B2B manufacturers, suppliers and sellers are gradually finding their foothold in the world of social media. LinkedIn remains by far the most common social media platform for suppliers to connect with potential business buyers, share information about their products and services, or provide tutorials and other means of support.
Last month, however, Facebook made headlines as new research revealed that the platform is climbing up the B2B ranks in more ways than one. A study conducted by Outsell revealed that while 55 percent of B2B sellers agree that LinkedIn is an effective way to generate sales leads, a close 53 percent agreed that Facebook was also a useful B2B platform.
Facebook is also proving useful to businesses in other ways, most notably through its ability to aggregate, store and analyze Big Data. Both Facebook and fellow social media platform Foursquare have recently boosted their Big Data and Internet of Things capabilities, positioning themselves as B2B firms ready to provide data services to other companies eager for the insight of social media users.
This month, however, the focus of the role of social media in B2B operations is shifting to Instagram.
In a recent report on social media marketing trends by Social Media Examiner, researchers found that Instagram’s standing among both B2B and B2C marketers rose significantly in 2015 compared to the previous year, with 36 percent of businesses reporting use of the platform, compared to just 28 percent in 2014. A survey revealed that 40 percent of B2B marketers are planning to increase their use of Instagram in the future.
While those percentages don’t come close to the usage of Facebook and LinkedIn among B2B suppliers and manufacturers, experts are beginning to highlight the innovative ways the photo-sharing platform of Instagram can uniquely serve the B2B community.
In an article published last week, Business 2 Community highlighted several ways the act of building up a presence on Instagram could push companies ahead of their competition. Instagram’s video capabilities, the report noted, are particularly useful for suppliers to showcase products, demonstrations and tutorials. Social media B2B Software-as-a-Service provider SproutSocial has used Instagram’s video feature to show off its new software capabilities, for example.
Instagram can also be used by B2B firms to cross-promote material to and from other social media platforms like Facebook. Constant Contact, for example, recently promoted its Facebook chat event through a digital event flyer posted on Instagram.
One of the greatest advantages of Instagram is that the platform allows businesses to establish an emotional, personal connection with their customers by putting a face to the name of both a firm’s brand and employees. Research conducted last month by SiriusDecisions found that while B2B salespeople may be concerned that the rise in sales automation may render their job unnecessary, B2B procurement officials’ purchasing habits encourage human interaction at every stage of the customer journey. This human interaction can occur in various ways, including through Instagram posts of supplier employees.
What’s more, SiriusDecisious found that the so-called “explainers” in the supply chain, that is, the staff that explain, demonstrate and educate potential buyers of their company’s products and services, account for the highest level of human interaction in the buying process. The ability for Instagram to simultaneously establish a human connection while offering a video tutorial on a new service, for example, could yield significant benefits to suppliers looking to strike up a relationship with buyers.
"Developing a B2B Instagram presence can help you stand out on a network that not enough brands are utilizing to its fullest power,” Business 2 Community concluded, “and give your company a bit more of a human touch."
Some of the world’s largest B2B companies have already established massive followings on Instagram. According to statistics from TOTEMS List, NASA is the leading B2B firm on Instagram, with more than 3 million followers. Other leading B2B brands on the platform include Adobe, Cisco Systems, Intel and Oracle.
As a social media platform, Instagram is likely most effective at building brand awareness and client relationships for the B2B community. But looking forward, as the B2C world explores how to link those relationships to actual sales and transactions all on the platform, there may be a potential for Instagram to similarly evolve into an eCommerce platform for buyers and suppliers, too.