3 Ways Your B2B Content Can Provide the Most Value

b2b-social-media-content-giftMost of us wouldn’t give a friend or relative a highly flattering portrait of ourselves as a gift. Yet, B2B marketing organizations and marketing agencies do it all the time on social media and in other marketing communications. They push out self-promoting content about their brand, news, successes, or participation in industry events. You don’t have to go any further than the nearest press release to find examples of this self-serving marketing prose. Has anyone ever described themselves as anything other than a leader, an innovator or an industry disrupter?

The fact is that we know what makes a good personal gift, but we sometimes fail to put that knowledge to work in our marketing.

1. Understand What Content People Care About

Content is based on an understanding of what’s important to others, what interests them, what they care about. To do that you have to listen. In B2B marketing, one thing that fills the lead and demand generation pipeline is content that gives your audiences insight and information on the subjects they care about.

On top of your regular social media engagement, you can go one step further to connect with your buyers by following industry forums, blogs, interest groups and webcasts where they also share content. For example, IT.Toolbox.com does a fantastic job of not only understanding their IT audience, but engaging them with the right content. You can find blogs, research and discussion groups ranging from topics like technology trends and business intelligence to storage and security hardware. Content is available in real-time to stay relevant and engaging, while providing insight into industry behavior and patterns.

2. Make Your Content a Gift That Gives Continual Value

Give people content they can use long after their initial visit. After a lead becomes a buyer, valuable content will keep them engaged. Cisco Communities is a great example of how you can provide a wealth of buyer-generated content around trends, implementation and performance tuning. Help your buyers share what delivers results for them.

One organization found that its Facebook posts generated more interest and followers when it provided tips on using social media effectively, than by simply announcing product marketing news. Everyone wants to know where technology is going, so start a conversation. Ask “what, why and how” questions. Give your audience direct links to industry research and to the thought leaders who are talking about tomorrow’s technology.

Promote others’ relevant content, including that of your industry’s thought leaders. Find out who the thought leaders are in your industry and what they’re talking about. For example, searches in Cisco Communities not only include Cisco’s own product marketing content, but content from other partners and interest-based communities as well. Cisco even provides a filter so visitors can get to that non-Cisco content directly.

3. Be Surprising

People love a surprise. One sure-fire way to surprise people these days: give them content without asking for something in return – their personal information or an offer to chat now. Highlight your buyers’ successes, even when it has nothing to do with your solution. Offer an unexpected additional service or a one-time upgrade at no charge.

Stepping outside the “just business” zone can also favorably surprise your audience. Find out what community service organizations your top buyers support and get involved. Rotary International is one organization with a long track record of proven success at building business by building goodwill. Work with them, or a similar organization, and share what you are doing.

In a nutshell, your content strategy is all about giving content “gifts” that raise your value in the eyes of your buyers. Differentiating your brand isn’t only about your product marketing. It’s also about how you engage with your buyers: Understanding what they care about, reaching out to them wherever they are, supplying content with ongoing value, and, finally, surprising them with unexpected value.

What are some ways your content has given great value? Share what you’ve done in the comments below.

The preceding post is inspired by my podcast interview with Rishi Dave, former Executive Director of Digital Marketing at Dell.

nic-story 3

Photo credit: Flickr

The Four Pillars of B2B Content Strategy

Click to enlargeI was approached the other day by one of our clients, the CMO of a technology firm who asked me my thoughts on his company’s content strategy. The CMO said, “We have a lot of smart people who develop a lot of good content, but something tells me we’re not really getting value out of our content efforts – what are your thoughts?”

After taking a look at what they were doing, I agreed that they had a lot of good content. I also agreed there was much more they could do. When thinking about B2B content strategy, you should consider four main pillars.

1. Space

What space do you want to own?

The first pillar of content strategy is Space. In other words, you must determine what space you want to own as it relates to content. This is different from defining your positioning strategy, and it is also different from determining your value proposition. Positioning and value proposition refer to the solution you offer. However, the space you want to own is about the problems your target market faces. You want to be known as a company that is highly knowledgeable about both the problem and its related solutions. You want to provide thought leadership, insights, ideas and education.

The beauty of gaining clarity on this pillar is that it informs both your positioning strategy and your overall marketing plan. It also defines your SEO strategy.

Think about the problem your potential customer has, and brainstorm how you can provide value through your content; then serve it up to them, thereby owning that space.

