Many marketers think of social media in the context of B2C companies: after all, 4 in 10 consumers buy products that they’ve favorited, liked, tweeted or pinned on various social networks.
Yet, according to a recent study from MarketingProfs, 87% of B2B marketers use social media platforms in their content marketing efforts. In fact, of 13 tactics proposed from the content marketing arsenal, social media was the most popular.
So the question stands: how can a B2B marketer ensure that his or her social media inbound campaigns are the most effective they can be? Here’s a closer look at some of the lessons I have learned consulting for social media on behalf of clients in the last few years.
Nexus Of Social Media & The B2B Business Model
Take a close look at the nexus of B2B business models and the primary function and benefits of social media. By understanding where these two most effectively connect, it becomes easier to see where marketers can invest their time to get the best results in B2B social campaigns.
The B2B buying process is a demanding one. When purchases can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and people’s careers can be put on the line when a bad purchase is made, it’s easy to see why B2B transactions often require a complex buying cycle.
It’s within this context that the concept of the buying funnel really takes root. Content marketing allows for businesses to connect to the target market and provide content that’s relevant to their stage in the buying cycle. Social media channels are a critical element of content marketing. For more background on decoding your sales funnel and understanding how it relates to content marketing, see “How to Achieve ROI from Your B2B Content Strategy in 60 Days.”
Relationship Between Social Media & Inbound Marketing
For many marketers, the relationship between social media and inbound marketing is not 100% clear. (If you’re still unclear on the benefits of social media marketing, see “What is Social Media Marketing, And How Can It Help My Business?“)
Most would say that the purpose of inbound marketing is to create great content and promote it through various channels. Social media is one of those channels, but it also plays a secondary role: it amplifies the impact and reach of content that’s published in other places. A common example of this would be promoting a recent blog post via social media channels in order to raise awareness of the blog post.
So, when we talk about the relationship between social media and inbound marketing campaigns in the B2B context, we need to be clear that it’s both a primary channel and a secondary tool.
That dichotomy doesn’t need to be confusing; instead, we just need to be clear in terms of how we’re thinking about a specific platform. Posting a presentation to Slideshare is focusing on primary content dissemination. Subsequently sharing links to that content on Twitter and Facebook is using those channels to amplify it. We’ll talk more in depth later about where each of these fits, but I want to highlight this as it’s fairly unique to the social media landscape.
What Does Social Media Marketing Look Like At B2B Firms?
A recent Content Marketing Institute study gave a clear picture of what a successful B2B social media marketer would look like. The following statistics highlight the findings:
- 86% of B2B firms have a dedicated individual or agency to oversee their content marketing efforts
- They are active on an average of 7 platforms
- 91% use LinkedIn in their social marketing efforts (highest of all the social media channels)
- 85% use Twitter
- 81% use Facebook
So, how does a B2B marketer go about structuring an inbound campaign?
Step 1: Understand Your Audience
The foundational concept for any inbound marketing campaign is to know your audience. The deeper and more compelling your customer profile, the more successful you will be in terms of reaching them. For a quick primer on how to understand your audience, see my article “6 Steps to Decoding Your Target Audience.”
In the B2B space, there are two potential audiences that you need to understand. The first is at the organizational level: what’s the most pressing problem that the company is facing and how does your product or service solve that? The second is at the buyer level: what is going to make the decision maker(s) behind the purchase choose your solution over others on the market?
Conveying these factors through social media is compounded by the reality that social channels are highly personal venues. So, you have two options for reaching these potential buyers within your target market:
- Communicate with decision-makers as your brand
- Communicate with decision-makers as yourself, on behalf of your brand
An example of #1 would be communicating with a buyer within your target market from your brand’s Twitter account. An example of #2 would be communicating with a buyer from your own personal Twitter account, or via your LinkedIn account, while identifying yourself as a representative of your company.
Personally, I use and recommend both approaches (at the same time). Each social media engagement is a chance to impart helpful information to the right person at the right time, and to create a positive brand impression. And each approach leads to a “humanization” of your brand — the process of giving your brand a likable personality. Apple has done a phenomenal job of this; think about its “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials.
Even though Apple is primarily B2C, B2B brands should also aim to humanize. Why? Because the target market, whether consumers or companies, is always going to be people. And people relate better to people than to corporate entities. For more information about the benefits of humanizing your brand, see my article, “Why It’s Important to Humanize Your Brand on Social Media.”
Step 2: Define Your Goals — Micro & Macro
The B2B buying cycle is lengthy and typically involves multiple touch points. So for each marketing effort, it’s important to have a series of goals that take into account the potential universe of conversions. In the barest of terms, we tend to think of conversions as, “Did we make the sale?” That’s the ultimate goal, but the most successful campaigns take a much more nuanced view that looks at each interaction as a strategic touch point that nurtures the lead along the funnel to the point of sale.
