Some misinterpreted my post as being anti-social media (I like that term). Not at all. I continue to increase my own use of social media and think that it will become an increasingly useful marketing tool. But since most A/E firms are just beginning to test the waters, I think it wise to approach social media with realistic expectations.
In that regard, it's worth noting a few limitations:
- Few client decision makers appear to be using social media at this time
- The best social media strategy is content driven, and most A/E firms lack good content
- There are a growing number of companies that are blocking access to social networking sites
Few clients are using social media. No one really seems to disagree with this point. I can't find any data for either our industry or other professional service sectors. But anecdotally, there seems to be broad consensus across the professions that client decision makers generally are not using social media to any substantial degree.
RainToday.com asked professional service buyers what methods they used most to identify and familiarize themselves with service providers. Social media was near the bottom of the list (26%); blogs were dead last (24%). The traditional marketing methods were still by far the most useful to clients.
I've read some who argue that there is still value in reaching "influencers" within client organizations, peer groups, trade associations, and media that are using social media. I won't debate the point. But marketing has traditionally sought out decision makers. If social media aims for a different audience, we ought to at least acknowledge that and craft our strategy accordingly.
On the other hand, some in our industry apparently have used social media in helping them actually secure new work. I'm not aware of the specifics, but I am pretty confident that they represent a small minority. If you're in that group, I'd love to hear how you managed to connect with decision makers.
The best social media strategy is content driven. In my previous post, I referred to a recent study by Business.com that showed that content drives business usage of social media. The top business uses were: attending webinars, listening to podcasts, reading user ratings and reviews, subscribing to feeds from business information and news sites, reading articles and blog posts, and searching for business information.
The problem for most A/E firms is that they have little interesting content to share. So what then will drive traffic to your page or profile on social networking sites? I question the efficacy of the popular "build it and they will come" approach. Good content is what will keep them coming. And that makes effectively using social media much less convenient than many firms are thinking.
More companies are blocking access to social media. I noted in my earlier post a study that found that 54% of companies are blocking access by employees to social networking sites. I recently discovered another study that concluded the number was 76%. This study also found that the number of companies blocking access had grown 20% in just six months in 2009.
Obviously this trend is not a positive one for the continued growth of B2B social media marketing. How much of an impact it will be I can't speculate. Might the trend swing in the other direction once more companies discover the business benefits of social networking sites? I doubt it. There is too much concern these days about potentially disruptive personal use of company computers and networks.
My advice: Don't ignore social media as part of your marketing arsenal. But make it an extension of a content-driven strategy. The fundamentals of effective marketing really haven't changed that much. We now have more means that ever before to deliver our messages. But you still have to have something compelling to say to attract an audience.