B2B buyers have very high social participation

Latest from a social media favorite: blogs.forrester.com
by Josh Bernoff

Today we are publishing our research on one of the most active groups of people I’ve ever seen when it comes to social participation — buyers in the business-to-business sector.

This research report, “The Social Technographics of Business Buyers,” was published by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young in our Technology Industry/B2B group; you can access the full report if you’re a Forrester client. Or anyone can register to hear the replay of Laura’s Webinar on the topic.

Just as we survey consumers, Forrester also surveys business buyers. We use the POST method and the same Social Technographics Profile to review buyers’ behavior — in this case it’s over 1200 buyers in American and European countries. But the difference here is, we can ask, not just how people participate in these social technologies, but whether they use them to make buying decisions.

The results were startling, to say the least.

The Social Technographics Profile of technology decision-makers

Some highlights from this research (start by looking at the right two columns):

  • 91% of these technology decision-makers were Spectators — the highest number I’ve ever seen in a Social Technographics Profile. This means you can count on the fact that your buyers are reading blogs, watching user generated video and participating in other social media. Note that 69% of them said they were using this technology for business purposes.
  • Only 5% are non-participants (Inactives).
  • 55% of these decision-makers were in social networks (Joiners) — despite that, as mature businesspeople and not college students, you’d think they’d be participating a lot less.
  • 43% are creating media (blogs, uploading videos or articles, etc.), and 58% are critics, reacting to content they see in social formats. Again, the numbers are very high compared to other groups we’ve surveyed, and again the level of participation for business purposes is also very high.

What does this mean for you? If you’re a B2B marketer, and you’re not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you’re late. We’ve seen a lot of excellent activity here from the likes of Dell and National Instruments (both won Forrester Groundswell awards), but a lot of the blogs, communities, and other social outreach from business to business companies is less than mature, to say the least. This is your chance to stand out. Take this report and show it to your boss to convince her that it’s time to get started.

The report includes some good recommendations for B2B buyers, including the following:

  • Note that buyers use social technology, but don’t rate it highly in terms of its influence on their buying decisions. This, despite the fact that count on peers’ opinions to make decisions. I think this reflects that people haven’t gotten used to this sort of information as a key input in buying decisions. This will change, especially as better applications come on line.
  • Social applications should be integrated into other marketing. For example, National Instruments makes technical content from its customer community central in its marketing activity — this is a model other B2B sellers should follow.
  • Reach out to people by role — people with the same job description form natural communities. This is a technique IBM SOA marketer Sandy Carter has described in her book “The Language of Marketing 2.0

There’s a lot more in the report, and you can also find B2B social insights from thinkers like Paul Gillin and Chris Herbert. Given the high degree of participation, I think B2B marketers will continue to lead in social media marketing.