Breaking The Rules of B2B Social Media

b2b-social-media-rulesWhen someone tells you to follow the rules, are you more likely to take their advice or do you believe that rules were made to be broken? There are so many rules governing B2B social media and almost all of them can or should be broken at one time or another.

But the thing about social media marketing and rules is that nobody can agree on what the rules are. Even if you pull back from the strict approach of rules and call them guidelines, nobody can agree on that either.

In the real world, rules are created in response to some complaint or action by someone or many someones. I recently checked into a beach hotel and there was a list of rules on the nightstand. Along with a reminder that guests not clean fish in their room (really?), was one that said they were not responsible for inclement weather. Wait, does that mean that someone complained to the hotel about the weather? I booked my beach vacation and you were supposed to guarantee my family five out of seven sunny days.

In social media every blogger, speaker, consultant and street corner huckster has their own set of rules. And they all contradict each other. Pick a common question and try to find a single answer. Try this one. How many times should I tweet? Once a day? Ten times a day? Multiple times for each tweet? And is that my content or someone else’s? You can pretty much find any answer you want. Want to justify your plan to your boss? You can probably find a blog post out there that supports what you want to do. It may not be from the most reputable source, but someone has likely recommended it.

The makes it easy to follow the rules. But it makes it even easier to break the rules.

What’s a B2B marketer to do?

Since so many B2B companies have very different audiences and marketing requirements, here are some suggestions for creating your own rules for social media. And by following these steps you will have a much better understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. You won’t need some blog post telling you what to do. Well, except this one.

1. Establish goals and objectives for your social media efforts.
This will help you measure success.

2. Decide if you are using social media for lead generation or customer retention.
This will drive your content and calls to action.

3. Determine if you need a local or global presence.
This will set the times of day you share content.

4. Talk to your customers to learn what social media sites provide value to them.
This will identify what sites to focus on.

5. Review what your competitors are doing on social media
This is give you a sense of social media awareness in the industry.

6. Realistically examine your resources.
This will keep you from over-extended you or your team.

7. Test and measure everything you do.
This will ensure you keep doing the things that work for your audience and drop the ones that don’t.

8. Give it time.
This shows you understand that social media does not change your marketing overnight.

Photo credit: Flickr

The B2B Funnel is Leaky on the Marketing Side Too

b2b-marketing-funnelAll B2B marketers are aware of the funnel. The basic idea of attracting a larger number of buyers with marketing or advertising so that you yield a smaller number of customers has been around for more than a hundred years.

Whether you are a funnel-purist, who still firmly believes in this construct, or you think marketing has gotten way more complicated and customers enter the process at various stages through various means, there is still some value in using the funnel as a means to represent the overall approach of the marketing itself.

I call this the content funnel and it sits alongside the B2B buyer’s funnel. You create different kinds of content at each stage of the funnel to move buyers through the process of becoming a customer. Most content marketers focus on the top of the funnel, but important to think about content at all buyer stages.

Top of the funnel is the high level, helpful content that attracts the most people to your company. While not all B2B companies practice this form of content marketing, many do share content that they hope will work at the top of the funnel. For the sake of this conversation, let’s say that your content is entertaining, solves business problems and provides value to your prospects. They gladly fill out your lead form in exchange for your artisanal, lovingly crafted content.

They are now in your marketing database. What happens next?

They download the content, review it and form an opinion about your company. The next move is up to you.

Email them. Spam them. Nurture them. Ignore them.

You may think you know the right answer, but the answer may be it depends. You may actually want to ignore them to see if they do something else. Downloading an educational ebook does not demonstrate product interest. Ask any overzealous inside sales rep who followed up with a phone call. Maybe a high lead score precipitated this call, but the prospect may still not be product or sales ready.

What about an email thanking them for the download? Even though you are really thanking them for surrendering their email address so you can contact them again. But what is the most important thing in that email? A link to the content they just downloaded. That’s right. Here’s the thing that you just looked at in your browser. Or on your mobile device. It’s not always easy to save these things when you are reading them, especially on your smartphone. This also ensures that this email is specific to the content they just downloaded, rather than a generic email with links to other unrelated ebooks. If I downloaded something about social media management I really don’t need to know that you have more information about mobile marketing.

So what about that content funnel idea?

You need to follow-up with something that moves them closer to your product or service. Are they interested in what you have to offer? If your top of funnel content is good, you may have no idea if a prospect has any interest in ever becoming a customer. But if they show some interest in a case study or how a customer has found success in their business by working with your company, they have moved to the middle of the funnel. They have a problem that they are looking to solve.

These middle of the funnel customer stories could be videos. They could be Slideshare decks. They could even be a series of animated GIFs. You can definitely include these in follow-up or nurture emails, along with other relevant top of funnel content. Remember that you are building a relationship with this prospect. If one ebook solved a problem, maybe another one will solve a related problem.

