A comprehensive guide for B2B social media marketing.
If we asked you to name five brands with who are doing a great job on social media, chances are you’d mostly be citing companies in the B2C space. High-profile campaigns that drive brand awareness and create soaring levels of engagement are everywhere you look on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And it’s no mystery why – these bite-sized, mobile-optimised platforms are perfect for reaching consumers in an impactful way on a regular basis.
But that’s not to say that there’s nothing to be gained for B2B brands in social media. After all, the key decision-makers and influencers in your industry are probably using social media too, and in many ways, their behaviour is similar to that of a consumer – according to data from IDG, 84% of C-level and VP-level buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions.
There are a number of reasons why B2B brands might want to use social media as a marketing channel. These include a desire to increase customer engagement; position itself as a thought leader; boost traffic to its website; attract top talent; drive customer acquisition. In many cases, the motivating factors are a combination of the above reasons.
In this article, we’ll explain how B2B brands can plan and execute effective social media campaigns that bring tangible results, as well as some general rules for keeping things ticking over in the long term.
As with everything in business, the most important aspect of getting your social media presence right is planning and preparation. While it’s tempting to get stuck in straight away, there are some important questions you need to ask yourself first.
What’s the current landscape like?
Social media changes quickly, so in order to make a strong plan, you first need to know what’s going on. Start by looking inwardly at your own efforts to date with a full social media audit to really get to grips with how well it is performing. Be honest about how your social media strategy has evolved thus far – was there any real planning behind it or has it developed in a piecemeal fashion over recent years? Once you’ve thoroughly examined your offering, take a look at what your competitors are doing. They may be getting a lot of things right, but they could also be getting some things wrong too – and this is where you can find opportunities to take the initiative from them. It’s also worthwhile looking for other influential voices in your industry that aren’t direct competitors – analysts, journalists and so on – to get a good picture of the kind of conversations that are taking place on social media that you ought to be involved in.
What are your objectives?
As mentioned above, there are many different things that a B2B brand may be looking to gain from social media. Do you want to generate more sales leads? If so, how many new leads do you want to generate? Perhaps you’re more focused on positioning your brand as a thought leader, in which case you want to be looking at how regularly you can get your best content shared on social platforms and how many people this content reaches. These objectives will govern the relative success or failure of your social media campaign, so it is fundamental to really understand what it is that you want to achieve and how you’re going to do that. Be sure to identify which metrics will be of the best value for you and set concrete targets. Remember, though, that the amount you get out of social media will depend on the time and resource that you are prepared to put in.
Who is the audience?
Every B2B brand should have a good idea of who their customers are – not just the businesses themselves, but the decision-makers and key influencers within that business. But it’s crucial to think about how these individuals use social media. This should cover everything from what types of device they are using to access social media to the time of day that they are doing so, as well as what types of content they are engaging with. For example, they may have tight restrictions on social media access while they are in the office, so are much more likely to be using these platforms in the mornings and evenings as they commute to and from the office. This should dictate both the timing of your posts, as well as the type and format of content you offer.
Which platforms should you be using?
B2B brands need to focus on the networks that will offer them the best chance to engage with their target audience. With nine out of 10 businesses already using it, LinkedIn should be an obvious priority, but don’t reject other – seemingly more consumer-focused – platforms out of hand. If there is a highly visual aspect to what your business does, then Instagram could be an effective channel – it’s certainly one that more and more B2B marketers are planning to use. You don’t have to have great photography skills or specialist equipment as long as you have compelling things to show. You could even use Instagram Stories for things like data visualisation – though it’s probably best to keep it simple.
What content do you have?
While we’re on the topic of content, one of the principal matters that B2B brands need to consider is whether they actually have enough content that is shareable and social media-friendly. A good social media campaign should be based around original content, so if your brand doesn’t have this to hand already you’ll need to take time to build this up first. Once you have a bank of whitepapers, infographics, data visualisations, videos, blog posts, product guides and the like you’re in a good position, but don’t be tempted to embark on a social campaign without this material at your disposal. And while creating this content is going to require a financial commitment, don’t forget to keep some budget aside for promoting your best material in paid-for posts – this is a good way to extend your reach and get the work that you are most proud of in front of the right audience.
Once your planning phase is complete, you’re ready to take the plunge. The execution phase of a social campaign should be relatively straightforward if you are well prepared, but a word of warning: don’t delegate these tasks to just the junior staff and interns. Everyone in your marketing function should be involved if you want to get the best results.
Of course, you do need to assign specific people to post and monitor the various channels on a day-to-day basis. But you should have a clear chain of command and multiple staff supporting whoever is on point – the more pairs of eyes you have, the fewer mistakes will be made. If you feel it is advantageous, you could run internal training sessions for staff members on social media best practice to make sure that everyone is up to speed. Remember too that social media platforms add new features all the time; keep abreast of these and ensure that you share knowledge about how they work among your social team. Don’t be afraid to experiment with these features – you might find some brilliant new ways of boosting engagement.
