What’s the motivation for B2B companies to allocate so much of their marketing spend to social media?

Is it part of a wider cultural requirement encouraging us all to be constantly ‘hip’? Is it because we’re all chasing that permanently elusive level of success? Maybe trying anything new is better than repeating last year’s action plan again? Because from all the data gathered from our worldwide client research, it sure isn’t based on sales.
I’m not talking about B2C markets here, there are a number of social media success stories – many B2C plays are around impulse purchases and they have a very different and often well defined purchase pattern. If you’re a Subway store wanting to do a specific promotion every Friday then Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare or similar may well be a proven  path for you.
TheBuyersideJourney.com, Influencer Marketing
But why are the only sales successes I hear from B2B companies in their social outreach so ad-hoc – a promotion here or there raising awareness, an announcement that brings in temporary crowds or an action that lights up conversations … conversations needless to say in the twittersphere.
I was talking to a good friend at the top of one of the big four enterprise software companies last year. He was telling me that they had definitively tracked $10m of U.S. sales down to their social outreach activities. I was surprised he saw this as a success. Any senior salesperson there is surely expected to be bringing $10m in sales each and every week themselves. And who’s to say that that $10m through social channels wouldn’t have come in via other channels anyway.
In conversations with others on the same topic I either get only the vaguest of hearsay examples or acknowledgement that they too are skeptics. But it doesn’t seem a question they’re willing to raise publicly. I keep coming back to this notion of the Emperor’s New Clothes. That everyone’s pretending they have the data to support their ongoing social media investment.
What I think’s happening is that Marketing Heads have conveniently, and quietly, moved the goalposts. They don’t have sales data to support this investment. For the past two years they’ve used the “it’s early days” and “we’re experimenting” justification. That can’t fly forever. So the justification has moved to “we’re increasing brand awareness” and “audience interaction with the brand”. All well and good but it’s not translating into sales. And increasing sales was how they originally sold the investment into their board.
When was the last time any of you reading this made a business purchase as a result of something you’d seen on Twitter?

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