Can social networking enhance the buyer-seller relationship in the electronic components market? That's the subject of a discussion in the electronics components supply network on LinkedIn.
The consensus of most participants is that social networking is an up-and-coming way to get the word in the business-to-business space but not necessarily as a platform to close sales. At least one company, FTDI Chip of Birmingham, UK, revealed a proactive strategy of engaging with engineers and potential customers over LinkedIn and Facebook. Some participants expressed the concern that once B2B social networking catches on, it may get clogged with a lot of the nonsense one sees in general social media chatter.
Nick Lidington, managing director at Sequoia Technology Group, for one, was skeptical about the utility of social media to sell electronic components. “The telephone continually rings off its hinges in our office with people wanting to talk to us about our stuff. To my knowledge we have not had any lead, order, or request for anything that emanates from social networking to date,” he said.
a tool for closing, lead generation or something else is not yet clear.
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“Social media should not stop a phone from ringing,” said Nigel Watts, group managing director at Ismosys. He added: “In fact the opposite could and should be true. I see social media as a lead generator not a closing tool. We have numerous examples of customers who have found us as a result of a live feed or other social media activity. Social media is a very cost effective way of getting your message out to the marketplace.”
“Social media plays a huge part in my toolkit,” said Jen Cooke, a PR Manager at Premier Farnell. “I see social media as a way of enhancing a business's reputation. It is not a sales tool but is a part of the whole armament that makes up public relations and brand reputation.”
FTDI Chip director of operations Graeme Cook believes that B2B social media in the electronics sector has yet to prove itself. Nonetheless, the company uses LinkedIn to engage in discussions with engineers and is receiving an increasing number of inquiries and support requests through its Facebook page.
It's all about content
Cook recommended taking the time to create engaging content, especially video, to post on social platforms. “In order to make social media an effective communication channel, effort must be put in to make compelling and thought-provoking content that will catalyze meaningful dialogue,” said Cook. “Uploading of exciting video content tends to get far greater response levels. We are continuously updating content on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Youku,” the Chinese equivalent of Youtube.
Brian Harding, manager at Spectrum Electronics Group, recommends that his colleagues try social media “but don't leave it too long.” “It's still early days for B2B social media marketing,” he said, “and my fear is that once it becomes a mainstream activity, followers will not have the time or the patience to sort the good stuff from the junk.”
Sequoia's Lidington remained skeptical, acknowledging that B2B social networking may gain traction sometime, “but my 2014 forecast is not relying on it.”
Social media in the B2B space has yet catch on, but, as with the business-to-consumer sector, many companies will likely try it to generate buzz and greater awareness and trust before a customer is engaged. At the end of the day, though, in B2B, more so than B2C, the old-fashioned practice of picking up the phone and selling is probably not going away anytime soon.