The B2B Business Case, Part 2

My previous post described the social media adoption gap that our “B2B Goes Social: a White Horse Survey Report” identified, and it noted that social media curmudgeons among the B2B C-suite were largely to blame for it. I then promised a three-part guide for building a B2B business case to win over those C-suites, but then only managed to deliver one of the lessons, which involved widening your CEO’s perception of what constitutes social media. Have you done that? Great. Here, then, are the remaining two lessons:

2. Social media is what everyone else is doing.

If you’ve ever observed toddlers at play, you know that the desirability of a given toy increases exponentially as another toddler plays with it, and it reaches a fever pitch if the other toddler appears to be misusing the toy, e.g., eating Barbie’s hair. With all due respect to both CEOs and toddlers, I must report that this behavioral tendency does not disappear with age, and you can use it to good effect in your business case.

At White Horse, we’ve made it a standard practice to present a sample one-month social clients in order to show them that conversations are indeed taking place around their brand. They really lean forward in their seats, though, when we show them what their competitors are doing—what share of the social conversation belongs to them, what perceptions accrue to them, and what keywords are used to describe them. All of this data can easily be obtained through a low-cost social media monitoring platform (we use Radian6 for our clients), and ginned up in a few hours of analysis.

“All well and good,” you might say to me, “but if I had budget to spend on a social monitoring platform, I wouldn’t be reading your damn blog post on how to get budget for social, now would I?” Fair point, and since we’ve already established that you’re not going to call me, I have no choice but to point out some of the free resources that can get you started. At the top of my list is the trial version of Alterian’s SM2 monitoring platform, which caps the number of results but gives you many of the slicing and dicing features that make analysis easier. Then you have a number of good scraping tools that leave the analysis entirely up to you: Google’s blog search, Addict-o-Matic, and, oh, what the hell, here’s the entire list of free social media monitoring tools.

So what do you do with all that competitive data? Think of social media marketing as a competition for a very finite resource: your customers’ attention. If data shows your competitors commanding a larger share of the social conversation in your industry, that share is essentially coming at your expense, whether you feel it directly or not. If, on the other hand, your competitors are falling short in social, so much the better for your business case: there’s a vacuum waiting to be filled by the first company in your industry that’s ready to liven up the conversation. In all cases, C-levels need to see social media marketing in a competitive context in order to see the light.

3. It’s about pie, not ROI

For decades, we marketers prattled on about the ROI of our efforts. Today you can’t throw a virtual rock without hitting five blog posts about how we all need to simmer down about ROI. While I am firmly in the simmer-down camp, I also have to acknowledge that we did this to ourselves. We got our C-levels addicted to hard data, and it is axiomatic that once someone is addicted to the hard stuff, you can’t get them off of it. Solution? You give them hard data that’s not ROI data. You feed them pie.

CEOs love pie. One of their favorites is the one that shows them the proportion of their paid impressions that can be replaced or augmented with free impressions. PR agencies have long been selling the value of this pie as earned media or “ad equivalency value,” so CEOs are used to seeing it. They get it. Once you’ve done your social media market analysis, it’s relatively easy to project how big that social media pie wedge will be.

Social media can also produce a pie flavor that PR usually can’t: the proportion of site traffic attributable to social sources. It’s all right there on the “Referrers” tab of your Web analytics dashboard. At White Horse, for instance, we can say that our social seeding program increased the proportion of our site traffic by 6% to 25% in six months, and that total traffic grew accordingly. We know that more traffic means more leads, and that we’d be crazy to call that ROI. But it sure is some tasty pie.

Other pies are possible, of course, but bake up these two, and I guarantee* that you’ll be halfway to making your business case. And if that doesn’t work, you can always call me.

*Not a guarantee.

The B2B Business Case, Part 1

A couple of months ago, White Horse released the results of our Pulse of Social Media Marketing surveycomparing adoption of social media marketing by B2B companies vs. B2C, looking at issues of staffing, management buy-in, and the use of specific tactics.

The report got some good pick-up among our marketing blogging brethren, and their individual spins on the results were a veritable study in glass half-full/half-empty interpretation. Ssome declared that the B2Bs were stuck in the social stone age (not my conclusion), while others observed that B2B marketers were right in the thick of things, social-wise, if only they could get their C-levels to see the light (which was pretty much my conclusion).

As the author of the report, I feel I owe B2B marketers an apology. While I did manage to place the blame for the B2B social lag squarely on C-level naysayers in the report—noting that only 9% of B2C upper managers are bearish on social, compared to a whopping 36% for B2B—I offered frustrated B2B marketers a rather narrow and unsatisfying remedy: contact White Horse, and we’ll set those C-levels straight.

Yes, it’s true. I sullied the sacred cause of knowledge-sharing with a shameless agency plug. And the proof of my transgression is that not every B2B marketer in the land has so far beaten down our door to learn how we can turn things around for them. Thiscould mean that they’d prefer some method of building a business case for social media that didn’t involve talking to me. That is understandable.

And so as penance for my transgression, I now devote the rest of this post (and all of the next one) to sharing what I know about building the B2B business case for social media marketing—a kind of DIY for those who would prefer a sharp stick in the eye to an agency phone call. (Again, I get it.) There are just three things you really need to know.

1. Social media is not what your CEO thinks it is.

Imagine yourself as a busy CEO living in a kind of info-stream bubble, wherein a narrow stream of content demanded nearly all of your attention, and the only streams that filtered in from the outside were the ones that were too annoyingly pervasive to ignore. What stuff would get through?

Actually, we don’t have to imagine that, because Twitter’s Trending Topics will tell what’s floating at the top of the social stewpot. So let me just pop over there and see…OK, at the top of the list we’ve got Mel Gibson, #youlookprettystupid, #oldpeoplenames, and Bachelorette.

While it is demonstrably true that some old people have funny names, this alone will not bolster your business case for having a corporate Twitter account, especially if your CEO is old and has a funny name. A cursory glance at social media’s dominant content might leave any executive with the impression that it consists mainly of debates about Justin Bieber’s hair. They might also be forgiven for concluding that social media is comprised of Facebook, Twitter, and something vaguely sinister called ChatRoulette.

Which is why every B2B social media business case needs to begin where few of them actually do: by pointing out where the actual conversation is taking place. If this seems perfectly obvious to you, then at least allow that it may not perfectly obvious to your execs, and B2B social adoption has suffered for it. Our survey found that B2B marketers are about one-third less likely to participate on industry-related bog commentary and forums than to maintain outposts on major social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Yet our own client research persistently shows that the vast majority of useful B2B conversations—the kind that influence decision-makers—take place on blog commentary and forums. This isn’t a revelation; studies of B2B social usage by Forrester Research, American Business Media, and Business.com have also underscored the importance of these venues.

B2B marketers need an expansive definition of social media. The litmus test is simple: is it a place where a) business conversations are occurring and b) you might be allowed to participate? When viewed through this wide-open aperture, social media becomes urgently relevant. B2B sales tend to be complex and consultative, after all, and where do B2B buyers go for consultation? A surprising number start with simple Google searches, and those Google searches increasingly lead to, yep, industry blogs and forums.

This, of course, begs the question: assuming all this juicy B2B social stuff is out there, waiting to be plucked and presented in a Teflon-coated business case, how does one set about doing that? This is the part where I leave off my blog post with shameless question-begging, so that you’ll read the next installment, in which I’ll cover what tools and metrics work best.