It's no good just opening a Facebook page and writing a few tweets, today enterprises need to become 'social businesses' but what does this mean in the B2B context? Dave Howell reports

There is no denying that social media has profoundly impacted all businesses. Much that has been written about social media has been within the B2C context. But as social media reaches more B2B companies, these corporations are realising that they need to ‘socialise’ their enterprises if they are to remain competitive and stay relevant and dynamic within their market sectors.

Social media has transformed the personal relationships of millions across the world, and a similar affect is being felt within business too. “Interacting online with colleagues, customers, prospects, and candidates is largely how business gets done today,” stated the iPass Mobile Workforce report. “The use of social media is an excellent way to make and nurture these connections.”

However, companies in the B2B sector often don’t use the social networks available to them with anything near optimum efficiency and don’t have a well-defined roadmap to socialise their businesses. According to research by Satmetrix and Net Promoter 60% of businesses do not have an integrated social media strategy.

The last six months have seen a big increase in the use of Twitter and Facebook while YouTube and corporate blogging activity remains steady.

By The Numbers

56% of FTSE100 companies now have an official Twitter account, up almost 25% in six months and 40% since this time last year.

38% have an official Facebook presence, up more than 50% since December.

44% have an official YouTube channel, a slight increase over six months but up a third since November 2009.

Nine companies are active on all four channels, up from seven companies six months ago.

30% are active on three or more channels, up 17% in six months, while 46% use at least two channels, up from 40% in December.

34% have no social media presence but that figure has dropped from 46% six months ago.

Source The Group



In addition, 67% of companies don’t measure or quantify social media – increasing to 75% for B2B companies. And for those that do have some form of quantification, 56% just count the comments and followers. Only 4% have any form of sentiment analysis.

“Businesses recognize the need for a social media strategy, however many are challenged in putting an effective strategy in place,” said Richard Owen, chief executive officer, Satmetrix. “While 77% of consumers post about products, 67% of businesses have no means of measuring what is being said, and less than one in 20 have any insight into the sentiment of what is being said. This is both a huge threat and a massive lost opportunity. Not only are companies running the risk of losing customers by not addressing their issues shared online, but they are also walking past the opportunity to capitalize on positive comments made on the social web.”

For B2B enterprises moving their operations to embrace social media will clearly have a major commercial benefit for their entire company. Social businesses are now not just about Facebook likes or Twitter followers, but how companies interact with their customers right across their business’ landscape.

Social business


Companies in their B2B sector can also use their commercial partners to develop the social aspects of their businesses. Dell for instance now offers its customers social media training that Dell describes as “to help our partners fully leverage social media tools to improve the lines of communication while elevating their own marketing efforts.”



To develop a meaningful and commercially rewarding social media enterprise, B2B companies have to move away from the departmentalisation of social media as just marketing for PR exercises, and embrace the social networks right across their businesses. Social media today needs to be part of the DNA of every B2B organisation. Only those companies that have aligned social media with their core business plans and expansion goals will see the rewards from becoming a social media business.

Global Dawn defines social business as: “The creation of shared value for everybody in a business value chain, including the customer and the communities they live in, online or offline. Social business has evolved from multiple sources and is taking business in a new direction. From the development of micro-finance to today’s customer ecosystems, shared value and social business is all about empowering people and creating a more collaborative human-centred business environment.”

B2B companies that can develop their own social ecosystems aimed specifically at their market sector will move their businesses into the social space and make closer personal connections with customers and commercial partners alike – something that is at the heart of what it means to be a social business today.

“From our 2011 Global Chief Marketing Officer Study, we learned organizations are still focused primarily on understanding markets, not individual customers,” stated the latest CEO Study from IBM. “More than 80% of CMOs rely on market research and competitive benchmarking to make strategic decisions. While these traditional sources of information are still valuable, they offer little insight into individual customers. In contrast, blogs, consumer reviews and other unstructured online sources can reveal customer sentiment at a personal level, in context. However, relatively few CMOs are exploiting these new sources: only 26% track blogs, only 42% track third-party reviews and only 48% track consumer reviews.”

Andrew Yates, CEO, Artesian Solutions says: “Smart businesses have realised that today’s customers have all the power; they are connected and empowered and leading a social revolution. As a result, modern businesses need to be agile, engaged and transparent in order to engage with both clients and prospects. Key to achieving this goal is the ability to integrate new technologies and social media into commercial strategies. Only then can businesses listen to their customers effectively and better understand where the opportunities or issues exist.”

