Social Networks Drive IT Purchasing Process

A study by Forrester Research and LinkedIn finds that IT decision makers are turning to social networks for information during all phases of the purchasing process. Here's a look at the findings (including an infographic on the impact of social media) and tips for using LinkedIn to get the information you need.

IT purchasing decisions can be daunting, but a new study by Forrester Research and LinkedIn finds that IT decision makers (ITDMs) are relying heavily on social networks to help them through the process.

The study, "IT Purchasing Goes Social," surveyed 400 ITDMs across a range of industries throughout North America and finds that 85 percent have used at least one social network for business purposes.

[Jump to Infographic: "IT Purchasing Goes Social"]

More surprising, according to Mike Weir, head of category development at LinkedIn, is the extent to which ITDMs use social networks during the purchasing process.

"Social media is a critical source of influence across the entire decision-making process," he says. "Not just during the research phase. The days of people thinking of social media as just an awareness platform is gone—it's much more than that now."

Fifty-nine percent of respondents say they are influenced by at least one social network when considering business purchases—moreso than by online general media publications (46 percent).

As a result, social networks are becoming a hotbed of activity for technology marketers: 73 percent of respondents say they have engaged with an IT vendor on a social network.

"CIOs are working extremely close with the chief marketing officers," Wier says. "That presents marketers with a unique opportunity to reach these IT decision makers in ways they never could before."

ITDMs are turning to social networks now, the report says, for four reasons:

  1. To learn from trusted peers (58 percent)
  2. To quickly find information (40 percent)
  3. For relevant context to connect with vendors (37 percent)
  4. For access to a broader network (49 percent).

Of the top three social networks—Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook—ITDMs turn to LinkedIn most often to identify credentials of information sources (71 percent), to validate information from other sources (58 percent) and for a trusted channel for vendor information (55 percent).

Weir offers three tips for IT decision makers looking to tap LinkedIn during the purchasing process:

1. Follow companies. In the discovery phase of the IT purchasing process, make a list of the companies on your short list and follow them on LinkedIn.

To do so, search for the company name and hover over it on the results page. Click the "Follow Company" link, which appears in the top-right. You'll then start receiving updates from the company in your activity stream. These can include new product announcements, new hires, press releases and more.

2. Browse SlideShare. In May, LinkedIn announced its acquisition of SlideShare, a professional content sharing community.

This site, Weir says, offers a wealth of information for ITDMs in the education process. Search for presentations and information on the type of technology you're considering investing in, he says.

3. Join Groups. "Groups are a great way to follow thought leaders, learn about new technologies, discover new ideas and learn about who's the best in the business," Weir says. "Join some relevant groups, ask them questions and challenge the answers to questions you've received."

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Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and enterprise collaboration for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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