2. Production

How do you make it easy to produce?

You almost certainly have a lot of content available to you. That content is currently locked inside the heads of the smartest people in your company. The trick is to get that content out of their heads; that is called Production. Production is the second pillar of your content strategy.

Sometimes your thought leaders can write clearly, effectively, and engagingly. But most of the time, thought leaders need help with that production. Not only do they need an easy way to get the information out of their heads, but they need someone who can take that information and put it into a compelling and coherent message.

The companies that are most successful at producing excellent content use a marketing services bureau approach to pulling that information out of the heads of thought leaders. In your case, the marketing team should play this role.

The key to this production model is to make it extremely easy to get the raw material out, whether that’s through an interview, by drafting documents or by creating an outline.

It is then up to the marketing team to take that raw material and use it to create the best first deliverable. After that, it’s time to think about follow-up deliverables; and that is the third pillar.

3. Repurposing

How do you repurpose it to get the most out of it?

If you are engaged in a content strategy, it is very likely that you are so focused on content development that you’ve missed one of the greatest content strategy opportunities – content repurposing. Content repurposing is where you take the raw material discussed earlier and present it in a different way.

For example, when you interview a thought leader, your objective is to create raw material. Frequently, someone already has a specific deliverable in mind for that raw content. It could be a blog post, a presentation or an article, but it’s usually only one of those things, rather than all of them. Here is where content repurposing comes into play.

Once you’ve mined that raw material, you should start with the highest value output and go from there. For example, you might be producing the content for a blog post related to a product launch. Marketing can help the thought leader develop the blog post. But the next step is to repurpose that blog post. And that step is imperative.

If it’s a long blog post, it could be repurposed into several smaller blog posts. Create visuals to help tell the story. Why? Because visuals are what create readership and increase sharing. Those visuals, along with the text of the blog post, can be turned into a presentation. That presentation can be turned into a video with voiceover. That video with a voiceover can be turned into a podcast. The possibilities are endless. The point here is that you should put just as much energy into repurposing as you put into creating the original content.

4. Promotion

How do you promote it to maximize its value once it exists?

You may feel that producing content is good enough and that once it’s been published, the content will be found. This is a mistake. You need to promote that content and get it seen. Promotion isn’t difficult; it’s the discipline around promotion that is difficult. Using the example of the raw material that turned into a blog post and was then repurposed, here are some ways to think about promoting that content.

Use Social Media
Create a posting cadence across all of your social channels to alert people to the availability of your content. In other words, tweet about it, and post it on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn more than once. Post at different times of the day, and spread your effort out over days, weeks and months. Too many people are worried about posting material more than once. Social channels need to be looked at like a waterfall. Once that water has passed, no one is going to see it again, so when your readers revisit the waterfall, you want to present them with material they may have missed before.

Publish on Other Social Properties
Try to get your material published on other (non-owned) social properties. Not only can the deliverable be published, but that thought leadership content could be an enticement to get your thought leader interviewed for a podcast, a webinar or even for a speaking opportunity.

Engage with those who Curate Content
Be sure to develop a relationship with the people who curate your content. Don’t just promote the content in front of you. Rather, think of promoting a stream of content that comes from that thought leader and your company. This means that people who curate your content today will pay attention to content you produce in the future. It’s important to acknowledge their curation and create engagement with them.

Approaching your B2B content strategy by leveraging these four pillars will increase the impact of your thought leadership, and help you achieve your marketing goals.

Create an Unfair Advantage in B2B Social Media with Competitive Intelligence

As B2B companies reach new levels of maturity in their social media marketing, the savvy ones recognize the golden opportunity available to them by studying what their key competitors are doing through social competitive intelligence.

While most companies are focused on building out their own social channels, listening to their buyers, engaging with their buyers and influencers, a few B2B companies have realized the unique opportunity afforded them by studying what their competitors are doing.

The multitude of listening and measurement tools available can be, and should be, applied to monitoring the conversation, following growth and engagement, and watching what your closest competitors are doing. By comparing what they are doing to best practices (and to what you are doing), you can create an unfair advantage.

Learn from What’s Working

The first advantage you create is that, by paying attention to the competitive landscape and studying your competitors’ tactics, you can discover what’s working for them, and learn from that. That way, you can capitalize not only on what’s working for you, but also on what’s working for them. In other words, you leverage your competitors’ efforts. For example, you should pay attention to what kind of photos and videos they post, the cadence of their posting, the time of day of their posting, and what content themes they choose to post. Then, study their resulting engagement with the public.

