How Social Media Can Help B2B Marketing Teams Hit Growth Goals

Social media has been around since 1997, but it didn’t explode in popularity until 2006. From then on, the way we communicated was never the same. Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies have harnessed social media in a huge way. Not only are they creating brands and identities that the era of Mad Men would be jealous of, but the smartest ones are using the tool to generate real revenue. Why are business-to-business (B2B) businesses not realizing the same level of success? Because the demand marketing teams at these businesses don’t know how to shift from tactically engaging with these platforms to embracing a strategic approach.

There are some common misconceptions about social media in B2B marketing that I’ve found prevent teams and leaders from even trying. But these misconceptions can easily be debunked. Here are the three biggest ones.

1. Social media isn’t for B2B businesses

Believe it or not, this is still a prevailing mindset. But I’m here to tell you – yes it is! If your buyers are there, you should be there too (and trust me, they’re there). The reality is that social media is absolutely for B2B businesses, you just have to choose the platform that’s right for you. I’ll talk about how to do that a little later in this post, but it boils down to understanding your buyer’s content consumption preferences and taking a good hard look at your own internal skills.

2. Social media is a space for branding and personality

It is and it isn’t. We see great examples of B2C companies that have used their social media pages to define a distinct brand, but that is absolutely not the main point of social media for most B2B companies. For demand marketing to succeed in social media, B2B companies need to think of it as a tool to actually drive demand. It’s an engagement channel; a place where you connect with your buyers and offer relevant, valuable, substantive information. We’ll talk more about what qualifies as relevant, valuable information a little later on.

3. B2B is boring

This misconception is, in my opinion, the worst one. I read a dangerous statement from a prominent blogger that suggests B2B is too boring on its own to succeed on social media. After insisting you create an “unboring” angle he writes, “the [B2B] social following does not need to be directly related to or even interested in [your] niche. They can be indirectly related via the unboring angle.” Why would you want to attract people who won’t buy from you? This mindset is not only a waste of your time, it risks falsely inflating your numbers and alienating your core audience. But unfortunately, that’s the prevailing mindset today and one that you’ll have to break even among your own internal stakeholders. As long as your audience thinks your content is relevant and interesting, that’s all that matters. We’ll touch on how to do that later in this post.

Moving Past Misconceptions

Now that we’ve established there is a place for B2B in social media, let’s debunk the myth about how it should be used.

Social media should not be used to build a brand awareness. It should be used as part of a demand marketing strategy.

Demand marketing is the discipline through which companies orchestrate customer journey engagement and provide lift to pipeline. Social media should help you achieve both of those goals.

Orchestrating customer journey engagement is about educating a prospect along his or her journey and coordinating points of interaction both on and offline in order to achieve a 360-degree view (see the blog post: What is Demand Marketing?). Social media can play a huge role in orchestration because, as a platform, it lets you reach a user multiple times in his or her journey. You can use social media for a first-touch engagement (a paid ad) through opportunity creation (a LinkedIn connection) all the way until closed-won and beyond (hello, client success shoutout). The biggest advantage that social media has over more traditional mediums like email is that it’s not interruptive. Your ad, message, connection request, or tag will reach the intended target when she is already open to new ideas and research. Not when she’s facing a deadline. This type of end-to-end customer journey engagement requires connected data and technology systems, but if done right, can result in a significant lift to pipeline.

Setting the Stage for Social Media Success

With this perspective of demand marketing in mind, we can now recognize that social media can and should be a key source of qualified leads for your company. Some of the most popular marketing blogs out there tell you “leads don’t come first” or “your first goal of B2B social media marketing needs to be branding, not leads.” I am here to tell you, once again, that is wrong. The problem with this approach is that, when you’re not measuring your success based on the right metrics, you rely on vague concepts like engagement rates, impressions, and presence.

Engagement, as defined by most social media platforms, is a like, comment, or share. Presence is often defined by number of followers, number of impressions, or views. For reference, LinkedIn defines an impression as “the number of times each update is visible for at least 300 milliseconds with at least 50% in view on a (signed in) member’s device screen or browser window.” As we define in the article “Revenue vs. Vanity: The Metrics that Matter for Driving Growth” these vanity metrics, while great for measuring activity, have a very tenuous correlation to actual business outcomes.

Instead, when tracking social media success, focus on metrics including:

  • Cost per click
  • Cost per conversion (with conversion defined as a form fill)
  • Number of conversions per tactic (i.e. per post, paid ad, etc.)
  • Velocity of Engagement Channel (i.e. how fast are leads that come in through this channel moving through the funnel)
  • Elasticity of Engagement Channel (i.e. how likely is it that the leads that come in through this channel convert to the next Lead Qualification Stage)
  • Engagement Channel ROI

For more detail around what you should be measuring, I recommend reading both Demand Marketing KPIs and Metrics You Should Monitor and How to Optimize Your Marketing Engagement Channel Strategy.

Focusing on engagement rates, presence, and branding is counterproductive to your needs. Not only are you inflating your perception of success, but you’re taking valuable resources away from tasks that would otherwise support a Strategic Demand Marketing Plan. So yes, your first goal of B2B social media marketing should absolutely be to create qualified leads.

How to Use Social Media to Support a Demand Marketing Strategy

Now that we’ve debunked myths and set the stage for success the question remains – how do you use stop using social media tactically and instead use it to support a wider demand marketing strategy?

