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February 23, 2009

New research: B2B buyers have very high social participation

by Josh Bernoff

Today we are publishing our research on one of the most active groups of people I've ever seen when it comes to social participation -- buyers in the business-to-business sector.

This research report, "The Social Technographics of Business Buyers," was published by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young in our Technology Industry/B2B group; you can access the full report if you're a Forrester client. Or anyone can register to hear the replay of Laura's Webinar on the topic.

Just as we survey consumers, Forrester also surveys business buyers. We use the POST method and the same Social Technographics Profile to review buyers' behavior -- in this case it's over 1200 buyers in American and European countries. But the difference here is, we can ask, not just how people participate in these social technologies, but whether they use them to make buying decisions.

The results were startling, to say the least.


Some highlights from this research (start by looking at the right two columns):

  • 91% of these technology decision-makers were Spectators -- the highest number I've ever seen in a Social Technographics Profile. This means you can count on the fact that your buyers are reading blogs, watching user generated video, and participating in other social media. Note that 69% of them said they were using this technology for business purposes.
  • Only 5% are non-participants (Inactives).
  • 55% of these decision-makers were in social networks (Joiners) -- despite as mature businesspeople and not college students, you'd think they'd be participating a lot less.
  • 43% are creating media (blogs, uploading videos or articles, etc.) and 58% are Critics, reacting to content they see in social formats. Again the numbers are very high compared to other groups we've surveyed, and again the level of participation for business purposes is also very high.

What does this mean for you? If you're a B2B marketer and you're not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you're late. We've seen a lot of excellent activity here from the likes of Dell and National Instruments (both won Forrester Groundswell awards) but a lot of the blogs, communities, and other social outreach from business to business companies is less than mature, to say the least. This is your chance to stand out. Take this report and show it to your boss to convince her that it's time to get started.

The report includes some good recommendations for B2B buyers, including the following:

  • Note that buyers use social technology but don't rate it highly in terms of its influence on their buying decisions. This, despite the fact that count on peers' opinions to make decisions. I think this reflects that people haven't gotten used to this sort of information as a key input in buying decisions. This will change, especially as better applications come on line.
  • Social applications should be integrated into other marketing. For example, National Instruments makes technical content from its customer community central in its marketing activity -- this is a model other B2B sellers should follow.
  • Reach out to people by role -- people with the same job description form natural communities. This is a technique IBM SOA marketer Sandy Carter has described in her book "The Language of Marketing 2.0"

There's a lot more in the report, and you can also find B2B social insights from thinkers like Paul Gillin and Chris Herbert. Given the high degree of participation, I think B2B marketers will continue to lead in social media marketing.


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Great post! I had no idea that B2B decision-makers were so involved with social media. This really helps build the case for its importance.

Alan Peters

Great post. Thank you for helping us to substantiate claims we have been making to B2B marketers when working to develop their digital strategies.

SarahResults Smith

This reconfirms what we were telling our B2B clients months ago. I guess I need to continue to polish my consultative skills to help them truly embrace the notion to the degree that they will consider their social media strategy.

As marketers, we need to continue to lead and guide our clients.

SarahResults Smith

Steve Patrizi

Great info Josh - certainly correlates with the type of activity we see on LinkedIn, and is a big reason why so many marketers are beginning to add LinkedIn to their marketing strategy.

Karen Orton

Thanks for this post - I can use this to substantiate what we see in resulting from the communities that we powers (Lithium) but there is nothing like data from Forrester to bring it on home.
Also National Instruments is our customer for commmunity. They are a great leader in so many ways. Another factoid about their communities: in Patty Seybold's book Customer Innovation, NI is quoted as saying that 50% of their new product innovation can be directly attributed to their customer commmunity


Very valuable info, thanks so much.

Stephanie Rogers

As always, great post and fantastic research. It validates a lot of what we are seeing with (and saying to) our clients. We've picked up the thread here: http://www.artandscienceblog.com/blog2/2009/02/media_roundup_022709.html

And we look forward to a continued dialogue on the topic!

Alison Minaglia

Great research! B2B clients have indeed grown more excited about the results we've achieved by adding social media to their PR and AR programs and it's now an integral part of every campaign.

Steve Poppe

I'm a simple man -- trying not to overcomplicate things. It comes from my background of marketing to consumers (who are also business people). There are only two real segments in social media. Posters and Pasters.

Wasn't that easy???

Chris Johnson

Great Post Josh! This speaks directly to the business challenge that many organizations face today. B2B is clearly affected -- but this challenge of social media participation will begin to cross many areas of the business. I'm seeing social media activities cross into HR, Legal, finance and obviously marketing. I posted my response here: http://blog.dna13.com/the-pr-game-is-shifting/128/

Chris Johnson
Founder & CMO
dna13 Inc.

Sean M Gibson

Another fan of the B2B efforts by Forrester. We're using your models in discussions with clients regularly and bought a load of Groundswell.

Ironic that there's no share icon on this page! I want to Tweet this and now have to create a BudURL, open Twitter, shoot it out.

Christine Thompson

I can't help but wonder if we're still in the hype phase when it comes to social media activity within certain B2B markets. Hardly a groundswell -- more like a small ripple.

My client is exploring the benefits of engaging a listening platform service, and in the course of watching the various vendors' demos, we're getting a sense of the volume of conversation out there. Even among buyers and users of enterprise software, there's not a whole lot being said out in the blogosphere. (Judging from my client's particular category, which is a multi-billion dollar market, with mission-critical applications in some industries.)

In my client's case there were fewer than 300 mentions of their category in a recent 30-day period (and a much smaller number of mentions of the client's corporate brand). In terms of investing in a listening platform, they're hitting internal resistance (AKA sticker shock) on the part of numerate people who question the statistical validity of what's being said, given the low volume of relevant postings.

I do believe social media will be important for B2B markets -- I just think it's far more significant today in the B2C realm. It's certainly valuable for outreach, PR-like activities, but the listening side is still pretty quiet, in terms of people who influence B2B enterprise software purchases...

Christine Thompson, Principal
Informing Arts


that's great for knowing and to keep in the back of our minds. they're no different to ordinary people. a large segment of consumers now base their purchasing decisions on reading UGC for consumer review. it is only natural that B2B customers would do the same.

John Bottom

Wonderful stuff, Josh. The most revealing comment for me is that social participation is high, but respondents claim it has little influence on buying behaviour. I feel this may be similar to Malcolm Gladwell's comment that most people tell you they like coffee dark and rich when in truth the majority prefer it weak and milky...
The main point, however, is that people are now taking note of the fact that there is a massive information exchange going on between business buyers. We have been referring to this place as the "buyersphere" for some time now. Whether they admit it or not, they use it and so, as conscientious marketers, should we.


Perfect! B2B will be more involved with social media. We too are using your models in discussions with clients regularly.

Seo Services

Most Popular B2B Social Media Participation site are www.linkedin.com and www.ecademy.com these two site are very good Social Media sites.

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