How To Choose The Right Social Media Networks For Your B2B Business
One of the most important steps in launching a successful social media campaign is choosing the right platform to connect with your audience. For B2B firms, where the social interactions and buyer relationships are more complex than in many B2C contexts, this is especially true.
The benefits of social media marketing include brand awareness, building your overall profile with specific audiences, connecting with a broader conversation in your niche, and driving traffic and exposure to your key content.
If you want a general background on the relationship between social media and B2B companies, see my article, How to Run a Successful B2B Social Media Campaign. Choosing the right network is the first step to running a successful campaign; here’s a closer look at how to determine where to invest your time.
Strategies For Determining What Social Networks Your Audience Uses
Whenever possible, I recommend basing your social network choices on data.
Depending on where your firm is in the social media lifecycle (e.g., novice to established firm), you can leverage different information sources to look at how engaged and active your audience is with a particular network. When I talk to many businesses and entrepreneurs, they fall prey to a common misconception. Many of them suggest that choosing social networks simply relies on common sense. There’s no need for conversation or leveraging data, they suggest; it should be obvious where their audience is spending time.
It’s an easy intuitive leap to make; after all, there are certain platforms that are clearly a good fit for your business. But I recommend basing that on several factors that you can measure and observe, including insights gleaned directly from your customers and prospects. Some factors to consider include:
- Existing Profiles: Of your existing profiles, which ones are getting the most traction? Traction can be measured in a number of ways, but always look at a variety of growth indicators. Don’t over-invest on any one single metric (unless that metric is profit!).
- Followers & Engagement: Whether you’re currently engaging heavily in specific networks or you’ve simply done some experiments for preliminary data, measure your growth in at least two ways. Followers and account size independently don’t mean much, but they can give you a sense of where your brand intersects with social. Engagement, in the forms of shares and likes, is a more useful indicator of resonance.
- Traffic Generation: Even if you’re not spending much time on a specific network, it’s possible that it’s still sending you traffic. Evaluate your website analytics to understand whether social activity (yours or community-generated) is a major driver of visits to your site. If so, it’s worth investigating the relationship between that platform and conversions.
- Conversions & Customer Value: It’s possible for a social network to send you traffic, but that traffic may be of low value. Do visitors bounce immediately off your page, or are they reading your content, amplifying your message and becoming customers? A more detailed analysis can help you determine not only which networks are sending you traffic, but which ones are sending you valuable traffic.
- Content Synergies: Many businesses find that a specific content format helps tell their story in a meaningful way. If you’re great at creating engaging video, sites like YouTube and Vimeo are natural choices for your business to invest in. If there’s a clear connection between a specific content format and how you do business, focus on developing that.
- Customer Preference: Businesses have conversations going with customers all the time. These discussions reveal important information — for example, the fact that your customers spend hours on Facebook every day or used LinkedIn to get industry-relevant recommendations. If you’re unsure, ask. While you don’t want to base your entire strategy on self-reported data, these insights can fill in gaps that market research and analytics might not cover.
- Industry Synergies: Certain networks have an inherent bias toward the B2B company, such as LinkedIn. Other industries have a strong affinity for certain types of business, such as the connection between retail and Pinterest. Niche networks and specific ways to focus mainstream networks on industry issues, like industry groups or specialized chats, are also important ways to connect with B2B buyers . Whether it’s #agchat for agribusiness on Twitter or iSalesman, which is a specialized social network for sales professionals, it pays to know the custom social media habits of your audience.
The Relationship Between Content Type & Platform
In the last two years, an interesting evolution has taken place between social media and content marketing. The discussion around content types and social promotion has evolved from how to use different platforms to distribute your content to how to match the platform to the content for optimal reach. I covered this trend more in-depth in my article, “How to Integrate Your Content Strategy & Social Media Campaigns.”
Partially, this relates to the fast-changing social landscape. New social networks are springing up on a seemingly daily basis. Existing networks are expanding their services and functionality through new development and acquisitions. Features such as hashtags, once the sole province of Twitter, are now showing up in the vast majority of major networks.
It’s also a byproduct of more sophisticated content marketing. Recent Google algorithm updates like Panda skyrocketed content marketing to one of the core online marketing disciplines. One of the tenets is diversification. Many companies are being bolder than ever with shaping and exploring their company’s story.
Whether they’re sticking to the written form but expanding into blogging, eBooks, or white papers, or experimenting with visual formats like infographics or video, companies are trying to find the right medium to both position themselves and resonate with their audiences. A natural extension of this is then finding the right networks to showcase and promote that content.
Let’s take a closer look at the three major content types.
- Written: Written content is still the most flexible content type. You can break it down for status updates, link to it, and post it in different formats according to a network’s guidelines. It’s possible to optimize for a mobile-social experience or for more traditional computer-based users. Written content remains the cornerstone of most B2B social media efforts, simply by virtue of sales cycles and the quantity of information that B2B buyers consume.
- Video: The proliferation of video content has migrated from the field of entertainment straight into the business world. B2B firms are finding a wide range of uses for video content, from how-to videos to expert interviews. Video appeals to a different audience than long-form written content and provides an avenue for non-writers to create powerful, expert grade material.
