To integrate or not to integrate? Understanding B2B social media communications

Date12 February 2018
Published date12 February 2018
AuthorRichard L. Gruner,Damien Power
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Bibliometrics,Databases,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet,Records management & preservation,Document management
To integrate or not to integrate?
Understanding B2B social media
Richard L. Gruner
Department of Marketing, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia, and
Damien Power
Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne,
Melbourne, Australia and
University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
Purpose Social media communications on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn can allow managers
to interact cost effectively with trading partners. However, although most firms have an online presence on
multiple social media platforms, the question remains as to whether marketerswidespread social media
investments are beneficial for firms. The paper aims to discuss this issue.
Design/methodology/approach This paper presents competing hypotheses to explore how firms
investment in one form of social media impacts activity on another form of social media. To do so, the authors
draw on a data set of 208 large Australian organizations using objective social media activity metrics that
measure business-to-business (B2B) audience engagement.
Findings The findings suggest that widespread social media activity on LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube
negatively affects a firms marketing activity on Facebook. The results indicate that having a social media
preference whereby firms focus on a specific social media platform is more effective in forming successful
inter-organizational relationships than a multiplatform approach.
Originality/value The study contributes to the sparse research that seeks to leverage social media for
audience engagement beyond a business-to-consumer context. The studys findings provide insights into the
key mechanisms that underlie firmsB2B social media strategies, and in so doing, offer a fresh perspective on
the importance of interactive marketing communication.
Keywords B2B engagement, Digital media integration, Quantitative large-scale empirical exploration,
Social media platform preference
Paper type Research paper
The digital environment has revolutionized the way firms communicate and bond with their
many audiences (Mulhern,2009; Teng et al., 2014). Widespread adoption of digital marketing
techniques particularly social media has transformed communication channels and
created the possibility to individualize marketing not just in a business-to-consumer (B2C)
context, but increasingly also in a business-to-business (B2B) context (Mehmet and
Clarke, 2016;Michaelidou et al., 2011). Morethan 90 percent of B2B marketers use socialmedia
to connect and communicate with their trading partners (Holden-Bache, 2011; Nielsen, 2010;
Rapp et al., 2013). However,a study of 2,100 companies reveals that although over 75 percent
of firms are either using or planning to use social media platforms, only 12 percent feel that
they are using them effectively (Ennes, 2011).Indeed, evidence pertaining to B2B interactions
not only attests to social medias potential in this context, but also suggests that it remains
challenging for managers to decide how to best employ social media to communicate
effectively with trading partners (Andersen, 2005; Bonsón and Flores, 2011; Brennan and
Croft, 2012). This challenge is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge and consensus about
possible interaction effects resulting from simultaneous investments in different social media
platforms including those purpose-built for business professionals (such as LinkedIn) and
more generic ones (such as Facebook and Twitter) (Brennan and Croft, 2012). In fact, studies
Online Information Review
Vol. 42 No. 1, 2018
pp. 73-92
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/OIR-04-2016-0116
Received 22 April 2016
Revised 29 May 2017
Accepted 1 August 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
B2B social
have not only largelyfailed to empirically explorethe effects of firmssimultaneoususe of, and
investment in, multiple social media platforms, but different theoretical perspectivesexist on
the value ofa multiplatform vs a more focusedsocial media strategy. Onthe one hand, signing
up to many different socialnetwork platforms is challenging, but also aligned with the basic
tenets of integratedmarketing communicationsthat can lead to dialoguing with manytrading
partner groups (Ballantyne and Aitken, 2007). On the other hand, scholars have highlighted
the importanceof choosing the one rightsocial mediaplatform to improve the effectiveness
of social media marketing (e.g. Kumar andMirchandani, 2012). In this study, wego some way
in addressing this lack of consensus. In so doing, our main contribution is an assessment of
the benefits pertaining to firm investments across multiple B2B social media platforms by
increasing understanding with respectto the best ways in which companies shouldorganize
and manage social media(Aral et al., 2013,p. 9). To achieve this goal, we empiricallyexplore
the following research question:
RQ1. How does a firms presence on multiple social media platforms affect its
communication effectiveness?
We define communication effectiveness as the frequency of relational exchanges on digital
networks that aim to establish, develop, and maintain successful business partnerships
(Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Effective communications are paramount for B2B relationships as
the economic impact of these communications within and across organizations has been
estimated to exceed $1 trillion (Kane et al., 2014). Consequently, we explore our r esearch
question in a B2B context and offer a fresh perspective on how to make the most of social
media platformsto build and maintain successful strategicnetworks (Michaelidou et al., 2011;
Gulati et al., 2000). Our data set consists of 208 large Australian firms and their B2B social
media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We measured social media
activity through the relationship between Facebook Likes the equivalent of subscribers or
followers on other social media platforms and Facebook talking as well as comments
per day. This relationship is then moderated by measures of activity on firm sites for
LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. The firms represent various industries, which increasesthe
generalizability of our findings. All variables in this study are objective performance
metrics based on actual measures of activity for each social media platform studied, which
increases the validity and reliability of our findings (Podsakoff and Organ, 1986). Our main
finding that firms are best served with focused social media investments on only one
platform (rather than multiple platforms) makes an important contribution to the literature.
This findingchallenges the prevailing viewthat firms should follow a balanced, multiplatform
approachin communications, includingdigital and social mediacommunications to effectively
communicate and ultimately develop successful business networks (Duncan and
Moriarty, 1998; Kitchen et al., 2004).
B2B social media activity
In recognition of the fact that the term social mediasimultaneously excites, confuses and
taunts the mindsof marketers (Mehmet and Clarke, 2016,p. 92),many studies from different
disciplines have contributed significantly to the field of social media over the past decade. In
fact, accordingto Weller (2015, p. 281), socialmedia research representsa kal eidoscope based
on thousands of individual pieces, originating from different perspectives and disciplines,
applying differentmethods and establishingdifferent assumptions aboutsocial media usage.
As part of these researchefforts, scholars havebegun to investigate social mediausage for the
development of inter-firm networks (i.e. from a B2B perspective) (e.g. Gruner et al., 2013).
In this context, issues such as relationship building (Michaelidou et al., 2011) and sales
techniques (Agnihotri et al., 2016) have also been explored. After all, social media facilitate

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