Business-to-Business companies seek to establish though leadership and engage in customer conversations about their industries. Many have turned to LinkedIn, a popular professional networking and discussion forum with over 575 million users, half of them active in a given month. As in any social media setting though, a key challenge is stimulating group engagement. Much attention has been devoted to consumer engagement in ‘play’ social media, but do these insights also hold in a professional setting, such as discussing innovations in healthcare?
The above three quotes came from such a B2B company-sponsored LinkedIn group, as analyzed in “No Comment?! The Drivers of Reactions to Online Posts in Professional Groups” (full text at: http://marketingandmetrics.com/no-comment-the-drivers-of-reactions-to-online-posts-in-professional-groups/) Our research quantifies the effect of an online post’s content, post, authors, and timing characteristics on reader interactivity.
Stimulating discussion that appeals to the interests of forum members is key to building and maintaining engaging forums. Grice’s theory of conversation was of particular importance to narrowing the scope of our research. The theory consists of four maxims: (1) quantity, (2) quality, (3) relation, and (4) manner. Applied to digital “conversations,” readers of online posts will consciously or subconsciously evaluate the benefits and costs of posting a comment. Firms hoping to increase reader interactivity must consider all four dimensions when writing the initial post. Important reflective questions to ask before posting include:
- What: Is this topic practically useful?
- How: Is this post too long?
- Who: Is the poster respected in the eyes of our network?
- When: Is now the best time to post?
Many of the investigated characteristics matter little to B2B forum user engagement. Below graph visualizes the different effect of those that do. As usual, we show our findings as elasticities, i.e. by how much % do user comments increase for a 1% increase in each driving variable:
Our research found that POST elements dominate poster and timing elements in explaining user interactivity. Readability is the most positive driver of user comments in the LinkedIn group. Controversy and practical utility of the post, and the expert status of the poster also stimulate user comments, as can be expected. Conversely, the inclusion of hyperlinks is the most negatively correlated variable. This is important because it is the opposite of findings in political marketing (http://marketingandmetrics.com/how-social-media-drove-the-2016-us-presidential-election-a-longitudinal-topic-and-platform-analysis/). Specifically, hyperlinks are more likely to deter readers from sharing their opinions through commenting on a post. Finally, longer posts get less engagement, just as they do in business-to-consumer settings. In sum, it IS what you do, and how you do it, that explains B2B engagement.
Social media is not just fun and games: it helps also B2B companies achieve their goals of (i) positioning as a leader in knowledge-intensive industries, (ii) gaining insights used for product innovation, (iii) developing meaningful relationships with the customer base, and (iv) increasing brand preference resulting in sales leads. To do so, managers must leverage social media as an avenue to listen, connect, act and remain competitive.