While the strategic use of social media (SM) for enhancing firm performance has attracted much attention, little is known about it through the lens of business-to-business (B2B) small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Building on the market-driven view and the dynamic capabilities view of competitive strategy, we examine SM use in a framework of market-sensing and customer-linking capabilities that influence firm performance. Our research model posits that market orientation stimulates SM use to enhance market-sensing capability thereby facilitating two customer-linking capabilities, namely customer relationship management and brand management, which collectively contribute to greater marketing performance and financial performance. Our research model is empirically tested using a survey of 143 UK B2B SMEs. The findings broadly support our theorization in which the strategic use of SM, an essential part of market-sensing capability, enhances customer-linking capabilities. Interestingly, although SM use influences brand management capability, its suggested influences on both customer relationship management capability and marketing performance occur only through the mediation of brand management capability. Both customer-linking capabilities positively influence marketing performance and in turn financial performance. Our findings provide novel conceptual and empirical advancement of how market-centric B2B SMEs strategically use SM to enhance their market-sensing and in turn customer-linking capabilities, and hence firm performance.
With the increased digitalization of marketing activities, marketing professionals are increasingly adopting social media (SM) as a strategic tool to effectively engage with customers and broader stakeholders (e.g. Chaker, Nowlin, Pivonka, Itani, and Agnihotri, 2022; Pardo, Pagani, and Savinien, 2022); develop new products (Du, Yalcinkaya, and Bstieler, 2016); increase brand awareness (Deng, Wang, Rod, and Ji, 2021); co-create value (Itani, Krush, Agnihotri, and Trainor, 2020); and improve firm performance (Cheng, Liu, Qi, and Wan, 2021). More and more researchers suggest that firms must have an SM presence since the strategic use of SM is increasingly seen to enhance firm competitiveness (e.g. Cartwright, Liu, and Raddats, 2021; Tiwary, Kumar, Sarraf, Kumar, and Rana, 2021).
The likely gains from SM technologies are particularly evident in business markets where customers are more informed and less dependent on interactions with salespeople (Ancillai, Terho, Cardinali, and Pascucci, 2019). For example, leading large firms such as Adobe, IBM, and Maersk Line are increasingly using digital channels and SM to facilitate effective dialogue with customers (Ancillai et al., 2019). The growing evidence suggests that SM can be strategically used to facilitate an effective dialogue with customers (Kovac, 2016), create brand awareness, or differentiate the focal brand from the competition (e.g. Deng et al., 2021; Swani, Brown, and Mudambi, 2020), provide customer care, and/or improve firm performance, among others (e.g. Salo, 2017; Tiwary et al., 2021).
Overall, our study examined the much-advocated and under-investigated strategic use of SM for enhanced B2B marketing strategy. We opted to focus on the B2B SME context where it argued that due to the resource-constrained operating environment experienced by SMEs, the use of SM platforms will be particularly beneficial due to easiness of implementation, low-cost accessibility, and cost-efficiency. We promised our inquiry on the dynamic capabilities view and Day's (1994) seminal framework of capabilities in market-driven firms and theorized that the strategic use of SM provides a meaningful link between market orientation and CLC. Overall, our research model captures how the strategic use of SM strengthens MSC to effectively seize market opportunities through (re)developing two key CLC that drive enhanced marketing performance and in turn financial performance. Overall, the strategic use of SM remains a fertile ground for further inquiry in B2B marketing strategy context.