Ever since Social Media became the most popular medium since the Big Bang (not the TV show, the actual Big Bang) B2B marketers have been struggling to “leverage” this medium. But it is early days yet, and there are no hard-and-fast rules – somewhat similar to the Wild West in the 1800’s. The industry has learned some lessons, however, and they can be applied successfully by B2B marketers, even as we all work together to improve. (Advertising on Social Media sites is a different subject altogether, and relates much more to “traditional” digital media advertising than it does to Social Media. We will focus here on participation in Social Media conversations, rather than banner or text advertisements.)
The very first lesson is the most important:
1. Social Media is all about people connecting with other people, not companies marketing to people. Think of it this way: any social medium (including LinkedIn) is designed to operate as a virtual networking forum, where people can talk to other people in as private or public a manner as they choose. It is not a place for companies to pretend to be people (the US Supreme Court notwithstanding) and insert themselves in these conversations. Everything else flows from this understanding.
2. Social Media is, however, an opportunity to put a human face on the company, and to connect in a more direct (but not necessarily overly personal) way with the people that you already work with, or are trying to reach at the companies with which your company wants to do business. So the information being shared via these channels should be interesting to these people, and relevant enough that they will not only read/watch/listen, but also share with their contacts and network. In the B2B world, this specifically precludes advertising.
3. Social Media marketing is about branding and awareness, not about lead generation or sales. It is most useful as a channel to share interesting information related to customer challenges, problems, or opportunities, but not about your company’s products or solutions. This is an ideal channel to develop thought leadership, and to become known as industry experts. The result may be more website visits, and other potentially measurable direct activity, but not necessarily short-term lead generation. Be patient.
4. Social Media marketing for the B2B channel requires consistent and sustained engagement. Without a regular frequency of communication, and without developing a networked conversation, this medium does not produce any positive marketing benefits for B2B companies. That means that posts should be made on a regular basis (the exact frequency is not as important, depending on the company, the industry and other factors, but whatever the frequency, make sure the channel is used consistently.)
5. Focus on interesting and relevant content. This aspect of Social Media Marketing has proven to be the most challenging for B2B marketers – generating (or finding) a sufficient volume of interesting content that will be useful to their network (and their network’s network.) While some B2B marketers use social media channels to share personal updates, humorous stories, or viral videos, this has not proven to be an effective technique. What information will your contacts find interesting and useful to them, and will leave them with a positive emotional association with you (e.g. appreciation or respect) for having shared it with them?
6. Use the various Social Media channels differently. Facebook is used and understood differently from LinkedIn, and Twitter has a completely different use model as well. Most B2B marketers don’t find Facebook to be effective. If you do choose to use Facebook, when sharing updates on a company Facebook page, make sure that they are framed in context with the kinds of feeds that people expect when using Facebook (perhaps articles focused on personal and professional growth, or interesting statistics about different people’s experiences working in a variety of cities around the country.) When reading their LinkedIn feeds, people are generally more in “worker” mode, so articles or quick facts about trends in their industries, or innovative solutions to industry problems are more relevant and appreciated. Twitter is used much more as a quick scan resource, so anything that has time-sensitive context to it (such as information about an event, or a speaker at an event, or an announcement by a leader in the industry) is most relevant and appreciated. YouTube and Instagram may offer excellent opportunities for sharing interesting visual content, in the right context. Blogs are an opportunity to discuss industry topics in a much more thoughtful and deep manner, and can be a forum to expand on your company’s take on a particular technology, market, or industry trend. People reading blogs appreciate learning about business or technical subjects in more detail than they may find in a short headline or a news article.
7. Find the “Goldilocks Zone” for how much, and how frequently to post to Social Media. Posting too infrequently results in not enough attention being paid to the company’s (or person’s) Social Media presence. Posting too frequently often results in people ignoring (or blocking) the posts. Finding the frequency that is not too few, and not too many, but “just right” for your company and your network, is a matter of trial and error. Pay attention to the stats on how often people share content, or how many views you get whenever you vary frequency, and this will allow you to see what is most effective overall as you have changed over time.
8. Keep it tasteful. There is a line between “professional” and “personal” content, and it is all too easy to move from tasteful posts to making people cringe. In B2B Social Media marketing avoid controversial subjects, such as politics, religion, or other sensitive topics that can cause the viral nature of social media to spiral your brand out of control. No matter your personal values or moral stance on any issue (or that of your company) entering these kinds of debates on Social Media never works for B2B companies.
9. Coordinate your messaging on Social Media with all of your other channels. You have online and offline marketing programs; these all serve as touch points for your B2B brand – your Social Media touch points must offer a consistent brand experience with these other channels. Even though you should not be overtly promoting your products or solutions on Social Media, the way that your network (and their networks) will view you and the company is impacted by the style and content of your Social Media presence.
10. Invite participation and dialogue. Blogs are especially powerful as a means to solicit opinions, experiences, and ideas from people that normally may not be part of the discussion, but are influencers or buyers nonetheless. The success of your B2B marketing strategy can be measured not just in terms of numbers of followers or connections or shares, but also in terms of engagement. The more active your dialogue is, the more diverse the range of opinions, the more interesting the discussion, the better your brand will be viewed. (A good example can be seen here.)
The most effective B2B Social Media marketers:
- Focus on LinkedIn, Blogs, and Twitter;
- Dedicate at least 10 hours per week to maintain and update Social Media content and pages;
- Generate high levels of engagement through thought-leadership and industry-focused content;
- Stay far away from talking about the company’s products.
What has (or has not) worked for your B2B Social Media marketing?