Social Media Does Almost Nothing for B2B & B2C Sales? Look Again.

A Google search on the direct phrase that appears above results in 306 unique links. I have seen this report released by Forrester written about a lot. I guess it has gotten so much traction because it does make for a controversial headline – especially with so many writing positively about social media and its untapped opportunities. Beyond that there is a contradiction here that cannot be ignored. For years Josh Bernoff, Senior V.P. Idea Development at Forrester Research has been touring the country espousing the need for corporations to jump into social media. And his book groundswell is chock full of case studies supporting this position.

From groundswell, Jim Cahill, runs a B2B blog for Emerson Process Management and claims three to five contacts a week come from the blog. These contacts represent early leads that can be worth millions of dollars to his salespeople. Taking this one step further Jim could be building his blog readership via links sent out via Facebook and Twitter of his posts. Bernoff’s book also reports how @DellOutlet has tweeted specials on computers for years gaining 1.5 million followers and $7 million direct, “trackable” sales from their Twitter account. But these types of social activities and these specific case studies are not measured by the recent Forrester report.

Is Forrester now abandoning its previous recommendations? The report states that, “less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to trackable social linkss.” The key phrase is “trackable touchpoints.” Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights makes good points about how this headline may be misleading. He says it is a very direct response view of effectiveness that does not look at what has been done to develop awareness and brand preference at the top of the purchase funnel. Users of social media may also not necessarily click on the links within social media, but search or go direct to sites when interested in a purchase. Also, for many brands a large portion of search traffic is brand terms indicating that there is existing awareness and preference that has been influenced somewhere else.

Niles Ulnes of Beyond, says that the 20% of direct visit consumers in the report must be psychic. It says 1 in 5 of new buyers “one trackable touchpoint” people bought on the basis of a direct visit. How did they know to type in the URL in the first place? An additional 27% found the URL by search, but knew enough about the brand to find it via keywords. He also points out that the study was based on a limited number of large e-commerce merchants and was done over a short 14 day period. Ulnes sums up his point saying, “As much data as we can gather from people’s clickstream, we still can’t gather enough to get a complete picture of things. Ideally, you’d be able to put a cookie on a user’s machine as early as possible, and then be able to track each touchpoint along the path to purchase. But the problem with that is that it requires either paid or owned media, and if the consumer hears about it first through word of mouth or social media or even TV, well, you’re just not going to know that.”

We also have to remember other research like a recent Nielsen report that states “Word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews, either from someone they know or a stranger’s opinions online, are the most trusted sources of information for buying decisions.” Don’t be fooled by the headline into thinking you should abandon Facebook and Twitter efforts. An integrated campaign of both new and old methods is always wise.

To be fair to Forrester and Sucharita Mulpuru, the Forrester Analyst that has been associated with this controversial phrase. It is taken out of context when used as a traffic building headline (see above).  And I honestly cannot find evidence on the web that she said it, but I must admit that I have not purchased the $499 report. The direct quote I did find tells a different story. Mulpuru writes, “In spite of changes to the interactive marketing landscape and the growing number of shoppers using mobile and tablet devices to access content, core elements of web marketing continue to be effective.” This quote does not scream abandon Facebook and Twitter. It soberly reminds us not to abandon the less trendy forms of digital marketing that we know are still working. Of course, that doesn’t make as good a headline.

For more on this check out Ted Rubin’s Return on Relationship.