Social media has transformed the entire sales funnel on a global scale.
Accessed anywhere, anytime – thanks to universal smartphone ownership – the original purpose of social networks has evolved.
10 years ago, people were actively sharing personal updates, thoughts and opinions with friends and family, but today, these platforms have taken on a more purposeful role as entertainment hubs and marketplaces.
Consumers now go on social to connect with their favorite brands, research products, and purchase the products they research.
Almost a third of online consumers use social media to research and find products to buy.
Social media continues to merge the fields of entertainment and commerce, creating a hub for mass consumption, selling and buying.
But this is not limited to the business-to-consumer (B2C) space only. Social networks are now a key touchpoint in the business-to-business (B2B) purchase journey too.
From marketing teams, to C-level management and leadership teams, exactly how do business professionals use social to research and find products to buy in the workplace?
We draw insights from our Work research among 17,000 knowledge workers¹ to shed light on where social media is most influential in the B2B sales funnel; what type of content decision makers² use for research and which platforms are most effective to target them.
How influential is social media?
Decision makers today spend an average of 2h 26m on social media each day – around 25 minutes longer than the typical internet user; and a portion of this time is perhaps set aside for business-related purposes.
In fact, we found that a staggering 71% of all decision makers say social media is influential when they’re researching or considering a new product for their company.
Similar to our findings related to consumers’ personal lives, the influence of social media as a research tool in the workplace diminishes with age.
Those aged 16-24 are more than twice as likely as 55-64-year-old decision makers to go on these platforms when looking to buy a product or service for their company.
For these younger users, social networks (85%) come even before online ads (84%), TV (83%) and radio commercials (71%) as a means of conducting business-related research.
Those aged 55-64, however, say blogs and online ads are on par with social media as a source of product information.
The extent to which social is considered influential in the workplace also varies depending on the type of team involved in purchasing the product.
Third-party teams like consulting agencies are the most likely to use these platforms as a source of information (87% say this), followed by marketing (86%) and legal teams (82%).
On the other end of the spectrum, C-level management and leadership teams are the least likely to use social media for research, yet 69% of them do.
Which stage of the purchase journey is social media most relevant to?
Having realized the role of social media in people’s lives is changing, social platforms are actively trying to develop new revenue streams through social commerce; and this is evident in our Work research.
Over a third of decision makers use social networks to discover new products and services and nearly 3 in 10 do so to compare prices.
Compared to other research and discovery channels, social media is looked to the most when it comes to price comparison. It overrides online (28%) and printed (27%) newspapers, as well as online ads (27%), TV (26%) and radio (22%) commercials.
However, it still lags far behind sources like supplier websites (43%) and search engines (41%) where information is likely more organized and easier to find.
Where social platforms fall considerably short is in the last stage of the B2B purchase journey, when decision makers have discovered and researched products and are deciding which one to buy.
Only 14% use social media to decide which product to buy, meaning the chances of closing the purchase loop on social media any time soon are still low in the B2B space.
Purchase decisions are mostly reached with the help of trusted voices like user reviews (used by 28%) and recommendations from industry analysts (28%).
The role of social media in the purchase journey varies by industry, however.
Those in the technology & communication sector are most likely to use social for discovery (41%), price comparison (33%) and final purchase decisions (19%).
But when it comes to general research, decision makers working in management training depend on social networks the most (32%).
The non-profit sector is least likely to go to social for any purchase-related activity, followed by legal & law enforcement.
Brands targeting these two sectors still need to rely more on traditional tactics to reach them, like word-of-mouth, conferences and trade shows.
On which platforms is marketing content most effective?
When it comes to the specific social media platforms decision makers rely on to research products, YouTube and Facebook take the top spot, by some distance.
5 in every 10 decision makers in the workplace use YouTube and Facebook when they’re considering new products and services.
This is consistent across all age groups, but Facebook has a slight lead over YouTube for 35-54-year-olds.
In terms of content they’re using to inform their purchase decision, this group is most likely to be looking at posts by current users of the product (42%) and posts by companies (41%).
User reviews on social media are highly sought after, which shows that decision makers’ B2B research habits are largely formed around seeking objective and trusted opinions.
Effective communication should be at the core of any B2B brand, and that means ensuring products are marketed by trusted voices in the industry.
For example, telecommunications company Verizon appointed an expert to run its Twitter account, to ensure the brand’s messaging is specifically-tailored to its highly technical audience.
Customer satisfaction and having a positive reputation is extremely important for companies wanting to target this decision-making audience.
But depending on what the content is, it can perform better on different platforms.
Although lagging behind YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram in popularity, as a business and employment-oriented service, LinkedIn proves most effective for almost all content categories we track in the B2B purchase journey.
52% of those that use LinkedIn to research products find posts by thought leaders most useful, compared to 46% of those on Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube.
Twitter is also a very effective service for B2B marketers targeting decision makers; it even surpasses LinkedIn for word-of-mouth type content like conversations with friends or colleagues.
We know from our global research that decision makers on Twitter are 18% more likely than average to follow contacts relevant to their work (39% do), so B2B brands need to ensure they’re not missing out – and are part of the conversation there.
It’s clear that even though social media isn’t there yet in terms of completing a B2B purchase, having a presence on these channels is still an absolute must.
To stand out in an overly-saturated space and win decision makers over as customers, brands need to ensure they are seen as credible, and the best way to achieve this is with trusted, expert-led messaging.
¹A knowledge worker is anyone who holds an office position and/or works with data, analyzes information or thinks creatively in a typical work week.
²Decision makers are defined as having some involvement in decision making when it comes to their company purchasing products/services.