Social media monitoring in B2B markets

Social media monitoring and engagement tracking has joined surveys, focus groups, ethnography and eye tracking as a standard tool in the market researcher’s tool box. As with other tools and approaches there are literally dozens of firms and services to pick from. A simple Google search of “social media moderating” brings back pages vendors, comparison sites, and reviews. In general the social monitoring vendors compete with each other on three broad dimensions. The first is their monitoring or listening platform. Most claim that theirs is the most sophisticated and provides the most accurate measurement of market sentiment. The second is the number of content types tracked by the platform. Some only track popular social media such as Facebook and twitter, while others scan blogs and other content. The third dimension is value added services. Many services rely solely on the software tool and its models and algorithms. These tend to be self-service tools with a lower price points. Others vendors add a layer of human analysis that helps refine and interpret the results.

All of the tools can provide useful insights into the content and tone of the online conversation about a consumer brand. Recent studies estimate that three-quarters of US consumers have Facebook or Twitter accounts. That provides a rich data set for the monitoring tools to shift through and analyze. It is a different story in B2B markets which can limit the viability of social monitoring. Here’s why:

Social media monitoring needs large data sets: The algorithms and models used by social monitoring platforms need large data sets to provide meaningful insights. In general, they require at least 3,000 social mentions of a brand or product in order for the platforms to register the online conversation. This isn’t an issue for most consumer brands. It is a significant issue for most B2B brands. For many B2B brands their entire universe of customers and prospects is less than 3,000 organizations.

B2B social media content: Social monitoring algorithms identify the tonality of the online conversation by identifying positive and negative words or phrases. Consumers tend to use words with clear emotional connotations in their social postings. The words consumers use are analogous to reviews on Amazon or Yelp. Examples include: Love, hate, thrilled, disappointed, annoyed, overpriced, excited, perfect, etc. This is simply not the language that most people use to describe enterprise software, manufacturing equipment, accounting services, etc.

Social media compartmentalization: Many studies show that the majority of people prefer to keep their personal and work digital lives separate. They do not want their professional peers and vendors as part of their social media circles and vice-versa. When they do use social media at work it is typically a way to receive important work related news (e.g. a Tweet from a vendor that supplies are delayed) but they rarely, if ever, post anything online about the vendor. If they do it tends to be relatively neutral information such as information about a trade show or conference they are attending. There are always individual exceptions that stand out and overall social media use is higher in some sectors such as advertising and consulting and with some professions such as marketing.

These three factors limit the viability of social monitoring for many B2B companies for the foreseeable future. In many cases they simply do not have enough customers. In others, regardless of how important and valuable their product or service is to their customers it will never produce the same emotional resonance as a new pair of shoes, new gadget or restaurant.

So what does this mean for B2B marketers? We believe that before investing in social media monitoring, B2B marketers should consider if there is likely to be enough social media chatter in the category and, or market for the monitoring platforms to register the activity. Put another way, what is the likelihood that over 3,000 people are blogging, twitting, and posting on Facebook about your product or category at any given time. B2B marketers should also expect to receive broader metrics than social media monitoring can provide a consumer brand. A B2B brand may only be able to track volume rather than sentiment. Lastly, it means that although social media is an important part of every B2B company’s marketing mix, for the time the being it is a matter of faith, not metrics.