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Why are only a few firms successful when it comes down to social media marketing?

Based on

Cartwright, S. & Davies, I. A. (2022). The development of B2B social networking capabilities, Industrial Marketing Management. IN PRESS

The adoption of social media as a marketing platform in B2B markets has been growing, yet firms still struggle to successfully implement the channels for relationship purposes. On major issue is that social media implementation often relies on trial and error for integration with the overall marketing strategy (Cartwright, Davies & Archer-Brown, 2021). As a result, firms re-post content that is not engaging and therefore, passively engage their audiences without a clear strategic and procedural approach. Thus, the question remains, HOW do firms embed social media at a strategic level and which capabilities do they need to acquire to enhance their online relationships?

Research carried out across 12 organisations, with 47 business professionals in the UK shows that firms go through stages in their social media strategy development (Cartwright & Davies, 2022), which this blog will discuss in more detail. As such, capabilities are built over time, and they are integrated with each other to improve the firms' perceived competitive performance on social media. The progression is non-linear, and firms can move through stages more quickly depending on the depth of their strategic preparation before launching their social media strategy. The higher the preparation, the more quickly firms can take advantage of opportunities. Let’s have a closer look at the different stages… Stage 1

  • Limited applications of resources to social media activities

  • Experimentation with an excessive number of different channels

  • Unfamiliarity with their target audiences

  • Irrelevant content posting

How to move from stage 1 to stage 2? Firms at this stage lack capabilities to sense the right opportunities and provide valuable content for the development of inter-organisational relationships. There is a clear need among firms in stage 1 to integrate existing operational marketing capabilities (see first arrow in Figure below) around audience awareness, segmentation, targeting, positioning, content management and the development of basic success metrics to help guide their transitions to greater levels of social media competence. They also need to incorporate strategic planning, to enable them to identify which social media channels present the most appropriate opportunities.

Stage 2

  • Resource allocations for management of social media channels

  • Content experimentation

  • Target audience and content myopia

How to move from stage 2 to stage 3?

Firms in stage 2 are often attempting to seize opportunities, without yet investing sufficiently in market learning to sense the right opportunities for integrating social media within their overall marketing strategy. Without systematic research, firms tend to hold a belief that they know why others are using social media, and insist they intuitively know what type of content is successful. To move to the next stage, however, they require a different orientation to social media usage, built on capabilities around effective metrics, social media market research, clearer market positioning, linking social media strategy with the overall relational strategy and breaking up the siloed approach to content generation to allow content to be more dynamic, flexible, and engaging rather than focusing on information dissemination (see second arrow in Figure below).

Stage 3

  • Resourcing social media: Specialist departments and market research

  • Planned content development and multi-actor dialogue

  • Social networking capabilities needed to progress

How to move from stage 3 to stage 4?

We begin to see the emergence of adaptive capabilities in vigorous market learning which relates closely to the networking capabilities of determining the size and boundaries of the network. Content is now aligned and focused, with a clear strategic direction, suggesting firms are developing networking capabilities related to designing the relationships they want through social media. For firms to move to the next stage, they need to scope competitors' actions rather than simply follow what others do. Firms in stage 3 are finding their voice and beginning to engage in some planned multi-actor dialogue, but the stronger focus on centrally derived content still limits taking full advantage of the opportunities for actor engagement. Even at this stage, the focus is on network development rather than network management capabilities, which only appear in our final stage. Stage 4

  • Decentralizing social media engagement

  • Engagement-based content

  • Social media community-based culture

Only in stage 4 do we see the emergence of network management capabilities of network governance and leadership, and network coordination. Also, a broader base of employees is involved in multi-actor dialogue, and a more collaborative working capability is evolving as firms look beyond the core social media marketing team to a broader spectrum of actors within and outside the firm. Thus, this open marketing approach, where employees share information online and reach previously inaccessible partners, shows that the business is active, engaged, and up to date with industry-specific topics. Firms demonstrate their excellence by developing social media content that aligns with the messages in their other communication channels but also provokes reciprocal information sharing and/or dialogue. Firms are also humanising content, generated across different functions that is shaping a new adaptive capability within stage 4. This complex array of social networking capabilities allows the firms to purposefully locate targeted network partners, and then manage and leverage these network relationships for ongoing value creation. Stages of Social Media Implementation and Requisite Social Networking Capabilities for Progression

In summary, social media strategy is a learning curve that does not happen overnight. Firms require substantial investment in social media before they see intangible results that contribute to strengthening internal and external relationships. Firms also need to develop the necessary dynamic and adaptive capabilities to progress towards developing networking capabilities. Firms need to strategically plan, implement, and evaluate networking, dynamic and adaptive capabilities to target the right audiences, develop valuable content, and align strategic social media activities within the business. Managers need to carefully plan activities rather than approach social media in an ad-hoc manner. Firms should not see social media as a threat and accept trial and error, where improvement comes from learning from mistakes. With clear metrics and better strategic alignment, progressive firms experiment with different forms of content and understand the optimal placement of the social media content in their communications process.

You can read the full paper here.

Cartwright, S. & Davies, I. A. (2022). The development of B2B social networking capabilities, Industrial Marketing Management. IN PRESS

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