By Anna Ritchie published August 19, 2012

Is Social Media the New Word of Mouth? [RESEARCH]

This year’s Buyersphere Report, from Base One and B2B Marketing, takes all the guesswork out of what B2B decision makers really want by going directly to the source: the buyers themselves. In this year’s report, the survey compiles responses from 800 participants with the intent of uncovering what all marketers want to know: How do buyers find information that will help them identify the right suppliers for their business?

It’s no surprise that content tops the list. But what was most revealing in this year’s study was how much content is being absorbed, the channels through which the content is being consumed, and the consumption behaviors of the different generations of consumers.

While the assumption may be that social media is climbing to the top of preferred content consumption channels, think again. What we’ll uncover in this research is how social media usage has actually dipped this year, but why we don’t think it will be for long.

The findings

Buyers are seeking out content more and more regularly. You spend a lot of time every week creating content, so this should bring you some comfort: According to this year’s research, the “sheer amount of content sought by buyers” has increased significantly.

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We’ll investigate the noticeable dip in social media later on, but first, let’s take a look at the types of content buyers are engaging with, and which ones they find most influential when making a purchase decision.

Word of mouth and websites dominate as information channels

This year’s report shares that “87 percent of buyers go out and look for advice before choosing.” So, we know there’s a user for your stellar content, but where are people finding it?

According to the report, web searches top the charts as the key way to find useful information, followed closely by word of mouth:


Interestingly, only 21 percent of B2B buyers are using social media during the buying process; meaning that your SEO strategy and your efforts to publish content on blogs, industry press sites, and online communities are all still integral parts of your content marketing strategy.

It’s worth noting that word of mouth dominates all information channels in terms of usefulness, ranking at a level 8 out of 10 — a top way to find information and advice that helps in the decision-making process (click to enlarge):

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Not only are these channels sought out, but they are ranked as most influential in a buyer’s decision-making process, as well  (click to enlarge):

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Never neglect your website

In line with the findings from CMI’s B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report, buyers are seeking content that’s relevant, educational, and informative. However, what this year’s Buyersphere report also found is that they aren’t just looking to receive content in a static place — they are looking for a more interactive experience, which points to why respondents found LinkedIn and other online communities to be so pertinent in their purchase processes.

But before you rush to update your LinkedIn profile or build a community, first ask yourself, “Is my website tidy?” It should be, because most buyers will look there — 75 percent, in fact.

Tip: The report indicates that buyers who are either newer in their role or looking to make a significant purchase are more likely to download and interact with more pieces of your content (like white papers). So, if you experience higher downloads from particular people, they may be more open to additional content from you, and so you should be sure to target them in your lead analysis.

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The social media dip… and what it doesn’t mean to you

If you were to read this research out of context, you may be tempted to shut down your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media activities and focus solely on publishing articles, running events and webinars, and sending emails.

According to the report, buyers’ use of Facebook has dropped from 15 percent to 5 percent, and Twitter usage has gone from 10 percent to 3 percent. But don’t freak out. There could be a number of factors contributing to this change:

1)    People are starting to streamline their social activity, focusing on a few select sites or online communities rather than spending time on many.

2)    Digital natives” really have yet to take the stage: While overall use of social media has dipped, almost 50 percent of respondents use social media to find information and advice — a stark comparison to the over 50 crowd, which is at 13 percent.

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What does this all mean? It means, as younger generations become key B2B buyers and decision makers in their organizations, they will be looking to social media for education and insights more so than the current generation of buyers, which relies mainly on traditional word of mouth (verbal communication, recommendations from colleagues, etc.).

This marks an incredible shift in buying behavior — for the 30-something buyer, social media is word of mouth. This means that the time you spend sharing your content on social channels and tapping into influencers and industry experts is not for naught: It’s pertinent for the up and coming audiences that will be eager to receive your information.

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Virtual… print: Anything goes

We always preach that print isn’t dead, and this year’s report affirms this yet again. With most respondents using a laptop or PC (as opposed to a mobile phone or smartphone) to access content, information is most commonly being shared by word-of-mouth, emailing, or by printing information for others. So, if you want your information to be shared, keep in mind that not everyone has hopped on the mobile train; there are still many buyers (a majority, in fact) that are looking to make purchase decisions and share information with other key stakeholders.

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Again, as the next generation of buyers takes the stage, information is likely to be shared more on social networks, and tablet/smartphone usage will likely rise. But for now, don’t alienate one group over another, and be sure you’re reaching your buyers wherever and however they’re seeking content.

Your hidden content resource: your buyers

Buyers creating content? Why not? We’re all publishers, right? According to the report, survey participants under age 40 were more likely to create and publish their own content — which aligns greatly with their avid social media usage. As the shift turns from company to consumer, companies must be armed and ready to engage in, and receive, educational information from the next generation of enthusiastic publishers willing to jump into the content marketing game. So, make them guest bloggers; engage with them on popular sites like LinkedIn and other communities; and make them as integral to your content marketing strategy as that white paper you have planned for next month.

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What are your reactions to these findings? Are they aligned with what you’ve been experiencing with your current buyer personas?

To read the full 2012 Buyersphere report, find it here.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Anna Ritchie

Anna Ritchie is a marketing and communications practitioner, focusing on social media, content marketing and Online Community management.You can follow her on Twitter @apritchie.

Other posts by Anna Ritchie

  • Roger C. Parker

    Many takeaways, including a highly-recommended valuable downloadable PDF that is an excellent example of design for easy onscreen reading as well as reading after printing.

    I especially like the emphasis on “print isn’t dead” and the importance of “printing for others,” i.e., downloadable, well-designed and informative PDF are not just for the original readers, but are likely to be passed along to others.

    This is refreshing, because pass-along PDFs, i.e., printable word-of-mouth objects, often don’t get the attention they deserve.

    • http://twitter.com/apritchie Anna Ritchie

      Thanks Roger, and completely agree. The report reminds us that there is still a non-digital audience, and their influence matters! Thanks so much for your comment.

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  • Reynder Bruyns

    Very interesting numbers! I do not understand figure 4, where ‘Web searches’ is mentioned four times. Is there a reason for that?

    • http://twitter.com/apritchie Anna Ritchie

      Thanks for your comment…thanks for bringing this to our attention; we’ll see if I can get back to you with an answer. Thanks much!

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    This data is proof that SEO isn’t dead. Social media is important, but a strong social media strategy requires content which is what people will find in the search engines. The businesses that consistently produce quality content will have the edge over those that don’t.

  • Lloyd Sexton

    Social media is about connecting with people in a way that helps them decide recommend your company by word of mouth. yes I know we’re talking B2B, but in the end its still people talking to people. I say this because I wonder why this question even needs to exist if social is being utilized properly.
    That being said,just more proof the SEO is not dead, nor do I ever think it will die,just evolve.

  • Felix Brown

    Great blog article. Yes I agree good content takes time but it very useful in long run. It is all about what works best for you and your readers.

  • Akash Agarwal

    It’s a awesome post. I totally agree with your concepts. Now a day’s social media is very helpful for online marketing. So. this article is a good suggestion.