Every day, marketers share the latest statistics, best practices, and case studies from and for consumer-focused brands. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable void in terms of similar content for business-to-business (B2B) brands. Unfortunately, the lack of information is seen as a testament to a lack of efficacy of social media for B2B applications. In the following article, I'll outline a compelling case for B2B marketing that disproves this assumption, as well as a list of B2B-friendly social media platforms.
Those of us who have experience with B2B marketing understand there are nuanced differences between talking to a consumer vs. a businessperson. Business purchases are typically more complicated, require longer sales cycles, include a variety of influencers and decision makers, and (allegedly) rely more on features and pricing and less on emotion and brand experience.
Benefits of social media for B2B
That being said, there are significant similarities in terms of reasons for engaging in social media, regardless of audience. Based on an earlier blog post, I've outlined 10 reasons for B2B companies to engage in social media:
- Your customers and competitors are already there or will be soon. They are joining in droves every day and can't be ignored.
- Social media offers an excellent resource for R&D. Your constituents are helping evolve your products and services, and social media offers the world's most affordable focus group -- if you're listening.
- Social media offers an affordable and effective customer service and support medium, comprising do-it-yourself videos and photos, employee blogs, knowledge-base wikis, and more.
- Social media provides an excellent competitive research vehicle, as it enables you to follow competitors on LinkedIn, monitor trademark and industry terms via Google Alerts, and more.
- Social media platforms are effective tools for managing your reputation online.
- Social media offers a proven platform for customer engagement and empowerment via customer-managed online communities, mobile and social apps, and more.
- Social media offers proven ad platforms, including Facebook and LinkedIn, which offer highly targeted and segmented audiences.
- Social media is highly measurable, yet it's difficult to measure. (You win either way, by making your case -- or glossing over the early stage tests if management isn't paying close attention.)
- Getting into the game as soon as possible can enable early adopters to leverage a lack of competition.
- According to research from ENGAGEMENTdb, socially engaged organizations are more profitable.
I'm hoping at least one, if not more, of the above reasons resonated and you are now open to considering moving your B2B marketing efforts onto the social graph. Before you do, I must warn you that there are challenges and consequences to doing social poorly. Similar to consumer brands, B2B companies have to think differently about social media. After all, social media is a place where consumers and customers own your brand. As such, social media programs must employ best practices, which I outlined in this previous iMedia article.
The most significant challenge faced by B2B brands is one of culture. A company's culture must inherently support the following principles of effective social media engagement: transparency, honesty, relevance, value, and commitment. Transparency is perhaps the greatest hurdle for corporate marketers used to "spinning" messages to even the most educated and sophisticated B2B customers. Value is also a significant hurdle, as B2B brands are typically unsure of what customers want from them in the social world. (Tip: Ask your customers and prospects what they want, when they want it, and in what format they prefer -- then give it to them.) Last but not least, it is important to have a corporate culture that is able and willing to commit to social media over the long haul. After all, it's a marathon -- not a sprint.
Another issue facing B2B companies is the need to determine the best way to segment and target markets effectively via social media. Companies that segment by vertical markets might struggle with singular corporate profiles, while having multiple profiles can be onerous, fracture the brand, and confuse the target audience.
If the preceding big hairy warning didn't scare you off and you're still considering developing or enhancing your social presence, there are a few basic steps you need to take.
Step 1: Listen
Do not formulate or finalize your social media strategies until you've listened to the marketplace. It will give you the guidance you need, even without asking questions.
Step 2: Plan
Develop a plan that includes key audiences, objectives, content strategies, metrics, and benchmarks.
Step 3: Create
Develop content and optimize associated social profiles for optimal visibility.
Step 4: Communicate
Implement content strategy and initiate outreach. Don't forget step 1 -- never stop listening.
Step 5: Engage
Start conversations and develop relationships that include prospects and customers. Evolve your program based on feedback; give customers what they want.
Step 6: Measure, test and refine
Optimize your overall program based on performance.
Much has been written about developing effective social media marketing strategies, particularly on a platform-by-platform basis. Below is a short list of platforms we've deemed most effective for B2B brand marketers, based on user intent and demographic profiles.
Due to its origins in professional networking, LinkedIn is perhaps the most effective social platform for B2B marketers. When building out a LinkedIn strategy, be sure to include service descriptions on your company profile, create and participate in groups, ask and answer questions, follow competitors, and test advertising.
Often overlooked due to a lack of sexiness, blogs are still highly effective communications vehicles for B2B companies. Done correctly, a corporate blog is ideal for creating awareness, credibility, and even thought leadership within your industry. B2B buyers and influencers frequently research online, and blogs typically rank well, so it's a no-brainer to create and optimize compelling content on a corporate blog. If your bandwidth is limited, consider sponsoring an existing industry blog or guest-writing for it.
Also known as the second largest search engine, YouTube offers tremendous untapped value for B2B marketers, particularly in terms of generating awareness. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is a 30-second "how-to" video at 30 frames per second? (Answer: 900,000 words.) Interviews, product demos, and archived presentations are all effective marketing fodder for video syndication.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because Facebook is known as a personal social network, it is increasingly used in a business setting. Apps like BranchOut are trying to take on LinkedIn by identifying business connections in your personal Facebook network. Also, consider testing Facebook advertising, due to the unique targeting abilities. You might hit B2B decision makers when their guard is down.
Although Twitter is less frequently seen as a heavy-lifter for B2B marketing, it can be effective at generating awareness and engagement with constituents. At its core, it is an easy and effective amplifier of existing (social) marketing efforts. You can syndicate blog posts, videos, and LinkedIn or Facebook status updates directly to Twitter, giving you additional exposure to a large network. Engaging on Twitter can be highly valuable as well; look to identify and engage influencers based on Twitter stream commentary.
Relatively new on the scene, Quora is a social platform to watch in terms of creating thought leadership. As an expert community (think LinkedIn Answers, Yahoo Answers, and Google's Orkut), this online community consists of subject matter experts -- and appears to have a greater level of sophisticated users than LinkedIn. Quora's media buzz is tremendous, as is the growth rate of adoption, but time will tell if Quora will be able to dethrone LinkedIn as the king of Q&A for B2B.
Don't forget to leverage a variety of free and affordable tools to minimize your time commitment and maximize your ROI from social media. Monitoring platforms like Google Alerts, Social Mention, and TweetDeck offer real-time insights into conversations. Management platforms like HootSuite allow a variety of employees within the organization to engage in social media on a platform-by-platform basis. These platforms also allow you to schedule status updates, shorten URLs, and measure clicks and conversions across social profiles.
Despite the lack of overwhelming content around B2B social media marketing, there are case studies and success stories that demonstrate clear value. At Anvil Media, one of our technology clients, ColumbiaSoft, was able to generate a dozen leads after only two weeks of interaction on LinkedIn Q&A. More recently, DIBroker, a provider of disability insurance, experienced tremendous success with Facebook advertising. Specifically, DIBroker saw a significant increase in lead quality and decreased cost-per-lead by 28.6 percent, as compared to optimized PPC programs. Read the Facebook advertising case study on Anvil's website.
If you're a B2B marketer considering moving into social media, I hope the information above provides sufficient motivation to move forward, even if on a limited testing basis. Good luck, and don't wait too long to get engaged -- as your competitors might not be as hesitant.