In 2010 social media made huge advances in B2B companies, but based on our review of our 2010 predictions, the adoption curve was not as steep as we anticpated. There have been lots of surveys indicating that spending on social media will grow, so we will not predict that, because we already know it is happening.
Many of our predictions for 2011 are about the next stage of social media for B2B companies, and those who can incorporate these ideas will be more successful in the coming year. It is unclear what the adoption will be of these next stage strategies, but it is clear that B2B companies that can implement their social media programs with these in mind will be well ahead of the competition.
December 2011 Update: At the end of the year, we have reviewed our predictions and added an updated comment to each. In general it seems that some B2B companies started moving forward with social media initiatives, but many of these conservative-minded companies did not embrace it with the gusto of their B2C cousins. Read on for the details.
1. Mobile, Mobile, Mobile
With 4.6 billion cell phones in use around the world, this prediction is not too hard to make. The mobile experience will become even more important with the continued growth of smartphones. As people continue to engage on social networks on their mobile phones, companies will need mobile versions of their web sites that are easily shareable with those networks. Company sites must formatted for multiple devices and provide mobile relevant content. Offer customers product reviews, dealer locations and other information that can be useful while on the go.
December 2011 Update: Mobile continued to grow, as expected, and some B2B companies began experimenting with different mobile tactics, including QR codes, but B2B companies did not focus on making their websites mobile friendly.
2. Open APIs Support Information Portability
Information will become more portable and the importance of open APIs will become clear to many B2B companies. Just like Twitter’s early success was based on opening their datastream to developers for their own use, more and more internal applications will offer the ability to pull information together for a clearer picture of the organization. Siloed information is not the future.
December 2011 Update: Some applications provided API access for their customers to use their data in more powerful ways, but this was not fully utilized by B2B companies for better reporting and analysis.
3. Collect, Analyze and Visualize Data
Once APIs are in place (see above), companies will start doing a better job collecting and analyzing data from their social platforms. It will no longer be okay to present long spreadsheets of data or bullet-pointed presentations. These numbers-based approaches exist to justify social media, and that type of reporting has passed. Look for data to be presented in more visual manners, even beyond charts and graphs, but in word clouds, visualizations and infographics. These more compelling reports are easier for all levels of an organization to understand and absorb.
December 2011 Update: With the explosion of infographics as content both on the web and in mainstream publications, you could almost call 2011 the Year of the Infographic. But B2B companies did not take this to heart and incorporate data visualization principles into their business reporting. We still saw lots of line graphs and pie charts on people’s desks.
4. Share Compelling Stories
2011 will see storytelling come into its own. As more companies adopt social media as a way to connect with customers, they will begin developing compelling stories to share that message. This also signals a skill set shift in communication professionals away from those who excel at creating and distributing traditional marketing messages and press releases and focuses on those who can use a variety of multimedia tools to tell memorable and emotional stories. Every message shared on a social media platform is another piece of that larger story.
December 2011 Update: Successful B2B companies who understood the value of storytelling made a bigger connection with their customers, although many companies are still trying to break out of their product-based shells.
5. Continued Growth of Social Search
The importance of search engines, primarily Google and Bing, is already huge for B2B decision makers, and it’s hard to imagine the expansion of that, but in 2011 search and social will come closer together. Look for search engines to do a better and more relevant job of providing results from across our social networks and to add a social sharing component to search results. As companies look to provide value to customers, why not share search results that show the company in the context of the industry and competitors.
December 2011 Update: The growth of social search was huge in 2011 and B2B marketers learned the value of incorporating their social graph into business networks. Google+ is an important part of this growth, but leveraging the large number of connections on Facebook and LinkedIn is key as well.
6. Expanded Forums of Social Communications
While the big three platforms of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn will continue to reign supreme for most B2B companies, niche industry sites and forums will become more important this year. Companies are learning to communicate with users in more authentic and transparent ways, and this will pay off as they get more involved in these conversations.
December 2011 Update: It is hard to determine the success of these forums, but some like Focus.com certainly increased their prominence in 2011. This expertise site features more than 1 million members and over 5,000 business and technology experts asking and answering questions.
7. The Year of Conversions
If 2010 was the year of social media interest and adoption for many B2B companies, 2011 will be the year that companies refine their approach to social media, provide clear calls to action on their messaging and drive leads and sales as a measure of success. Online marketing is more trackable than any other paid media approach, and social media is part of that. While tracking growth of reach and other softer metrics has been the common approach, more companies will start to show conversions from social media marketing. Social CRM will play an important role in tracking and achieving these conversions.
December 2011 Update: 2011 was the very early stages of social media conversions for B2B companies. Some began laying the ground work for this to happen in the coming year.
8. Customer Service is More Social Than Marketing
More than even, customer service reps are the front lines of a company and they need to be socially savvy. Reps will understand that every response can be broadcast to a wider audience. Companies watching social media sites for disgruntled customers will have procedures in place to quickly repsond, as many social media complaints occur after no response, or poor response, from using traditional customer service channels. Social CRM will also play a role here too, as saving money is another metric of social media success.
December 2011 Update: This was one of the huge advances in social media for B2B companies. Many companies understood that they needed to listen for and respond to customer service requests on social channels.
9. Daily Deals and Group Buying Change Pricing Models
While 2010 saw the beginnings of daily deals and group buying benefits in the B2B space, the changes this will cause in 2011 are deeper than many realize. Since these deals are all public, and in some cases do not happen unless enough people buy them, which encourages social sharing of these deals, this will cause some shifts in pricing paradigms. Many companies offer multiple discounts that can be so convoluted that no one can figure out what anyone else has paid. Some of that will continue, but in this age of transparency, these social deals will drive more open pricing models.
December 2011 Update: With so much upheaval in the daily deals space, including sustainability questions about Groupon’s business model and copycat offers in the B2B space, it remains to be seen if daily deals will have any effect long term. It did not in 2011.
10. Social Media will be More Accepted in the Enterprise
Large enterprise companies represent the biggest dichotomy in social media. Many tech companies are leading the way with social media initiatives and have really incorporated it into many aspects of the business. But at the same time, other companies of similar size continue to block employee access to social media sites because of productivity and security concerns. We are calling this a stretch prediction, like a stretch goal, but we think continued success of other companies and clearly stated policies will help some of these companies open up access as they begin to explore social media options.
December 2011 Update: Some of the most social B2B enterprise companies, like Dell, Cisco and Intel, continued to make social media an important component of the way they do business, but for many large organizations, there is still some reluctance to “go social.”
11. Companies with Limited Results Pull Back from Social Media
And finally, since it can’t all be positive, there will be B2B companies that prematurely discontinue social media efforts because they are not realizing enough value from them. Success can take time, but if social media is under-resourced and viewed as another marketing channel, no amount of time will help. These companies will go back to the sidelines for a wait and see approach until something demands their social media attention again.
December 2011 Update: For some companies that did not see huge wins with social media, they re-focused their marketing efforts on tactics that have been successful in the past, like pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising and trade shows.
What are your thoughts on these predictions and are there other trends you expect to see in B2B social media in 2011?