You can’t just put up all your planned posts for the day and go off and do something else. You must keep monitoring everything that’s going on – replies to and reposts of your content, as well as any potential reputational issues that might arise. While you should have a separate plan of action for crisis comms, there may also be some conversations that don’t directly involve you that you should be taking part in. Another task that should be the responsibility of whoever is on monitoring duty is to identify and engage with any new interesting and influential accounts that are relevant to your brand.
Keep it consistent
Every social media platform that you use should use the same branding, even when the content you are posting is different. It’s also important that this branding is the same as on your website and any other owned channels that you have. Look at how Salesforce has got its LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter channels visually aligned, even though it is using each network in a different way. Think even about the handles that you are using – you don’t want to be @B2Bbrand on Twitter and @the_B2B_brand on Instagram. And while the tone you use might be slightly more informal or conversational on some channels, don’t lose your professionalism.
Adapt for the platform
One critical thing to remember, though, is that each social media platform you use is different and you can’t get away with taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Posts should be optimised for each channel – for example, you need to respect the character limits in Twitter, while in Instagram you need to pay particular attention to the hashtags you use. LinkedIn is the place to be posting long-form content, while YouTube and Facebook provide a better home for video.
Be useful to your audience
While your social campaigns should be based on original content, there is also scope for a certain amount of content curation and conversation too. Ensure that your social profiles are connected with other key influencers and brands in your industry, as well as brands in other parts of the supply chain. Linking to and re-posting interesting material from other sources is fine as long as you don’t do it too often, and it can be especially rewarding if you can add some additional insight or a counterpoint. Just remember to limit yourself to topics that your audience is interested in. Here’s a good example from Cvent, which highlighted the impact of recent regulatory changes via its LinkedIn page.
Ask and answer questions
A great way of starting conversations on social platforms is to ask a question. Sometimes these questions might suit the poll function seen on Twitter and LinkedIn; other times you may wish to ask open-ended questions to get more thoughtful and detailed answers. Keep the conversation going with those who answer – you can re-post or quote responses depending on the platform you are using. Similarly, you should stay alert for opportunities to get involved in conversations started by other influencers and brands – even if they are your competitors. Just make sure you keep it friendly. Take a look at Drift’s Twitter feed to see how it amplifies the voices of other brands and organisations within its industry.
Get everyone involved – and show everyone off
The services that your brand provides to its customers require a team effort to deliver, and your social channels should reflect that. For example, members of the sales team have a great understanding of the primary concerns of customers and what the hot-button topics in your industry are right now. Tap into this potential and allow them the freedom to share their insight and wisdom with your followers – it’s a great way to boost engagement and start conversations. And don’t be afraid to post images and videos of your staff, whether at work, being interviewed or on an away day – it really helps to humanise your brand. Take a look at Deloitte’s use of native video content featuring employees, which it is using as part of a recruitment drive.
Social media platforms offer plenty of useful data points to brands so it should be relatively simple to analyse the relative success or failure of a social media campaign. However, analysis isn’t something that should happen at the end of a campaign – it should be an ongoing, live activity throughout it. While increasing your number of followers is one obvious metric you can use to measure success, there’s more to it than that. Think about how many followers your followers have because this is the potential you really want to tap into. If you are successfully engaging with your most influential followers on a regular basis then you can count this as a win. Additionally, look at the number of visits to your own site you get from social media, as well as how many qualified sales leads that each platform generates. Look at which types of content are getting the most clicks, comments and shares.
Putting learnings into practice
Having access to analytics is one thing, but ensuring that you get the maximum value from this data is quite another. In simple terms, you have to do more of the things that are earning you clicks and inbound enquiries. And don’t wait until your annual/quarterly/monthly review to put your learnings into practice – if you see that something isn’t working, change it there and then. You might feel that it is best to dedicate more or less resource to one particular social media platform, for example, or to put more focus on a particular type of content.
Keep on keeping on
Social media presence requires an ongoing effort – if you run a successful campaign but then let your social channels go to seed, you can’t expect to pick it up where you left off when you start your next campaign. You have to keep going, introducing as much fresh content as possible – but don’t worry about recycling older work, as long as you frame it in a new and different way.
While to the untrained eye social media marketing might seem to be more suited to B2C brands, there is actually a great deal of potential in this area for B2B organisations too. With a carefully executed strategy, a willingness to experiment and measurable objectives, there’s no reason why a B2B brand can’t get just as much out of social media as their consumer-focused counterparts. Above all, though, having a strong social media presence depends on having a strong content offering, so don’t try to run before you can walk.