Over the past 5-10 years, social media has changed Chinese society significantly, altering both the way people live and how business is done. In the business sphere, consumer product companies have been quick to use these new tools and platforms to connect with consumers and expand their marketing.
Business to business (B2B) companies, from industries such as chemicals, power, machinery, have a much different set of customers. These customers are smaller in number, very specialized and technical, and more difficult to access. As such the B2B firms in China have been slower to use social media, and use is on a more limited basis. However, these companies understand that social media is a powerful tool for marketing, brand development and sales, and are becoming more active in this area.
As a B2B research specialist, GCiS takes a deep interest in the movements of these companies. As such we conducted this survey with over 20 leading multinational (MNC) firms in China, to better understand how B2B companies in China are interacting with their customers through social media and exactly how they are faring compared to other B2B companies. The results of this follow.
Figure 1: Surveyed Companies
Social media is here to stay. All companies interviewed have some form of presence on the local social media platforms whether it is because they truly think it is beneficial or just because they think it is necessary in today’s environment. There is a large selection of social media platform types available and used by the sampled companies, but only a few of the more popular ones like weixin and weibo are considered important.
On average, sampled companies manages around 8 different channels on WeChat and 3 different channels on Weibo. Sampled companies often have a corporate account on top of those that are organized by products or individual business units.
Social media platforms are increasingly fragmented and companies increasingly need to manage multiple social media platform types and channels, develop attractive content for regular posting, enhance user experience and engagement rates as well as make use of all the data collected throughout this process. Who has time to do all these?
Now more than ever, companies can connect faster and potentially with more stakeholders, both existing and potential. Communications can potentially be more targeted with social media, but selling to corporate entities is much more complex.
Figure 6: Importance of Social Media in the next 5 Years
The gist of social media – i.e. information sharing and user interaction - will continue to expand across functions. Take for instance - ABB has a customer support function within their WeChat official account to allow customer access to ABB after sales service at their fingertips. GE uses social media platforms not just for sales and marketing, but also for internal staff communications, collecting end user feedback that are channeled to product development as well as for attracting prospective employees. Siemens uses social media activities to showcase exemplary engineers as well as interact with prospective employees.
So What’s Next?
Going forward, most surveyed companies will continue to explore the potential that social media channels can bring and refine their social media marketing efforts along the way. Some future plans for social media marketing by surveyed companies are shown in figure 7 below.
Figure 7: Future Plans in Social Media Marketing
Essentially, what social media means to individuals is a platform where people can come together, share information and interact. Now, what about human-machine communication? GE is already developing an industrial software platform (e.g. Predix) that allows machines to interact with manufacturers. And what is potentially revolutionary about this is the fact that going forward, it will be more cost effective for not just the financially able industrial companies to adopt these new tools and platforms. This will mean shorter product innovation and development cycles, more precise and faster troubleshooting. Just imagine what this could do to a B2B company’s bottom line, not to mention the industry and system wide effects on productivity. And, what about machine-machine communication? IBM Watson is just another emerging technology / platform created so that machines can interact with each other.
Figure 8: B2B’s Foray Beyond Social Media
What we see today are emerging trends of what could be tomorrow. In some ways, B2B industry players have gone beyond what social media can offer. It seems like they have taken the concept, reinvented and applied it to their own context and transformed it into something that could potentially revolutionize how things work in the industry.
To find out more about what B2B companies in China are doing for their social media marketing efforts, contact GCiS China Strategic Research for a full report.