Better questions to ask to help understand conversions for B2B social media campaigns include:
- Did we make a connection that made them aware of our brand?
- Did we make a connection that improved their perception of our brand?
- Are our offers encouraging them to sign up for more information and become part of our email subscriber base?
- Are they including us in their research process (and thereby building our brand authority) by downloading our white papers or reading case studies?
- Are they asking us questions or sharing our material?
- Have they self-identified as a lead by reaching out, opting in for specific information, or signing up for a demo?
- Did they opt in for a nurturing track to stay connected to us for a specific product suite or practice area?
- Did specific social interactions help us promote content that improves our conversion rate or average sale amount during the sales process?
Ultimately, your goal is to make a sale. But social media has the potential to drive the hundreds of small actions along the way that result in the sale. Map your B2B social strategy so that it’s possible to strategically push on these levers and to measure their impact when they happen.
Step 3: Define Your Metrics — By Value & Volume
Measurement is another critical component of the B2B social media landscape. It’s hard to measure impact in a way that makes people comfortable with marketing metrics. In outbound marketing, it’s possible to say “I called that prospect, sent them materials, followed up, and made the sale.” The initial connection-to-sale process is usually relatively linear. But with inbound marketing in general and social media in particular, the social-to-sale pathway is more complex.
I find it helpful to define your metrics in two ways:
Volume: Volume metrics focus on engagement and growth. They’re early signs of success and they’re very tangible. These include:
- Growth in the number of followers or fans
- Likes or shares that your content gets
- Click-through rates
- Website traffic resulting from social channels
There’s rarely a one-to-one correlation to your bottom line, but these metrics are easy to measure and can help verify that you’re on the right track. They’re also incredibly useful for helping you identify what content is successful, and this information helps you understand your target market as well as refine and optimize your strategy and content.
Value: Value metrics are where you look for the outcomes that impact your bottom line. If your goals are lead generation and sales, these are the ones that really matter.
How many leads are your campaigns generating? Are you scoring your leads and looking at lead quality? What do the conversion rates and lifetime customer values of these leads look like?
Value metrics quickly help you get to the ROI. If you need a refresher on what metrics are helpful to follow, I recommend this article: “Why You Should Track Social Media Analytics and How it Affects Your ROI.”
Step 4: Drive Your Tactical Choices Accordingly
I wanted to avoid an article that focused on recommendations like, “Spend 50 percent of your time on LinkedIn.” For every business, every product and every industry, the landscape is unique; the right social media strategy for your specific scenario would differ depending on your goals, resources, industry and target market.
Instead, understanding the bigger dynamics of how to craft a campaign, how to measure its success, and where to place social media in the B2B marketing landscape will give you the foundation to make those choices yourself.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight some trends that I’m seeing that are worthwhile for every B2B social media marketer to consider in the year ahead. Here are those thoughts, in no particular order:
- As the landscape becomes more crowded, social media’s ability to amplify the reach of your content can’t be overstated. Every content marketing strategy should include a secondary dissemination loop, and social media needs to play a key role in that. Is your content easily sharable on social media? Are you promoting your B2B content through your own networks? Have you taken a deep dive into understanding the ecosystems of your key networks — for example, using hashtags on Twitter to extend your reach?
- Some networks are a natural (and growing) fit for B2B companies. LinkedIn is the obvious choice, with Twitter a close second. Slideshare is also rapidly gaining market share. Niche networks that cater to your customers are also worth getting to know, as they can be a source of highly qualified leads. For help figuring out which social media networks should be included in your strategy, see “How to Determine Which Social Media Network Fits Your Business.”
- Google authorship will play an increasingly important role in getting eyes on your content. Even if there’s not a direct sales benefit to participating in Google Plus for your business now, the indirect benefits, such as Authorship Markup, are powerful enough that I’d advocate taking the network seriously.
- If you haven’t taken your social media marketing into the visual realm, it’s time to begin experimenting. Images (think Pinterest and Instagram), video, and the rise of micro video are opening whole new content avenues. As mobile technology continues to outpace more traditional computer use, even in the business context, B2B companies with a mobile-visual strategy will be positioned to come out ahead of their competitors.
Whether you’re choosing which networks are right for your social content or looking for creative ways to amplify the impact of your existing content, a strategic social media engagement campaign is critical for any B2B marketing initiative. What strategies are you employing in B2B social media marketing that are working for you now, and where do you plan to focus in the year ahead?
Image credit: Broadband.utah.gov (public domain).
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