Posted September 26, 2011 10:39 am by with 3 comments

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With all of the focus that has been placed on Facebook lately (and for good reason since they are changing the rules of the social media game) it’s important not to lose sight of the B2B segment of the social media marketplace.

It’s quite easy for social media pundits and the like to dismiss B2B uses of the Twitter, Facebook etc because it’s not the sexy side of social media. Well, like many things in this life, just because it’s not all shiny and pretty doesn’t mean it’s not effective. In fact, our obsession with all things glitzy and polished often blinds us to areas where things actually work. The B2B social media space is one of those.

A recent report shows just how one “unsexy” player, LinkedIn, stomps Facebook in its level of importance in the purchasing research process for B2B companies. Take a look from the data from TriComB2B and the University of Dayton’s School of Business Administration as reported by eMarketer.

So why do you suppose this is the case? The obvious answer is that LinkedIn is for professionals and the B2B space is for professionals. That’s correct but it’s likely to be more than that. This research speaks to the often “flighty” nature of a large open social network like Facebook versus one that is more direct in its mission.

Facebook users are not very deep engagers when it comes to brands. They like things then leave them for dead unless a deal comes along. To think that a “Like”, or whatever it is now, on Facebook for a brand is a sworn allegiance to that brand or even a recognition of wanting to follow that brand more closely is naïve. Many want us to believe that people who like brands on Facebook are pledging a vested interest in that brand. That’s a ridiculous notion considering the depth of most Facebook “business” interactions.

The following chart helps to further understand just why a site like LinkedIn has more value to the professional / B2B customer.
Informal contacts on LinkedIn are defined more by the industry they are in and their level of expertise than on Facebook. Brand interaction on Facebook is more transactional whereas information gathering on LinkedIn is about, well, information.

So people trust informal contacts in their industry. Where would they go for that? Facebook? Not likely. LinkedIn and maybe (right now it’s a big maybe) Twitter. The likelihood of this dynamic staying in place for the foreseeable future is evidenced by Facebook’s huge announcements last week. Did any of those announcements talk about a business’ presence on Facrbook? Nope. Those announcements were about getting deeper into the existing user base and their psyche so that advertisers could know when to be in front of the right people at the right moment.

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If we could all just take a step back and look here it is obvious where a competitive opportunity lies for other social networks. It’s in the B2B world and taking it beyond a consumer only approach. If Google+ wanted to really see their user base grow they should go after those looking to leverage social media for their business and in the B2B space. Going head to head with Facebook for individual identities right now is a long shot. Where Facebook is weak is with the business side of social networking. If you are trying to slay a dragon do you hit it on the hardened protective shell on top or the soft white underbelly? Facebook’s soft white underbelly is the business side of social networking and they admitted as much last week by concentrating on individuals rather than businesses.

Has Facebook laid all its cards on the table thus showing where they are going to concentrate their efforts moving forward? Did last week’s announcements along with their discontinuation of their Deals offering and the deemphasizing of place tell others just where their focus lies? I think so.

What’s your take?

  • Frank, excellent points. I have been urging my clients, B2B for the most part, to focus more of their social attention on LinkedIn for many of the reasons you list in your post. One aspect to LinkedIn that you left out, and relates well to some of your points, is the company profile. I have been amazed at how few businesses don’t take advantage of what amounts to a free micro-site for their company on LinkedIn. It’s a great opportunity to make available some of that information their prospects are looking for. Of course I don’t mean to undermine your point regarding the value of personal relationships, but the company profile can be powerful addition for a lot of B2B companies.

  • Robin Sherman

    Interesting IF it was valid research. Articles about research results should always have a discussion about the research methodology. Minimally, the following questions must be answered.

    Who was surveyed?
    What was the universe size, sample size and response rate?
    What was the confidence level?
    What was the margin of error?
    What was the P (probability) value?

  • Frank, your take on the research is excellent. Thank you for taking a deeper dive on the implications of our findings. Your connection of informal industry contacts as an important information resource and the relative popularity of LinkedIn compared to Facebook in B2B is spot on. In addition to using LinkedIn as an information resource, we’re now seeing clients engage in targeted advertising on LinkedIn with good success – an even greater indication that they see value and credibility in this forum.

    A quick demographic note on use of LinkedIn for gathering purchase information. Senior execs, owners and engineers were approximately twice as likely to use LinkedIn in this manner compared to those in operations or purchasing. Not unexpectedly, respondents from the Information Technology sector were most likely to use LinkedIn for this purpose. Those from Energy-related industries were least likely. You can find some industry-specific supplements to this report at