And does developing a social business in the B2B sector differ from developing a social business in the B2C sector? Julian Heerdegen, CRM Evangelist at SugarCRM commented:

Julian Heerdegen, CRM Evangelist at SugarCRM“The biggest difference for now is that B2Bs and B2Cs typically have a presence on different types of channels. B2B social business will take place – in large part – on global professional networks such as LinkedIn or in strong local contenders like Xing in Germany and Viadeo in France. B2C social business, engagement and visibility will largely take place in mass channels like Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube, so those developing a social B2C program should focus their efforts on these types of channels. That said, once a B2B social business initiative is past the development phase, it is entirely reasonable to broaden a conversation that may have started in a professional network to a channel where consumers are like Facebook or YouTube, thereby creating a bigger impact.”

B2B connections


Becoming a social business also now means leveraging the commercial relationships that B2B enterprises already have. Social media in the B2C sector has shown how powerful social connections can be for brand advocacy. For B2B companies that want to socialise their enterprises this will often mean not doing this alone. As social means just that: developing a business that reaches out to its customers and partners, B2B enterprises are forging new relationships as their businesses socialise.

Partnering, of course, introduces new kinds of risk. In a world of increased transparency and instantly disseminated social media, organizations are often judged by their partners’ actions, not just their own. The practices of any part of a globally distributed supply chain can tarnish even the most highly regarded brands.

Ross Breadmore, a consultant at NixonMcInnes Says Ross Breadmore, a consultant at NixonMcInnes: “The enterprise must consider why it’s looking to become ‘social’ – is it to sell services, learn about new products, help customers, or something else? Once this question is answered the enterprise can begin to create social spaces, profiles perhaps that suit the above objectives. With this, new roles, processes and cultural norms will be required to deal with the various and considerable inputs that social can bring.”

With Dan Zucker, social media manager at AutoDesk commenting: “Initially, we viewed social media as a tool to help drive brand awareness and post purchase activities. As a company that has traditionally been focused on the B2B space, applying social media to demand generation activities seemed inaccessible. We’ve now seen tangible instances of social media playing a much more prominent role in demand generation activities such as events and promotional offerings. For example, our Americas field marketing team recently created a video about our Amazingly Easy promotion, which was widely distributed through Autodesk owned social accounts.”

Artesian Solutions’ Andrew Yates concluded: “Social business has the potential to put an end to the large faceless corporations of the past, with smart organisations starting to realise the opportunities that social media offers for building customer relationships. By being able to filter through the huge volume of information that is being generated online, and turn this data into actionable insight about customers and prospects, businesses will be able to anticipate buyers’ needs and engender brand loyalty like never before.  As a result, we anticipate the future of social business in the B2B sector will continue to grow in importance and actually become vital to the success of all organisations.”

Xabier Ormazabal, Director of Product Marketing, salesforce.com With Xabier Ormazabal, Director of Product Marketing, salesforce.com concluding: “The responsibility lies with everyone in the organisation. For the social enterprise to become a reality, everyone within the organisation must be in a social mindset. While technology can play in a role in terms of opening up the platforms over which conversations can occur, it merely facilitates our innate human ability to communicate.”

Being a social business is now a prerequisite for success in the B2B sector as the IBM CEO Study succinctly pointed out: “The CEOs of B2B organizations were also quick to note that social media is not just a business-to-consumer phenomenon. As a U.K. CEO from the media and entertainment industry pointed out, “Our B2B customers are also consumers of social media; you cannot split the two.” And an electronics industry CEO from Japan described how his organization is helping B2B customers innovate by “incorporating the end user’s voice directly into product development.”

B2B organisations can see that social media in the B2C sector has transformed customer relationships. Socialising their businesses now will ensure that B2B companies can tap into this rich vein of relationships that are set on a huge upward trajectory.

Q&A


Stuart McRae, Collaboration & Social Business Evangelist, IBM UK

Stuart McRae, Collaboration & Social Business Evangelist, IBM UKQ What does being ‘social’ mean in the B2B context?

