We live in an era where social media is all present and everyone kind of knows that it’s an important brand building channel for their business. However, few companies consider their social media assets as high-performing acquisition channels, thereby missing out on low-cost qualified leads and ultimately sales. This problem goes deeper among B2B companies who find it difficult to bridge the gap between standard organizational goals and a sound social media strategy.
Nonetheless, the need to transform social media assets into adequate acquisition channels is more pressing than ever: Companies that don’t solidify their social presence within the next 2-3 years are going to have a hard time competing for new business cost-effectively. This article covers the fundamental considerations when setting up a social media strategy.
First and foremost, it’s important to get into the right mindset for using social media as a B2B company. To achieve that, it’s necessary to put aside a few common misconceptions.
One common and potentially destructive belief about social media is the necessity to have a large number of followers as a way to signal social proof – it’s tempting to have the same amount of followers as a leading brand, which makes a company look engaging and significant. This often prompts companies to either aggressively follow and connect with social profiles or buy followers/fans and engagements on their social channels – tactics that guarantee failure.
Such actions will land you with an audience outside of your target group, thereby generating engagements that can’t lead to conversions (or more likely not generating any engagements at all). More importantly, it will distort reality and your ability to understand and segment your audience. If that wasn’t enough, you’re also running the risk of losing visibility on social media, getting fake automated clicks on paid ads, and getting suspended or even banned. I can't stress enough how bad this kind of social proof is and strongly recommend reading more about it in this blogpost by Neil Patel.
I used exactly these tactics in a company I once worked at, repeating “fake it till you make it” like a mantra. My former company’s following grew impressively, but those bloated social profiles didn’t generate any monetary value. What I failed to realize back then is that the only efficient way for B2B companies to get social proof and growing an engaged audience is by offering value on social channels. This value most often comes in the form of content.
The right content ensures that people follow your brand organically, out of genuine interest in what you can contribute to their knowledge of industry specific topics. Such a following is inherently easy to engage and can be targeted for acquisition. High quality content initiates a process that takes a person from being aware of your company to familiarity and eventually trust. This is important since people who know and trust your brand are the best source of qualified leads. Growing such a following requires effort and dedication, but with the right strategy, it offers almost instantaneous results.
That being said, there are positive following and connection practices that can enhance a profile that already delivers value. These techniques are beyond the scope of this article and are a topic for another blogpost.
It’s important to decide where you want to engage your target audience as this choice has significant implications on your budget and time allocation. On social media, an iterative approach is a sound strategy and I recommend starting from the most promising networks before experimenting with the rest. While your audience might be active on many networks, only a few networks can provide the environment necessary for building an efficient acquisition channel.
To help you decide where to start from, there are two factors to consider: the social network to choose and the type of profiles to create on each network. Social profiles can be divided into company profiles that help drive awareness, engagement and inbound traffic; as well as personal profiles of key sales contacts that are optimal for reaching out and initiating an outbound sales cycle.
From a B2B perspective, the social networks themselves fit within three distinct groups:
As General Purpose Networks I define the main social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ where communication with your audience is two-sided and multi-faceted. These networks are suitable for inbound and outbound strategies alike. You can grow awareness, drive engagement, monitor your contacts and start conversations with prospects.
LinkedIn with 414M registered members and Twitter with 320M monthly active users are where most B2B audiences can be found and engaged with. To avoid spreading yourself too thin and maximize the impact of your social strategy, I recommend to focus on growing social presence on these two networks only. That being said, it's important to understand your target audience as you might be in an industry that offers compelling reasons to be active on Facebook or Google+.
Consider starting with the following channels:
Specialized networks such as YouTube, SlideShare, Instagram, Pinterest and Soundcloud allow you to spread specific types of content such as videos, slide decks, images and audio.
While they are not a must-have, it can be useful to add YouTube and SlideShare to your social assets with the goal of diversifying content types on your blog and general purpose social networks. In addition, YouTube offers substantial visibility and SlideShare can be used to initiate an outbound sales cycle. You might want to add Soundcloud if you intend to host a podcast but the social network itself offers little opportunities for B2Bs.
Consider using the following channels:
Interest Based Networks such as Reddit (with specialized spinoffs like Inbound.org, GrowthHackers.com and HackerNews), LinkedIn Groups, Quora and Stack Overflow focus on specific interest groups.
Most of these networks are challenging to get right for acquisition. I recommend starting from LinkedIn Groups and becoming a notable contributor on 2-3 groups (while sharing content to as many suitable groups as possible). If it's important for you to build authority for your personal brand and be found in search results in relation with specific topics, then I highly recommend using Quora as a next step.
You can read more about the various types of social networks available for B2B marketers in this blogpost – can you see how they fit into one of the 3 types of social networks described above?
Many companies post arbitrarily on their social media channels, thus creating an unpredictable growth pattern. Our research shows that actions on social media carry momentum, which is why a fundamental principle for linear and exponential growth is a consistent flow of content. A daily flow of posts engages existing followers and attracts new ones at a constant rate determined primarily by you. These sharing habits yield steady and predictable results.
In the following table, we identified the optimal minimal content sharing frequencies to consistently grow reach and engagement on Twitter and LinkedIn:
As you progress, you might choose to scale up the amount of shared posts, but anything below these numbers is likely to throw off your audience’s growth rate back to uncertainty.
A question that may arise at this point is where to get all the content that is necessary for consistent publishing on your social channels.
The first option is creating content in-house. This strategy is preferable to anything else but isn’t feasible for most companies (with the exception of publishers). If you are aiming to deliver value on your channels, then in-house content creation requires more investment than most companies can afford. Making the process cheaper will result in lower value content or a constant stream of press releases on your social media. Both will do more harm than good.
The second option is curating content. While this approach solves the problem of delivering a large volume of high quality content, it has an obvious disadvantage: It cannot drive traffic to your site where leads can be converted to customers. Here is a quick recap of the role of content curation in B2B marketing.
The best approach is a mix of the two – posting mostly curated content to steadily grow an engaged target audience while strategically creating content assets to drive conversions.
Growth tactics on social media are important but the initial strategic considerations will make the difference between a steady acquisition channel and an uphill battle. Defining the right audience and social channels to target will help you to utilize resources efficiently. Good sharing patterns and a clear content strategy will help you to keep your audience engaged and interested. Below is an infographic that concisely depicts the main points from this article.
Infographic design by Sveta Sobolev