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How to best use social media when conducting B2B market research

How to best use social media when conducting B2B market research

Social media’s relevance in B2B markets

Social networks are primarily seen as platforms for consumers.

But business decision-makers are also present on social media, both in a personal and professional capacity:

  • They are probably present in a personal capacity on networks like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram
  • They are probably present in a professional capacity on LinkedIn, and possibly Twitter
  • Depending on how broadly you want to define ‘social,’ they may be part of specialist online communities or forums. Additionally, they may submit reviews to sites like G2 Crowd or TrustRadius

And social media plays a relatively significant role in the B2B buying process.

The IDC reports that 84% of senior decision-makers are influenced by social media when considering a purchase. For example, 44% of B2B buyers have found potential vendors using the ‘Shared Connections’ function on LinkedIn.

Unsurprisingly, B2B marketers are investing time and budget in social media. 83% of B2B marketers have social media in their marketing mix. And 54% say they’ve generated leads from social media.

How to use social media in B2B market research

In consumer research, social media is primarily used to ‘monitor’ or ‘listen’ to customer sentiment.

Understandably, social listening is not always possible in the world of B2B research. Decision-makers may be present on networks, but relatively few express their professional opinions.

In some industries, it is possible to find online communities (e.g., LinkedIn groups, niche forums) where decision-makers express their views. Even then, the volume of comments is relatively low, so it’s hard to track how perceptions change in real-time.

In those situations, social media monitoring can still help businesses to quickly and cost-effectively:

  • Discover industry trends. For example, you might find forum discussions about a new feature or pain point
  • Explore qualitative perceptions of a product or brand
  • Monitor competitors to understand more about their strategy

When conducting social media listening, it’s critical to follow a few best practices:

  • Don’t try to measure everything. There’s a lot of noise on social media, and you can waste a lot of time trying to understand it all. It is better to select a narrow set of information goals that you want to focus on
  • Try to understand the broader context. Social media posts are easy to take out of context, as you see an excerpt from a more extensive discussion or thought process that may have taken place in private. Before jumping to conclusions, try to understand this broader context

Social media is more than just a tool for monitoring sentiment. Researchers can also use it during the research process.

When conducting quantitative surveys, social media can be used to distribute the survey link among a broad audience without having to resort to a low-quality research panel.

This approach can allow you to gather responses by getting the study in front of a potential respondent when they’re close to the brand or product category covered by the questions.

Sharing the link via social media is typically a cost-effective way of distributing the survey. The only essential cost is the cost of financial incentives to complete the survey. You may want to consider purchasing paid adverts within the network to ensure that you optimize the number of people who see the link, but it’s usually unnecessary.

The downside of distributing the link via social networks is that you cannot guarantee how many responses you will achieve. Additionally, you cannot control who is taking part in the research.

Similarly, social media can be a useful tool when a company is trying to recruit decision-makers for qualitative research.

LinkedIn is an excellent starting point for any project where you need to recruit B2B decision-makers, particularly if you cannot leverage internal lists or knowledge.

Some decision-makers may not have profiles, and others may not log in regularly or have accurate data. Even then, in most industries, LinkedIn is likely to be the biggest and most accurate database for finding potential research participants.

LinkedIn profiles are similar to offline resumes and CVs. The job description may be inflated to make the individual look better, but the job title, company, and location are likely to be accurate 95% of the time. After all, if you lie about those things, someone will find out quickly.
Therefore, when using LinkedIn to find decision-makers, we tend to ignore job descriptions and use the search function to focus on finding individuals who match the locations, job titles, and companies we are interested in.

LinkedIn can also be useful because of the different communities that exist. These communities often make it easy to identify groups of individuals with similar roles, responsibilities, or interests, all of which might be relevant for a project.

Doing all of this allows you to build a pretty large initial data set from which to recruit. At that stage, you can reach out to contacts directly on LinkedIn, or try to contact them off the platform.

Twitter is not seen as a ‘B2B social network’, and it is far less structured, but it has its uses when trying to identify business decision-makers.
Specifically, there are a few features that can help you to find potential interviewees if you know where to look:

  • Twitter Lists. The List function allows Twitter users to create public or private lists of accounts. Some of these available lists act as databases of niche audiences – for example, there are lists of venture capitalists, and game developers – though not every audience is covered. Twitter’s usability means lists can be hard to find. In our experience, the Scoutzen tool can be an easy way to search for different lists
  • Followers/Following. Generally, looking at a Twitter account’s Followers or Following is not that useful, as the lists tend to be full of irrelevant accounts. However, these lists can be helpful in particular scenarios. For example, if you were a marketing agency trying to identify competitors’ customers for a project, you should look at who your competitors are following on Twitter.

In other words, while Twitter isn’t as valuable as LinkedIn, in certain instances, it is worth using.

 

Summary

Social media monitoring is not always possible when you are trying to explore the perceptions of business decision-makers.

But that doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t have its uses in B2B market research.

You can use social channels to distribute quantitative survey links cost effectively.

You can also use social channels to try to recruit decision-makers for qualitative research.

Chris Wells
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