Question: Why Are You In Social Channels?

I was moderating a great panel recently at the Inbound Marketing Summit: “How Does Inbound Marketing Affect SCRM?”.  The speakers were superb – thanks Sameer Pattel, Kirk Mosher, and Chris Spears – but the audience was outstanding.  I hate to ask questions of panelists since it basically bores the audience with pre-packaged statements, I prefer to let those listening guide the conversation and I just stand there and look pretty — well, pretty for me.

This was one of the bestest panels I did lately – the audience was engaged and driving the conversation in the right direction (away from soundbites and into real-life experience and knowledge).  One of the audience members asked a killer question, something that has been plaguing me for quite some time and I finally get to ponder out loud (I would love to thank whoever it was that asked that question, as I foolishly failed to get her name on my rush out of the door following my panel).  Her statement (followed by a question) was (and I paraphrase):

The people on Twitter and most social channels are not Decision Makers when it comes to enterprise purchases, why would you need to be in social channels?

Clearly this is a statement that applies to B2B (or whatever you want to call the model of selling to other businesses – not the place or time for that debate), but it got me thinking deeper.  OK, not that deep – but certainly got me thinking.

Forget the fact that we were talking Marketing and forget the fact that most organizations still don’t understand why they have a social presence or what they are doing in there (no disrespect, of course, simply a question of maturity for the channels).  Forget all that.

Let’s focus instead on how decisions are made in enterprises and how social affects that.

Truth be told, decisions are not made by a single person in B2B models – they are made in a chain-of-command or committee model.

In a chain-of-command model a lower-level employee finds and processes the information and passes it along to their boss with a recommendation, who in turn adds value (more processing, a recommendation, an alternative, customized information, financial analysis, etc.) to it before passing it to their boss — and so forth.  By the time the decision-maker has the information it has benefited from the addition of several layers of add-ons that make the decision making simple: choose one of a few options, all well (OK, fairly well at least) documented and pre-chewed.

The people in Twitter, traditionally the lower rungs in this corporate ladder of decision making, consume the  information necessary to understand the market, but they don’t prepare the customized information about the industry or organization when doing so (from my experience, fewer than 20 percent of product or solution searches are carried out in customized fashion; that is done later).  Those added layers of information and customization provided by their bosses are focused on the industry and or the organization itself.  That is their value add as it climbs the ladder.

The committee model is not very different, with the exception that it is more social – the people in the committee will seek the information, discuss it among themselves, tap into experts where necessary to add more customization or personalized information, and craft a response that will go one or two more layers or approval before getting to the decision makers.  Similar model, but involving more conversations and customization before getting to the people adding the industry and company specific information and fewer, hopefully, layers between information and selection.

It is (anecdotal experience for now but working on a primary research project to solve that) very rare for the decision makers to be in the social channels.  Even in those cases where they are, the time availability to find and understand all the necessary information is beyond their available resources – they may never notice the content created for the situation they are involved in – even in cases where the committee or the lower-level workers point out the existence of the content.

Going back to the question that prompted this post (and giving you the comments area below) – if you cannot reach the people making the decision — why are you on Social Channels?  Is reaching the influencers and recommenders sufficient? Can you reconcile the organizagtion’s roles and  responsibilities — with your needs and desires? Can you prove the value of presence in social channels by the reach/distribution/velocity of the sames in contrast? Is this enough justification?

How are you doing this, how are you making these decisions — how are yo making it work in your organization? Would love to hear your thoughts on this…

update: Jon Reed, a fellow Enterprise Irregulars and accomplished blogger, exceptional video-blogger, and very smart and nice guy sent me a link to his piece on how SAP Influencers are affected by Social Media.  Timely, relevant, and very well done.  Link: http://www.jonerp.com/content/view/399/75/

8 thoughts on “Question: Why Are You In Social Channels?”

  1. 3 quick thoughts that come to mind:
    1- Who says all decision makers are not in twitter or social-media active? I work with mid size and large businesses, I follow all my client’s and prospect’s CEO’s, CMO’s and so on, they are in twitter and Linkedin and many of them are very active, often accompanied by a personal or corporate blog. Maybe the Enterprise level decision makers are not active in social media, but the ones I’m interested on are, because they live within the same social-business-ecosystem as my business does; plus they make up a very large percentage of the market I target.
    2- People who don’t make decisions today will be decision makers in the future, sometimes the near future, start today to grab their attention and possibly create rapport; specially if you plan for your business to last long.
    3- Being present in social media, at the level most appropriate for your size and resources, might not have a justifiable clear and measured ROI, but it definitely beats not being there at all where your investment is nothing and so is your return.

  2. For large enterprises, its a fair statement that decision makers, defined as those that are setting the strategy and writing the checks are not active in social media (I did a 3rd grade analysis last month looking at the personal social media participation of heads of Temkin’s most trusted companies and found 1 out of 20 that had any meaningful participation).

    And, I assume we’re talking about this in the context of marketing and selling to these companies. So, in that context, social channels can and should be part of your mix (anyone remember that from Marketing 101? channel mix?). And event his comes with a disclaimer. The question remains the same. Be there if your customers are there. If someone, somewhere in the evaluation/decision tree is out there on twitter following some hashtag to pick up preliminary research or other type of evaluation information, then give it to them. As in any channel strategy decision, you need to look at the effort and return of leveraging that channel for your particular business.

    Marketers and sales people should be asking the same questions of twitter as they do for print, tv, direct mail, web…There is no one question and answer “why” or “why not”. It’s why, for my business, my product, at this time, considering the alternatives, opportunity costs, customer profile, decision processes, potential returns, etc.

  3. For Companies B2C or B2B models, they need to be where their target consumers/customers are, in a social, unconventional manner, not hard selling. Companies need to listen, engage and connect not pushing sales. They need to participate, gather information to convert to insights and then into actions or needed products.

    Engagement is about bi-directional communications, relations, understanding and discovery. Decisiones will not come from a specific channel, but surely will help bringing potential business to self managed communities and corporate sites/Blog were companies can manage and deliver content as opossed to the Social Networks alone.
    Influence and actions should be valued and rewarded and relationships need to be developed for Business to blossom.

  4. Hi Esteban,
    As always, great stuff. One of the things I am very interested in is how the whole social genre is going to change how businesses function. And the reality is that software providers will, to a large extent, determine how this is happening now, and what it will look like in the future. Most all of us working within this space, whether we have backgrounds in CRM, ERP, or whatever, look at the emergence of social business as a process whereby social technologies might provide better collaboration, closer ties, and efficiency perks to current processes/best practices. But I think the jury is out on what the unintended consequences of social business might look lie in the near future. Those who may believe that decision makers are immune to persuasion via social channels need to understand that CEOs, CIOs, and the like may not be participating, but they are most certainly consuming.
    Marty

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