Recently we were watching the social media efforts of one competitor who consistently posted a daily question on Facebook, to engage customers. When the competitor changed from posting text-only status updates to questions embedded within an image, we saw them experience an increase in engagement of 30 percent.

In other words, you can take your competitors’ experimentation efforts on their social channels and leverage what you learn from that to improve your own interactive marketing solutions. Not only can you learn as much as the competitor does, but you don’t have to experiment. You just do what works best.

Learn from What’s Not Working

On the flip side, you can also learn from what isn’t working. We watched a competitor launch a new branding campaign for a product line. This competitor was particularly proud of their new branding, and had a great deal to say about it on their social channels. The problem was that their audience was more interested in getting support issues resolved than they were in learning more about the new branding.

What didn’t work was that the competitor and their audience were speaking two different languages. They were not communicating. There was a disconnect in the competitor’s approach. Buyers were not hearing the competitor’s message about their new branding because they had other concerns. This was a missed opportunity for the brand, and a great reminder to focus on your audience’s concerns.

But even more important than a missed opportunity was the fact that customer complaints were not being addressed, and customers were frustrated at not being heard. And they made their frustrations known online.

So how do you put this into practice? Imagine you are studying a competitor’s interactive marketing efforts on social channels, and it turns out they are getting great engagement numbers. What you find curious about it, however, is that the engagement results from content that is very entertaining, but which is not relevant. Closer examination reveals that your competitor is so focused on increasing engagement that they don’t seem to care whether or not they are engaging with the right audience – and their audience profile doesn’t match the profile of their buyer.

Since you are focused on the same buyers, this is an opportunity for you to talk to the buyers about issues that are important to them, as opposed to focusing on just increasing your engagement levels, regardless of the audience. That competitor’s mistake enables you to communicate more effectively with the same target buyers – at a time when that competitor is talking to the wrong people. Capitalizing on that can give you a larger share of voice.

Create Social Media KPIs

Once you start focusing on your competition and the competitive landscape, your key performance indicators should not only compare your current performance to a prior timeframe, but should also compare it to your competitor’s.

In fact, you should use social media KPIs to measure the difference between you and your competitors, such as share of voice, share of engagement and even share of discussion. These are metrics you can create with a robust social competitive intelligence program.

With these new KPIs you will have information that will inform your social strategy, and will enable you to create an unfair advantage and beat your competition.

This post was co-authored by Robert McHardy. He is a Senior Social Strategist at Crimson Marketing. He is an expert in social strategy, marketing and analytics.

Photo: Flickr

4 Reasons Why Google+ is a Killer B2B Social Media Platform

Most of our B2B clients have staked a claim on Google+, but they don’t invest in it. Why? Because they consider it a ghost town. They say Google+ is irrelevant. They invest in Facebook and Twitter and (more and more) in LinkedIn. But you know what? Recent studies indicate that, while many companies were asleep at the switch, Google+ has emerged as the killer platform for B2B social media marketing.

B2B marketers need to understand these four reasons that Google+ is the next killer platform for marketing, and why it should be an important part of your B2B marketing mix.

1. Number of Active Users

According to GlobalWebIndex, Google+ now has 343 million active users, more than any other social network besides Facebook. Google+ is far ahead of Twitter, and light years ahead of LinkedIn.

Notice that qualifier: “active” users. The 343 million number is not a measure of the number of people who signed up for Google+ accounts, and who may or may not ever log on. Rather, it is a measure of the number of people actively participating on Google+. Over a very short period of time, Google+ has confounded critics and become a platform that cannot be ignored.

2. Circlecentric Marketing

Google+ circles enable you and your B2B company to market in a more intimate way to people who are following your company.

Consider this: because Google+ users can circle your company page, it means they have opted in to receive information from you without having to fill out any forms or communicate via email. That’s true on other social networks, of course, but what’s different is how you can then interact with them.

On Google+, you can do research on the person who has circled you, circle them back, and (most importantly) add that person to unique circles based on how that person fits into your target market. This means you can provide that person with highly useful and specific information, instead of just a general communication blast.

