IBM, Microsoft, SAP and other companies might be pouring massive amounts of cash into marketing via social technologies, but according to a new study by Forrester, Web 2.0 techniques aren't what compel a business buyer to purchase a particular solution.
According to the study, some 77 percent of surveyed business decision makers use social media and messaging and collaboration applications on the job, whether publishing a Web page, posting comments or using Facebook.
But when it comes to being swayed to spend their dollars on business technology, 84 of the surveyed decision makers were more likely to rely on word of mouth from peers and colleagues, while 45 percent said they were swayed by forums, online communities and social networks.
"Like bright, shiny objects glistening in the sun, new social tools catch marketers' attention but cause them to look away from buyers' needs and business objectives," the report stated. "B2B [business to business] marketers succeed when they first understand how buyers approach Social Computing and then design programs that map their business objectives to buyers' social proclivities."
The report suggests several reasons for marketers' disconnect, including lack of social media experience, rapid technology changes that have left them playing catch-up, some executives being reluctant to engage with new technology and a simple unawareness of how decision makers use social media.
Nonetheless, the study found that business decision makers use a variety of social media within the context of their jobs:
Some 27 percent reported publishing a blog or Web page, uploading video or music or posting articles online-a group the study termed "Creators."
Another 37 percent, called "Critics," posted reviews of products or services and commented on blogs or online forums.
Another 29 percent, "Collectors," used RSS feeds, voted for Web sites and added tags to Web pages. Also at 29 percent were the "Joiners," who utilized Facebook or other social networking sites.
A full 69 percent, deemed "Spectators," participated more passively in online activities by reading blogs and forums and online reviews, listening to podcasts, and watching video uploaded by others.
Another 23 percent were "Inactives" who did not participate in any of these online activities for work purposes.
In sum, these decision makers are more active with regard to social media than the general population-and yet, the study asserts, marketers still have problems reaching out to them via technology.
"I think [B2B] marketers are conservative, and this conservatism comes from a lot of areas," Laura Ramos, an analyst with Forrester and co-author of the study, said in an interview. "They don't have a lot of experience with these newer capabilities and tactics, so they don't know what a good e-mail marketing campaign looks like, or if they should be spending more on Webinars or putting ads on Facebook."
Ramos added, "Because there's less of a track record, they struggle and throw their hands up and say, 'I'm going to go with what I know.' With new social media, you know people are doing it, and it sounds like a good idea, but you can't just throw up a blog and expect to get solid leads in the pipeline."
Fortunately, the study also makes some recommendations for marketers looking to get a message before the eyes of decision makers.
The first is to "fill in buyer-and buying process-knowledge gaps" to see which buyers purchase IT solutions and whether social media is a viable avenue through which to pursue them. After that comes modeling behavior, followed by integrating social media into the marketing mix.
The last step for marketers and solution sellers is, perhaps inevitably, to prepare to accept criticism. "Encouraging social community participation is an inexact, unclear process, so expect mistakes and painful lessons along the way," the report warned. Indeed.