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UAE businesses find social media is not for consumers alone

LinkedIn and Facebook are their favoured platforms to connect with other businesses

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A person checks their Facebook profile. Many businesses have moved from viewing social media as a business-to-consumer platform (B2C) only.
Gulf News

Dubai: It’s a no-brainer that businesses need to be on social media to engage with consumers wherever they can. And if you don’t have much of a strategy to be seen and heard on these platforms, chances are your business could be at risk... and an extreme one at that.

That’s as far as the B2C (business-to-consumer) space is concerned. But the same level of risks could be there when businesses want to “talk” to their peers or other enterprises. It is a lesson UAE businesses are taking to heart.

“Contrary to popular belief, social media is not at all principally a B2C platform anymore - the majority of B2B digital marketing budgets are to be spent on social media (20 per cent) in the coming 12 months,” said Hadley Newman, Managing Director at Omobono M.E., a marketing services consultancy which issued its annual “What Works Where” report on digital and social media usage among businesses.

This year, 38 per cent said digital campaigns would have a 10-19 per cent share of their B2B marketing budgets, while another 28 per cent said it would be between 20-29 per cent.

LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is the favoured B2B platform among local businesses (used by 97 per cent), followed by Facebook (88 per cent) and Twitter (69 per cent), according to the report. YouTube is also catching on in prominence with this clientele, “particularly to drive engagement with new products and services”.

“With Facebook boasting 1.23 billion active users and Twitter and LinkedIn with 313 million and 106 million respectively, B2B marketers most certainly find their target audience on social media. The truth is that as businesses have become more present and active on social media, the utility of those networks for B2B marketing has grown in parallel.

“It’s the channel where customers - old and new - will come to ask questions and enquire about your latest products. In fact, some of the world’s largest B2B brands, including Accenture and DMCC, meaningfully engage with their audiences through social media platforms.

“Brands who understand the importance of building stronger relationships know that it requires positioning work, but also better understanding of the people who they are trying to talk to.”

But the realisation seems to have dawned relatively late for businesses here, and the Omobono survey suggests that marketing heads at these entities are trying to correct the situation. In the poll, 60 per cent said developing their brand positioning on digital platforms was their top priority this year, Another 56 per cent wanted to use their budgets to “deepen understanding” of their target markets. Forty-eight per cent voted for deeper customer relationships as their priority.

But unlike in B2C interactions, where feedback - positive and negative - can be almost instant, in B2B marketers need to show a lot more patience. “Results can take months - even years - to turn from an initial engagement on social media or your website through to invoiced business,” said Newman.

The Omobono findings were based on responses from those directly responsible for marketing budgets at their organisations based in the UAE, or responsible for framing the digital strategy. Twelve sectors were covered in the polling.

Based on the feedback, the report finds that 20 per cent would be spent on social media this year, while website development would get 15 per cent. Surprisingly, online videos would get only 7 per cent of the share. Online videos has been the fastest growing sub-category in recent times, propelled by the growth in Instagram subscribers. And Facebook too has been seeing an exponential increase in video led campaigns.

But the findings also show that display advertising will continue to erode in prominence, with only 7 per cent being set aside for it. Apps and search engine optimisation get 5 per cent apiece.

But marketers will still need to make sense of all the data they will generate about their audiences via social media. And that remains a big task.

Six in ten respondents wanted “simpler, more accessible analytics”. Almost as many were seeking a clearer understanding of the numbers they face.

“Digital promises endless amounts of data, but the key is to be able to use it to provide insight, not just information,” said Newman. “And the more data you have, the worse this problem gets, particularly if you are monitoring it via different platforms which don’t integrate. I think there is pressure on marketers at the moment to prove the instant value of what they do.

“So the pressure is to see how the data trends over time and to identify which trends are most meaningful. It’s not a problem that is going to go away any time soon.”