Furthermore, B2B companies can begin to interact with that individual in other, more personal ways. And this means that, in addition to creating a better communication channel, you can make those users feel like you notice and care about them. For example, by sharing that individual’s content and inviting them to private communities, private events, and private hangouts, you don’t just send them a message; you build and strengthen a relationship. And this is a cornerstone of any marketing mix.

Martin Shervington provides a more detailed description of circlecentric marketing.

3. Better Organic Search Results

In Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s upcoming book, The New Digital Age, he is quoted as saying: “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

This is the clearest statement yet from Google (which tends not to be very clear) highlighting how authorship is becoming extremely relevant in search results on Google.

This essentially means that if you are posting on Google+ correctly, your content will be ranked higher than content posted elsewhere. Furthermore, because of Google+’s tight integration with the Google search engine, your posts are treated much like regular webpages (unlike posts on other social networks), and will therefore rank higher in search results.

4. Google’s Long-term Vision

Google+ is a social destination and a social layer across all Google properties. The integration they have made is breathtaking. It places a social layer upon:

  • Gmail
  • Google Maps and Local
  • Google Now
  • Android
  • Google Wallet
  • Google Offers
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Search
  • Google Adwords
  • Google Calendar and Events
  • Google Play
  • YouTube

What Google is really saying is that “Google+ is Google.” And this integration will only go deeper and become stronger over time.

It’s no secret that Google’s business model is to sell advertising. There’s nothing wrong with that and, in fact, their strategy is a brilliant one. Google wants to provide more and more relevant search results to users, so users will do more searching on Google. This means advertisers get better value from Google, which means Google sells more advertising.

Google has created Google+ to be the killer platform for B2B social media marketing. What is your B2B company doing to take advantage of it?

6 Ways That Facebook is Better Than LinkedIn for B2B Marketing

We work with many B2B clients who want to engage with their audience via social media. We often get the question about investment in LinkedIn vs. Facebook. You would think LinkedIn would be better for marketing to B2B customers. It’s designed for business. People use it only for business. They want you to use it for business. 120 million business people use it.

The only problem is that it’s not as good as Facebook for B2B marketing.

That doesn’t sound right, now does it?

After all, we know Facebook is for posting pictures of the kids’ soccer games, for saying happy birthday, for following consumer products, for keeping in touch with your friends. I mean, it’s aimed at consumers, isn’t it?

On the surface, yes. Below the surface, the business audience is there because consumers are business people too. Ultimately, the overriding reason to consider Facebook over LinkedIn is that business people spend more time on it. Please pay attention: they spend more time on it, so you – the B2B marketer – need to take advantage of that one overriding fact. It will help make you successful in social media.

So, tell me, how could Facebook be better for B2B social media marketing?

6 Ways That Facebook is Better Than LinkedIn

1. Facebook has created a development platform that makes it easier to create custom web pages. It’s really hard to do the same thing, with the same ease, with the same nicely designed results on LinkedIn.

2. All those business people are already on Facebook. They may not have joined with business in mind, but they are there. The majority of the 800+ million are involved in business.

3. You can find them. Just like on LinkedIn, you can customize your search to find the people you want to reach.

4. You can find their friends too. Facebook is much more effective than LinkedIn at exponential reach through friends of friends, and it is likely that your business audience is connected with their professional peers on Facebook.

5. You can protect them, if you need to. You can create closed, invitation only communities and protect the information about individuals within that community. We’ve done that for very security-sensitive executive users (CIOs and CTOs)! Here’s a link to the VMware CxO Corner on Facebook.

6. People spend more time on Facebook. It turns out that this last point is a big deal when comparing Facebook to LinkedIn.
People log onto LinkedIn for a few key reasons:

  • To update their resume
  • To post a job
  • To look for a job
  • To make a connection, often associated with posting or looking for a job

People go onto Facebook for many, many other reasons, and as a result, they go onto Facebook a lot more often, and spend a lot more time on it. Businesses that take advantage of business people who are spending time on Facebook will engage with those business users.

I have seen studies showing that business people spend more time on LinkedIn. Hmmm. The studies are flawed. They typically ask where do business people go today for business information. Well, if we B2B marketers aren’t using Facebook for business, then of course, they get their information today from LinkedIn. Duh. The results of these studies will change only when you change your approach.

While LinkedIn is not to be ignored (it has many good qualities), if you’re going to focus your efforts toward B2B audiences, invest more in Facebook. How have your results compared between Facebook and LinkedIn?