18 June 2020

For any business, having a social media presence has gone from a nice-to-have to must-have. Our colleague Ewelina Lacka, an expert in digital marketing, offers advice on how firms can use different platforms to retain and attract clients.
Why Business Can No Longer Be Casual About Social Media

Business-to-business (B2B) is an important part of our economy. Firms transact with each other all the time: a food producer sourcing ingredients, a charity employing an auditor, or a clothing store ordering garments.

It was commonplace for these transactions to come about due to physical presence. Travelling to meet potential business partners was one way to develop and maintain relationships. There was already evidence that physical presence could be effectively replicated by reaching out online, but the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated all that. Businesses now have little choice. To survive and indeed thrive means making the most of social media.

A recent research project I worked on analysed a survey of 200 experienced decision-makers in UK-based B2B firms. Half were male, half were female, and all confirmed that they use social media for professional reasons. Respondents worked in a range of sectors including professional services, logistics, and agriculture. They were asked questions about their perceptions of suppliers' social media activity.

We found that a supplier's presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook had a positive impact on key perceptions such as quality and commitment. Crucially, there were differences across the three platforms.

The most popular platforms for business purposes were Twitter, which 71.5% used, and LinkedIn, which 67.5% used. Facebook was way down at 38.5%.

Even a casual glance at the different platforms will tell you they are different. Twitter is for quick links to breaking news, responding to queries, and sharing humour, while LinkedIn is a much more formal, professional network of contacts. Facebook is social, for keeping connected to family, friends, and communities.

What the decision-makers made clear to us was that the most significant influence on their commitment to a supplier was its presence on LinkedIn. This may be explained by the purpose of LinkedIn, which offers a closer bond than the one-way relationship often found on Twitter and Facebook. The expectation of a supplier having a presence on LinkedIn may also offer a sense of security and transparency.

So, if you're in the B2B game, you should pay particular attention to your presence on LinkedIn, as it will increase customer commitment and perception of your brand as close and available. In general, two-way interaction with suppliers on social media enhances the perception of your quality.

The benefit of maintaining a social media presence is that B2B brands can transfer information to target customer groups and reach customers that might have been unserved due to physical or geographical constraints. What was local or regional can now be truly global.

Building brand relationships via social media is more complicated than simply encouraging more interactions. Responsiveness is particularly important for SMEs, which find it easier to use online communication tools to ask supplier questions, report problems, and express their needs.

A quick health-check of your brand's social media presence should cover three points:

  • Do you have a social media strategy? What could you do to develop your presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? Those are the sites used by customers to follow suppliers' demands.
  • Are you interacting with customers on LinkedIn? This will enhance their commitment to your brand and their perception of your quality.
  • Are you using Twitter to solve customers' queries and problems? This will further enhance their commitment to your brand.

As our economy reshapes in the wake of Covid-19, remote working is likely to be a long-term fixture, so social media is going to be key. Our analysis adds to a growing body of research, strongly suggesting that businesses need purposeful digital strategies.

Firms can no longer be casual about social media. It's time to smarten up.

Ewelina Lacka is a lecturer in Digital Marketing and Analytics at the University of Edinburgh Business School

World of Work