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Ideas for Leaders #747

B2B Companies Far Behind on Social Media Strategies

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Key Concept

While for B2C companies, using social media to acquire and exchange knowledge with customers and internally is all the rage, new research reveals that many B2B companies fail to see the potential of social media – and even when some managers see the potential, the company fails to provide support for social media initiatives.

Idea Summary

Business-to-business (B2B) companies differ from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies in many ways. B2B company products are often more complex and require greater lead times to produce, there are fewer customers, and because of the complexity of the products, the relationship between customers and suppliers are closer and more personal. For many in B2B industries, these differences explain why communicating through social media internally with customers and externally with suppliers might work for B2C, but not for them. 

A team of researchers confirmed the poor reception of social media technologies in B2B industries through a study of 125 Finnish B2B companies. Using in-depth, structured questionnaires, the team focused on social media adoption in the context of knowledge management: acquiring knowledge from external and internal sources, adapting the knowledge as needed, and disseminating the knowledge throughout the organization. With most B2B products requiring a significant exchange of knowledge with suppliers and with customers, many B2B experts see knowledge management (KM) as an area of great potential for social media technologies.

The study revealed that for knowledge management and to support knowledge-intensive business activities, B2B companies are far more likely to use traditional digital tools than social media tools. Digital tools included digital meeting tools, shared storage space (e.g., Dropbox) and document management systems (e.g., Lotus Notes). Social media tools included blogs, social networking platforms, video sharing (e.g., YouTube) and social office tools, (e.g., Google docs). There were some differences based on sector (electronics and business consulting industries were more likely to use some social media tools), and turnover (higher turnover companies used more social media platforms to connect with customers and suppliers). In the case of interactions with suppliers, companies with a greater number of employees used social media more extensively. 

Other results from the research included:

  • For many of the B2B managers and executives surveyed, there was a significant gap between the potential for social media knowledge management and communication tools in their industry and the actual use of social media that they perceived in their companies. 
  • B2B companies made little effort to integrate social media tools into their organizations. Only 8% of respondents, for example, agreed with the statement, “Management understands and supports social media implementation.” 
  • Exploring why B2B companies were reticent about integrating social media tools, respondents offered a variety of explanations – for example, that a number of other projects were more important or urgent, and that the benefits of social media could not be measured.
  • Looking for potential solutions, the researchers asked respondents to choose among a list of possible answers where they believed social media tools might help their companies, and the best approaches to help companies adopt such tools. The three top contributions social media could make to their organizations, according to respondents, were transferring tacit knowledge, reducing time spent on email and improving knowledge sharing and collaboration. In terms of approaches to help companies apply social media, respondents preferred case studies and benchmarking firms in Finland—a fast track way to help companies learn.

Business Application

The research reveals that there is some awareness on the part of B2B managers of the benefits of social media tools for knowledge acquisition and management, and that that those benefits are not being exploited in their companies. There is little support from companies, especially smaller and medium-sized companies, to integrate social media, however. In fact, a portion of the respondents believed that social media was not even allowed in the company. 

In sum, social media’s function within B2C customer relationship management strategies is well known, but many managers and employees in B2B companies have not recognized the full potential of social media for acquiring external knowledge and disseminating that knowledge internally. 

Managers who want their companies to invest in social media technology have to educate sceptics within the company of the opportunities that social media tools offer. Real world, practical approaches such as case studies might be most effective. The challenge of convincing social media sceptics is especially pronounced for external knowledge; the potential for intra-company communication and knowledge dissemination is more readily accepted.

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Authors

Institutions

Source

Idea conceived

  • January 2019

Idea posted

  • August 2019

DOI number

10.13007/747

Subject

Real Time Analytics