Why B2B tech marketers have trouble assessing social media ROI

I recently received an email from Adobe (Omniture) promoting a Forrester research report entitled: "How to Assess the Value of Social Media in B2B Marketing Measuring the impact of blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter." The report is written by Forrester's Laura Ramos (on Twitter at @lauraramos) who I admire. She writes frequently about social media ROI and also B2B marketing.

I find it fascinating that Forrester put out a report that directly describes my job function and the space in which I work. Not only do I focus on social media marketing -- using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to promote my company's services -- but we also target IT decision makers, roles such as CIOs, Directors of IT, IT Manager, project managers, etc. and this is all under the umbrella of B2B marketing.

Also, good timing, considering just yesterday, my short presentation at the Integrated Marketing Summit here in Saint Louis focused almost exclusively on how exactly you can utilize social media in the B2B space to drive ROI - results.

I downloaded this free report and will share some highlights and my thoughts with you. These are four key ways that B2B marketers are looking at social media marketing and how they are assessing the value of it:

  1. B2B marketers are unsure about how much time and money to invest in social media marketing internally or with agencies. This makes sense, since the ROI is very difficult to calculate. (More on that in a bit).The study quotes a Director of Marketing: "My marketing resources are finite, so every dollar or hour I put into social must come from somewhere else. How do I figure out where all of this fits in my marketing mix and campaign plans?"
  2. Social marketing programs that don’t focus on a specific audience and objective get preoccupied with the tools and fail to connect with customers.Oooh, this is a really good one. It's so true. Too many companies "want to be in social media" or feel like they "have to be on Facebook" or "must try out this Twitter thing" and they end up creating profiles or blogs and turning them into online graveyards. Internal bloggers lose interest and get tied up with work. Most of our competitors, in fact, have blogs live that haven't been published to in months! My boss and I put together a strategy a year ago that included a plan to maintain frequent updates to each of these sites and our blogs, and ideas for putting out compelling content. We've kept to that plan, and when it gets difficult to find the resources to provide relevant, insightful content about enterprise IT, we find a way to get it done.

  3. B2B firms — more than half in a recent Forrester survey — react by spinning up poorly planned ad hoc programs with little organizational structure, process, or governance for support. It's interesting to me that Forrester found so many companies struggling with organizing their social media efforts properly, streamlining accountability, and focusing their strategy. My company decided last year to hire a dedicated Social Media Marketing Manager. Maybe that is what it takes to keep things organized. As a result, I don't feel like we've run into this problem. There aren't too many people stepping on each others' toes here. We do have a lot of experts internally who want to contribute to our social media efforts: See this active portals blog or see these recently homemade videos from one of our architects. When they want to get involved, we embrace it and encourage it, and my job is to facilitate their ability to get it out to our social media channels.
  4. Few marketers say that they can measure the impact of social activity on sales lead productivity or quality and Few gain new leads, or customer advocates, from social pursuits. This is a common concern I hear throughout social media marketing discussions. "...many B2B
    marketers treat social media like an outbound communications channel, and our research highlights the consequences of this choice." 

Social media marketers should be saying to themselves, "Okay, we've engaged in social media, we 'get' Twitter and Facebook, and we know who our audience on these sites is. We are ready to start driving sales and leads now. How are we going to do it?" I am already starting to see the conversation shifting, both internally at my company as we have been heavily engaged on social media sites for over a year now, and also within the space across blogs and Twitter.

Now that we all understand how these sites work and how our target audience is choosing to use it to engage with us as brands, we can shift the discussion internally toward how to leverage that audience's attention and turn it into driving more interest in buying products and services. More importantly, as we establish online relationships with our target market, how can we identify their "need" for our services at the right time and introduce our solution in a way that doesn't "push" or "over-sell"? We are beginning to shift our strategic goals for social media marketing from "drive brand awareness" toward "drive leads" and ultimately aim for a positive ROI in the time and energy being spent in this space.

Forrester then presents a basic model to help tech marketers assess social returns:
  1. Think about business value when defining social objectives
  2. Outline costs and expected benefits
  3. Determine risks and possible gains
  4. Decide how social may impact existing marketing methods
  5. Measure activity and engagement
One other element of the report that stood out to me as a best practice is to "Rigorously develop metrics that correspond to each assessment element." We have invested time and effort in monitoring many metrics related to social media marketing - in fact, almost every metric available on each site or in third party tools that gauge quantity of followers, reach, impact, awareness and engagement.