picture as well. If a startup wants to find mutually-beneficial partnerships or investment capital, it would probably want to put more resources into LinkedIn or XING (if in Germany) or Viadeo (if in France), than into Flickr.

Mayer suggests these considerations when deciding which social media platforms to be involved on.

  • The business goals. For example, is the primary focus customer acquisition, or is it customer service?
  • Where’s the audience? Analyze the target audience’s demographics and compare those to social media platforms to gain insight into where potential customers spend the most time. Ask where’s the greatest bang for the buck. Will spending an hour on LinkedIn everyday generate as much or more business than spending half an hour on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ combined?
  • Whether the company has more to say, or more to show its audience. If a company is more visual, consider taking advantage of Pinterest and YouTube.
  • Think about which platforms best showcase the product or service. For example, if product demos or tutorials would benefit the target audience, consider using YouTube.

Engagement tactics count

Companies should consider the value in varying their levels of involvement across channels. Mayer uses the example of limited involvement on YouTube where the company showcases its products or services, while spending the most time on Facebook and Twitter where its target audience is congregating. The idea being that you can direct your audience towards whatever platform you use most.

Mayer also recommends not launching a presence on a platform unless you are going to follow through, and then being consistent with the follow-through. She says it’s important for someone to be listening and interacting, that auto posting can be damaging when people find out you’re not really engaged, and that you should be very careful in the frequency of posting because it is much better to ramp up, than to have to decrease frequency.

In some cases, B2B companies might find their desired audiences aren’t engaging on any of the social platforms. Alba suggests if that’s the case then there’s always the possibility of creating a place where they would want to be involved. He says they could take a page out of blogger Andy Shaindlin’s playbook, because his Alumni Futures blog became a go-to spot for those in academia who are most interested in the future of education, communication, community engagement, and online interaction. For B2B, getting social may mean getting more creative.