A Organisations have quickly learned that a social business isn't a company that just has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. It's one that actively uses social networking and social media technologies to build relationships between its employees, partners and customers to produce better business outcomes. A social business means that every department in the organisation uses social networking the way it uses any other tool and channel to do its work. It's an organisation that integrates social networking tools into its traditional business processes to fundamentally impact how work gets done to create business value. A social business utilises social software technology to communicate with its ecosystem of clients, business partners and employees.

Social business is a strategic approach to shaping a business culture, highly dependent upon transparency and trust from executive leadership and corporate strategy, including business process design, risk management, leadership development, financial controls and use of business analytics. Social business drive engagement that helps the organisation deepen customer relationships, generate new ideas faster, identify expertise, enable a more effective workforce and ultimately drive its bottom line. The result is a nimble, agile business that outperforms its competition.

Q What are the key steps to ‘socialise’ a B2B enterprise?

A Companies must make sure that employees can work productively regardless of location, organisational silos, time or device - not just with business applications, but also with their colleagues and partners. Managers must have instant access to data that allows them to match the right people with the right skills and with the right projects, regardless of title or rank or salary level. Teams need to be able to come together quickly on demand and disband when no longer needed. Communities of expertise should form organically as needed, rather than according to organisational structures. Employees need quick access to relevant and timely information, and ways to easily share their knowledge effectively across the whole organisations.

Q Where do you think responsibility for the social aspects of a B2B enterprise should reside? Who should be driving this aspect of the business?

A Social collaboration is something that will eventually pervade all aspects of a business, from marketing to manufacturing, sales to human resources, executives to the shop floor.

Today, ownership tends to reside in the part of the organisation that is fastest to recognise the value social business brings. Sometimes it is marketing because of the need to use external social media and sentiment monitoring. Sometimes it is HR or communications to improve talent management or staff morale. Sometimes it is manufacturing to improve business processes and time to market, or sales to increase revenues. In one case, a Vice President for the customer took ownership as an overarching initiative to serve customers better.

Ownership may depend on the biggest challenges the organisation faces, but the most important thing is that it resides at a senior level, where its ability to improve all parts of the business can be recognized.

Q Can you point to any B2B enterprises that are getting ‘social’ right?

A Omron, an organisation helping to automate machines and factories all over the world, has created an award-winning business intranet based on IBM technology helping to create a single-source communication and collaboration platform for all European employees, helping boost innovation and creativity.

Slumberland Furniture stores have 125 geographically dispersed retail locations in the U.S., has created SlumberLink, a business intranet that gives all 2,300 Slumberland employees centralised access to pertinent, up-to-date information and functional applications. Role-based access by department and store allow employees to easily find relevant, up-to-date information previously printed in the store operations manual, including areas such as human resources, sales administration, merchandising and marketing. Video content is uploaded, stored and delivered to assist in training initiatives.

Berlitz a global education company has created an enterprise-wide intranet that leverages social networking and collaboration technologies. The organization as transformed a regionalised operation into an agile, global company able to deploy higher quality educational offerings for 12,000 HR employees around the world.

Q How does developing a social business in the B2B sector differ from developing a social business in the B2C sector?

A In the B2C sector, social business strategy is often driven by marketing's need to use social media as a marketing channel and the social networks to engage with customers. Internal social collaboration then emerges later as a business need to allow the organisation to respond to the demands of customers it is engaging with through social channels.

In the B2B sector, social business strategy often starts with the need to improve how the organisation responds to their customers, rather than how it interacts with its customers. Internal expertise location, knowledge sharing and community building dominate as ways to improve business outcomes and so customer experiences. To do this effectively, it is often also necessary to extend use of social collaboration to partners.

There is also a trend starting to emerge in the B2B sector when the customers start to adopt social business. They then begin to prefer suppliers that embrace social channels, driving the change upstream.

Q What does the future of social business in the B2B sector look like?

A Over time, social business will become simply Business. The external channels and internal tools for social media, social networking and social collaboration that dominate the conversation today, will be simply integrated into the toolsets that organisations use to do business. The big change will not come from the tools themselves, but from the way they enable organisations to take the principles of engagement, transparency and nimbleness to new levels, improving the customer experience and internal organisational effectiveness.

Ultimately all business is driven by one imperative: to serve their customers better than their competition. Externally, social business provides new ways for companies to understand their market and engage with their customers. Internally, social business lets them use that understanding to create better products, faster; to resolve customer problems, faster; and to improve their business processes, and make them faster too.