Each social media platform can be looked at as its own engagement channel with all platforms informed and supported by a buyer-centric Strategic Demand Marketing plan. They shouldn’t exist as islands, and they most certainly shouldn’t be used because “everyone’s doing it”. Each channel must serve a purpose as an integrated part of your overall strategy. Otherwise, you risk falling into a cycle of tactical, random acts of marketing, which will inevitably cost you more money and achieve worse results.

If you’re using more than one platform (more about how to choose your platform below), you might find that each channel needs its own tactics (i.e. the ad that works on LinkedIn probably won’t work on Instagram), but always put your demand marketing strategy first.

With your demand marketing strategy in hand, you can use the elements it defines to inform your social media campaigns. Follow these steps to get started.

1. Platform Selection
Choosing the right platform boils down to two things: understanding your buyer’s content consumption preferences and taking a good hard look at your own internal skills.

For example, at ANNUITAS, based on our own buyer research I know that my buyer is on LinkedIn. She uses the tool for research, connection, and inspiration, so it’s a good place for me to be. Conversely, I know that my buyer isn’t on Instagram (at least not in a professional capacity). Because I know these content consumption preferences (i.e. where and how my buyer wants to consume content) I know that LinkedIn is the right platform for me to use.

Furthermore, I have to look at my own team’s skills. I have extensive experience using LinkedIn in a B2B capacity. I don’t have great design skills, or a full-time design team (which I would need for Instagram or Pinterest) and most of my content tends to be longform (so Twitter is harder). While that doesn’t mean I can’t expand, it’s important to focus on the areas where success is most likely.

2. Goal Setting
Your goal for social media is not engagement rate and presence. Good? Good. Yes, you can absolutely use your profiles to share more about the company’s personality, team members, and newsworthy events, but focusing too much on “personality” pulls you farther away from providing lift to pipeline.

Your goals are unique to your business, but at ANNUITAS one goal is to generate a set number of Engaged leads, and LinkedIn is a channel that contributes to that number. ANNUITAS defines an Engaged lead as someone that has taken a substantive action, like filling out a form, for the first time. After that action is completed, the lead is now in the top of our funnel and can be nurtured. Achievement of this goal happens through consistent, substantive interactions. Not likes, shares, or comments.

Logistically, it’s important to know what your goals are when setting up a campaign. The tracking capabilities, performance metrics, and budget spend will be determined by your Campaign Type. Be thoughtful in choosing between Awareness goals, Consideration goals (website visits, video views), or Conversion goals (form fills, conversions on your website).

3. Campaign Building
I preach a three-pronged approach to campaign building. Using a single content theme, I create an outbound paid campaign, an inbound organic campaign, and a re-targeting campaign.

By leveraging a content-forward demand marketing strategy (and if you aren’t doing that stop right now and read Four Steps to Take Before Launching New Content) you can use your content along with your buyer journey information to create the triple threat.

Let’s say you have a content offer called Marketing for Beginners. It was written as a top of funnel content offer targeting early stage buyers (which I always recommend using for outbound efforts) and exists as an article with a correlating blog post. You also have a nice piece of gated follow-up content that resonates. To create the triple threat, you would:

  • Build the outbound paid campaign using the ungated blog post
  • Build an organic social campaign using the gated article
  • Retarget using the relevant (but different), gated follow-up offer

Paid reaches strangers who are less likely to know you, so they need as little friction as possible to engage. Organic reaches people who already follow your company, so they’re more likely to provide information to access content. And retargeting can reach people who’ve already interacted once and may be ready to learn more (remember that interaction is tracked as a form fill or a blog read. Not as a like, share, or comment).

Here’s the key with campaign building: Not only do your activities need to hang together, but they need to align to your buyer’s journey. Without that strategic connection, you’re just running random acts of marketing.

Another note: to gate or not to gate? That’s often the question with paid social. I personally like a combination of the two, but we offer a complete POV on form in this blog post.

4. Tracking Success
In the goal setting stage, you defined success and you’re seeing good results using the metrics outlined above, yay! So, what now? As you continue to serve relevant content via email nurture, you should also be tracking leads acquired via social media through the funnel. Are they converting from one stage to the next, or are they getting stuck? Is one campaign contributing a lot of leads but sales has rejected them all? Is another campaign producing lower quantities, but each lead is making it to opportunity? You need to have a full understanding of how this channel is performing across your funnel.

Sophisticated tracking capabilities are what set companies apart. Remember when we talked about B2C companies that use social media to improve their brand presence? Wendy’s is a great example – their Twitter is legendary. But when interviewing Kurt Kane, the Chief Concept and Marketing Officer at Wendy’s, Forbes noted that, “while it’s hard to quantify the direct impact of its marketing campaigns…the positive buzz does translate well for business…” Three paragraphs later the author goes on to explain that profit margins had been down the previous quarter. Correlation is not causation. Calculating the real ROI of your social media efforts is so important. Not only will it help you optimize and fine tune campaigns, but it will prove value and inform future pivots.

I suggested reading How to Optimize Your Marketing Engagement Channel Strategy for more tips on tracking and tweaking for success.

Social media is not used nearly enough to help B2B marketing teams drive revenue growth, but it can and should be used as part of a multi-channel demand marketing strategy. Take advantage of the platform that’s right for you and meet your buyers where they are. A simple ad with a problem-solving headline could be all it takes for your ideal customer to start interacting with your content and begin their orchestrated customer journey through your funnel. By opening up a new engagement channel, you open the door to potential new revenue, just remember that social media is just one piece of the puzzle, so be sure that you follow a Strategic Demand Marketing approach and keep a focus on results, not activity.

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