Has anyone figured out how to use social media in the business-to-business world?

You hear that question often at safety trade association meetings and expos. Right now, the question begets shrugged shoulders, as if to say, “Beats me. Haven’t figured it out, but don’t feel like I can stop trying. There might be something to it.”

Time to experiment

Your customers, environmental safety and health (EHS) managers, are experimenting, too. Almost two-thirds (62%) of ISHN readers surveyed in October, 2011 for our annual State of the EHS Nation White Paper use one or more social media websites for business purposes.

Most popular is LinkedIn (34%), followed by Google+ (26%), YouTube (19%), Wikipedia (11%), Facebook (6%), Twitter (3%) and MySpace (0%).

About four in ten professionals do not participate in any social media websites for business purposes.

Demographics make a difference

Age plays a significant role in the use of social media. Keep in mind the average age of an EHS pro is 52, according to ISHN’s study. Forty-two percent are between 55 to 64.

According to research by the Pew Research Center, social media users under the age of 50 are especially likely to say that these tools help them keep up with existing friends and reconnect with old ones.

Roughly seven in ten users under the age of 50 say that staying in touch with current friends is a major reason they use online social platforms, and just over half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is equally important.

Note that each of these uses of social media is representative of users under age 50. Still, a relatively large number of older adults point to connections with friends as a major reason for their social networking site usage as well.

Not surprisingly, most people young and old use social media tools to socialize — to keep in touch with family and friends, to find old friends, and especially for older men, to connect to others with similar hobbies or interests, according to the Pew research.

No time to socialize at work

Right now social media is in its infancy as a business tool. This explains why so few EHS pros want to receive safety news updates through social media. Only 2% are extremely interested, according to ISHN’s research, and 8% are very interested.

There are a fair number of fence-sitters who can’t decide, which is not uncommon with evolving technology. Twenty-four percent tell ISHN they are somewhat interested. Most, 65%, are not very interested or not at all interested in getting news updates via social media.

The EHS profession’s male-dominated baby boomer demographics also explain the very low appeal of Facebook (6% usage) and Twitter (3% usage). Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s billionaire owner, isn’t making his billions from middle-aged middle managers. Not yet, anyway.

Check back in 15 years

Fact is, according to ISHN’s reader research, EHS pros are not for the most part gadget guys and gals. Fifty-five percent do not use a smartphone for business purposes. The 45% that do use iPhones, Androids, Blackberries and the like use them mostly (96%) for email, searching the Internet (71%) and smartphone apps (46%).

Only 5% of pros use a personal tablet device such as an iPad for business purposes.

Of course we’re early in the going here as far as social media being employed for business purposes. Imagine how different the responses would be if you asked EHS pros 15 years ago, at the beginning of the Internet Age, how they used the Internet, versus the responses you’d get from them today. Fifteen years from now social media could be embedded in business communication practices.

Or in five years.

Or maybe never.

How your customers use the ‘Net

We did ask ISHN readers how they use the Internet to access safety and health information in 2011.

  • OSHA and other regulatory agencies, which 15 years ago were not far along in developing web content, now are the dominant source for safety and health info. More than three-quarters of ISHN readers (76%) use the OSHA web site, which is now rich and deep in compliance assistance content.
  • In contrast, 50% of readers use professional society websites, such as those of ASSE, AIHA, and the NSC.
  • A slightly higher percent, 56%, use product vendor websites.
  • A much lower percent, 36%, use safety distributor websites.
  • Virtual safety trade shows have been visited at least once by 25% of those we surveyed, the same percentage that watch online safety and health videos.
  • Podcasts and blogs have a long way to go to reach any kind of critical mass with the EHS audience. ISHN’s survey found only 13% of pros listen to podcasts, and 9% read blogs.
  • In the safety world, lonely is the life of a blogger, getting little feedback and interaction from readers.


How customers use your web site

Let’s look more closely at how EHS pros use vendor websites. Only 4% visit safety manufacturers’ site daily. Most visit either weekly (26%) or monthly (32%).

What web site content of safety equipment manufacturers do pros find most useful?

  •  Product information/specs — 81%
  • Ability to contact company via email  — 48%
  • Answer to FAQs  — 39%
  • Ability to make a purchase online  — 38%
  • Ability to interact with expert systems to obtain product information  — 35%
  • Request a quote  — 31%
  • Ability to watch products via video  — 28%
  • White Papers/technical bulletins  — 26%