- Visual: Visual content encompasses everything from the popularity of images on networks like Pinterest to more obvious B2B uses like infographics and other branded content. B2B firms can find new life in existing content by adding a visual component that helps illustrate their message in a compelling way.
7 Types Of Social Media Networks To Leverage
If there’s one message that you take away from this article, I hope it’s that a one size fits all approach to social media marketing isn’t effective. Instead, it’s important to use real data and audience insights to inform your choice of network and evaluate your campaign’s progress over time.
For help with this, see “Why You Should Track Social Media Analytics and How it Affects Your ROI” and “The 5 Best Tools for Measuring Social Media Performance.” That being said, your marketing decisions need to be made within the broader context of the social media landscape and how it’s developing.
As trends emerge, general data about what’s working is shared and user interest spikes in specific networks, it’s important to be aware of these data points. Your exploration of whether they apply to your business is the most important part of the process. However, with this in mind, here are seven social networks (and types of networks) every B2B social media marketer should consider when working to identify the right networks for your audience and business goals.
1. Pinterest & Other Image-Based Networks: While Pinterest may be primarily a tool to connect with consumers, it plays a role in the B2B world, as well. Check out this excellent Social Media Examiner case study on how Constant Contact is leveraging Pinterest for B2B marketing. Other popular social media platforms with a visual spin include Visual.ly and Instagram. The lessons for succeeding on visual networks are simple:
- Find the visual angle to your brand. Whether that’s showcasing your products or your zany behind-the-scenes office culture, taking a visual approach can supplement all your other branded work.
- Leverage data and case studies to create infographics and other visual explorations of your work.
- Expand your understanding of branding. It goes beyond your logo and website, and instead helps answer the question, “How can I visually tell the story of who we are, who we serve and what impact our products and services have in the world?”
2. Video Networks Such As YouTube & Vine: If you’re interested in video, there’s never been a better time to use it as a medium to connect with customers. B2B firms have a wide range of options available via video, but I recommend the following with 2014 social media trends in mind:
- Experiment with different video lengths, from ultra-short Vines to more in-depth video content.
- Cross-promote video content on mainstream networks leveraging the latest video oriented tools. These include Twitter Cards and featured videos on LinkedIn profiles.
- Try both scripted and unscripted videos. Sales copy can translate in a powerful way to the video medium, while moments of genius can emerge when the camera is rolling in unscripted moments.
3. LinkedIn: LinkedIn remains the top network for business-focused social media marketers. Having an active presence isn’t enough; B2B marketers need to think about creative ways to leverage innovative features like:
- Target the decision makers: Numerous features on LinkedIn let you connect directly with decision makers. This is your chance to bypass gatekeepers and connect directly with the people making purchasing decisions and critical recommendations.
- Use The News Feed: Remember that LinkedIn’s newsfeed has become a content delivery mechanism. Utilize it for that purpose.
- Publish Your Content: LinkedIn now has a feature that allows you to publish your content directly to the network. Consider LinkedIn as a critical component of your publishing strategy and potentially a good location to syndicate your content.
- Target Your LinkedIn Strategy To Personas: Have you created a LinkedIn persona strategy yet? If not, it may be time to think about who is accessing your content via LinkedIn and consider enabling access via LinkedIn’s credentialed sign in for a more customized, segmented experience. To learn more about personas, check out Are You Using B2B Personas Effectively?
4. Twitter & Facebook: Twitter and Facebook remain among the top players in the social landscape. Having an active presence on these networks gives you access to tremendous scale. Prioritize value-rich and customer-focused updates and whenever possible, connect your work to the broader conversation. For more help with Twitter and Facebook, see “How to Maximize ROI on Your Facebook and Twitter Campaigns.”
5. Niche Networks: No B2B social strategy is complete without taking stock of the niche networks that dominate a space. It’s potentially hard to weigh the impact; networks tend to be smaller, but also have very active communities. Depending on the context of the network and your campaign goals, niche network participants can also offer a highly qualified lead pool.
6. Google+: Matt Cutts’ recent confirmation that Facebook and Twitter signals don’t contribute directly to SEO was a revelation for many. This just reinforces the importance of a Google+ profile. If you’re active on Google+, the top things to remember are:
- Take advantage of Google Authorship. Along with Authorship Markup, this is one of the most important advantages of the platform currently.
- Follow Intel’s example and use hangouts and chat tools to foster robust discussions about new technology, product launches and more.
- Integrate features such as communities and video for a richer user experience.
7. Location-Based Networks: Finally, don’t expect location-based networks to go away – especially for local businesses. If you’re offering B2B services at a local or regional level, for example as an accountant or a commercial building management service, your local presence is critical. Being active on local networks like FourSquare can give you an advantage.
For a closer look at the hot social trends across industries in 2014, see The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends that Will Dominate 2014.
For B2B social media marketers, choosing the right platform for your business is the first step to running a successful social campaign. Whether your choices are being driven by which networks your audience spends time on, analytical data or how best to showcase your content, harness the power of those network’s best practices to increase your ROI. What networks are working best for your B2B social efforts right now? Let me know in the comments below.
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