Can 60% of B2B companies be increasing their social outreach budget solely due to blind faith?

I keep coming back in my head to this stat from the 2013 State of Digital Marketing report ‘Webmarketing123’ stating that only 54% of B2B companies believed they had generated any leads through their social outreach to date – and that ‘just 39 percent of those B2B companies were able to clearly say they have seen revenue generated from social media’. It’s a fascinating report.

Looking further at the stats, social outreach is one of the activities most likely to increase in budget next year (56%) – and by a significant amount. Almost no respondee (just 2%) said they were planning to reduce that pot. So give or take a few vagaries, doesn’t that suggest that almost 60% of companies will be increasing their social budget despite no measurable RoI through sales? Call it investment by gut feel or blind faith or intuition or whatever. But not RoI.

For the vast majority of companies 2013 wasn’t the first year of their social outreach budget – for many it will have been their fourth or fifth year. That adds up to a lot of investment without noticeable return. And we don’t know what percentage of the 39% that believed they could report sales as a result, thought it enough to cover the costs of that outreach. I think we can assume it’s tiny.

Is it that the return is there but they haven’t been able to measure it? – a common, if optimistic, view. Is it that increased sales is the wrong measurement criteria in the first place? Perhaps, but difficult for any stakeholder to continually accept. Or is it that there’s a time lag of several years between the positive effects of social outreach i.e. increasing brand awareness, and the positive glow that encourages a buyer to choose one vendor over another? Impossible to say.

Of course there’s a fourth option. That in the majority of current B2B marketplaces the kind of brand awareness that social outreach gets you has minimal effect on the eventual decisions of the end-buyer. Because those end-buyers are basing their decisions on very different criteria. One of my next posts will cover this thought in more detail.