Many B2B firms are struggling to capture the full opportunity from social media. Those that take it seriously and plan for success will have a distinct competitive advantage.
According to AdWeek’s Social Times, half of B2B marketers believe social media participation leads to increased sales, 58% believe it grows business partnerships and a massive 66% believe it generates leads.
Although the perceived benefits are an opportunity, the reality is quite different. Many of the marketing directors we talk to, particularly in financial and professional services, are struggling to capture it.
Their social media activity is intermittent and solicits limited engagement. Their social media campaigns, just like their websites, struggle for differentiation. Apart from the use of Facebook for graduate recruitment, there is little evidence of clear thinking. Put simply, very few of these firms are using social media to effectively engage with clients and prospects.
There is therefore a distinct opportunity for forward-thinking firms to set themselves apart from the competition and establish a thought leadership position in the social media landscape. Following the four steps below will help.
Step 1: Listen
Firms are too often jumping into social media without an understanding of what they are trying to achieve, or where they should be allocating their resources. Blogs, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn groups grow like weeds.
Without clear goals, and therefore successes, enthusiasm wanes, activity recedes and social media is labelled a waste of time. To prevent this, an effective social media strategy needs a clear understanding of business objectives and the online behaviour of clients and prospects.
- What are your business goals for the year and how can social media help move the needle?
- Where are clients and prospects talking about the issues you could help them with and what are they saying?
- Who are the key influencers in your target markets and where do they ‘live’?
- What does the social media strategy of your competitors look like?
Marketing departments without clear answers to these questions are shooting in the dark: wasting hard-earned credibility with management looking for results and direction.
Step 2: Plan
Although social listening is a time-consuming exercise that requires internal knowledge, social media expertise and resources, it lays the foundations for an effective social media strategy. This should detail proposed target platforms and activity, schedule and KPIs.
With marketing resources stretched in the current economic climate, it is critical to focus on a core activity or small group of activities and do them well. Once the concept has been proven you can roll it out on a wider basis.
A core component of the planning phase should involve setting an in-house social media policy and the recruitment of internal advocates. Focusing more on the positive than the negative is key to making this work.
Showing management what best practice looks like can be much more effective than correcting inconsistencies when they happen.
You may also want to consider in-house training (not forgetting this can focus on strategy for marketing leaders, as well as implementation for the firm in general).
Step 3: Activate
Now comes the exciting phase when plans are put into action. Activation can take many forms: from the management of a bespoke LinkedIn group through to the creation of a client-focused blog, from a dedicated Twitter stream highlighting topical issues through to a vibrant Facebook community aimed at graduate recruitment.
Your planning exercise should prioritise the biggest opportunity, but ensuring success on any platform requires a regular stream of quality content.
Effective social media content should provide value for the reader: clients will engage with you if you get under their skin and address their most pressing problems.
The ‘Big Four’ accountancy and audit firms are good examples. They integrate quality content – research, white papers, briefings and events write-ups – within their editorial calendars, ensuring they gain maximum visibility for all their thought leadership through social media exposure.
Step 4: Measure
Setting KPIs in the planning phase allows firms to measure effectively and demonstrate a return on investment. It also enables the constant process of refinement and adjustment necessary to stay ahead of the pack.
For firms that get it right, there are real benefits. According to HubSpot, B2B firms with an active blog generate an average of 67% more leads than those that don’t. And firms that use Twitter generate twice as many leads as those that don’t, reveals Social Media Examiner.
But focusing on lead generation alone misses a fundamental opportunity with social media.
Understanding the nature of online conversations taking place around your key sector and service areas can provide critical pointers for the future development of the wider marketing strategy.
Identifying and being the first to engage in these conversations, and provide value for clients and prospects, will provide first-movers with a distinct competitive advantage.