Are B2B vendors really benefiting from their social media outreach?

It seems the word ‘Influencer’ is in vogue these days. I keep reading of the term, whether it’s about Twitter scores, teen influentials, presidential campaign ‘influencers’ or, as I concentrate on, business influencers.

It’s not always been the case. Seven years ago when we started Influencer50, and three years ago when we published our book, talking about influencers was a lonely track. I used to say that I couldn’t sell the concept of Influencer Marketing to anyone under 30 years old, and couldn’t fail to sell to anyone over 45. Maybe that’s changing. Senior execs (usually over 45) easily get the importance of Influencers. They’ve been in enough sales situations to see background influencers at work – unofficially advising, cajoling, shaping purchase decisions. Those under 30 typically believed that marketing directly to prospects (customer acquisition), and directly to customers (customer loyalty) was all that was required; that specifically targeting people who would never likely buy from you (influencers) was pointless. I think everyone’s had their eyes opened to the ubiquity of influencers.

Part of that change has been due to the rise of social media. The ease of social ‘sharing’ – whether it’s retweeting someone else’s opinion, recommending the work of others on LinkedIn, or simply reading a review from a complete stranger on Amazon or TripAdvisor – has meant that it’s less of an effort to be ‘influenced’ by others than at any stage in history. Everyone’s voice can now find a powerful, and free, global platform. The issue now is to differentiate the noise from the credible.

The rise of the ‘online influence’ metrics bemuses me. It pre-supposes that those you should be influencing are online – and that’s certainly not a given. In the consumer world Facebook, YouTube and Twitter may all be prevalent, but we see little attention paid to them in the B2B sector. That hasn’t stopped B2B vendors from experimenting with such channels but we see little tangible result. And the vast majority of senior execs are far from convinced. We expect 2012 to be a reality check for many B2B vendors in the social media space. As was drummed into me many years ago, people buy from people – real people, not online personas. And the higher the purchase risk, which usually equates to the higher the sticker price, the more that adage rings true.

Nick Hayes is Founder & Principal at Influencer50 in San Francisco. He is also co-author of the book Influencer Marketing: Who Really Influences Your Customers?