And why is this marketing funnel just as leaky as the sales funnel? Because you can also share this middle of the funnel content on the company social channels. And if they are smart, well-produced content pieces that tell good stories, they will attract buyers who may already be looking for a solution to their problems. And they never saw the top of the funnel.

Next is where content marketers start to get twitchy. The bottom of the funnel. We’re not responsible for that, they say. That’s sales’ job. Or product marketing. I don’t create content about the product. That’s like selling on social media. Oh wait, we do that now.

This makes a lot of sense if you think of this like a funnel and you have the content experts manage the whole process. Start at the top with the theory and strategy of how to do things. Follow that up with how specific customers have succeeded by doing those things. And finally, show how you do those same things with your products. Think of this as storytelling and the funnel moves your marketing from a general and theoretical place to one that is very specific. Rather than disjointed content across the different stages of the buyers’ journey, it is all connected.

And whether the buyers find and follow all this content themselves through search or social media or it is supported by nurture emails or sales reps, they will get a clearer picture of how your company can solve their problems. No matter what stage they are at when they discover your content.

Photo credit: Flickr

The Untapped B2B Marketing Resource: Social Media Data

b2b-social-media-data-visualizedB2B Marketers are embracing social media like never before. A report by Content Marketing Institute found that these professionals increasingly view social as essential for developing business, with over 90% distributing content on LinkedIn and 85% on Twitter.

No doubt this increase is the result of B2B marketers leveraging the unique power of social media to deliver information to a customer. As many have discovered, creating and distributing targeted content allows a marketer to build brand awareness, demonstrate industry knowledge and even establish contact with buyers.

But while reaching out through content is important, many B2B marketers may be missing a source of intelligence found on these same channels: social data.

Tapping In

Because social media provides unprecedented ways to share and engage with each other on a personal level, it is also a constantly increasing source of customer data. Even a professional channel like LinkedIn has gone far beyond the original resume format, providing a seamless connection between a user’s work and personal lives.

Take, for example, Virgin Founder and LinkedIn Influencer Richard Branson. His posts on LinkedIn cover a broad scope of his interests, from ending poaching and the war on drugs, to more expected content for a professional channel like company culture and entrepreneurship.

It’s not surprising, given that around 25% of the average American’s workday is spent on social media for non-work related activities, that a single platform now offers a combined view into our personal and professional interests. A user can make connections that often range across professional industries, non-profits and even community organizations. Like other social media channels, LinkedIn also gives its users a way to share and discuss topics of common interest, offering an even deeper view into an individual.

So in the same way a marketer’s content distributes information out, this level of social sharing provides data back at a level never before possible.

The Opportunity with Social Media Data

Whether selling electronics or tires, B2B marketers must win their buyers’ preference over another brand. Often this starts by making a memorable connection — a key benefit of social media outreach. But by leveraging the social media data provided by channels like LinkedIn and others, a marketer might now be able to learn more about a buyer’s personal interests, the organizations that are important to him or her, and even his or her opinions on an issue. These insights can make connections even more effective.

These levels of data also improve the marketing communications process. By engaging with buyers on social media and paying attention to the information they provide on those channels, a B2B marketer can develop messaging that might better influence them. As a result, marketing content can be crafted to align with those influencers. The instantaneous environment of social media also allows immediate testing of messaging while at the same time identifying new target audiences and informing strategies. With this social data intelligence, the marketer can then activate outreach with greater accuracy and precision.

As its use within B2B commerce continues to increase, marketers will benefit most by leveraging the power of social media to work in two directions: as a means to identify and inform customers as well as engaging with them in a meaningful way. This can be best achieved by tapping into the vast resource of social data.

Photo credit: Flickr

Do B2B Customers Want to Tweet a Purchase?

b2b-twitter-logoRecently Domino’s Pizza announced that customers will be able to tweet Emoji to order a pizza. Emoji are those little symbols that teens and millennials text, tweet and load up in their Instagram comments.

Lots of people missed the real point about this announcement. It is not about Emoji. It is about serving existing customers. Not only do you need to be an existing customer for the Emoji tweet to work, but you need to have a standard order saved with your account. This means that this is more than a system designed to meet their customers online. It was designed to serve only their best customers. The ones that order regularly enough to have a standard order.

If you look at the best customers of your B2B company, do you have some that have standard orders? Do these orders have a regular frequency? How do they confirm them? These days it is probably an email. Can you remove some friction and make these orders even easier to place?

When I worked for a small manufacturer in the 1990s we required that all orders came in via fax. We needed a paper copy of each order and we were discouraging telephone orders. The fax copy served this purpose and it had a signature. This did not change when email came into the picture. For a while we still required the hardcopy fax. We did eventually move to email ordering and it made life much easier for everyone. Not only did we have a paper copy, but we had a digital copy too. But more importantly, it was a lot easier for our customers.

Do you know what percentage of your customers have smart phones? Do you know how many would be willing to place orders if you removed the friction? According to an IDG global mobile survey, 92% of senior executives own a smart phone and 77% report using it to research a product or service for their business. Most use a laptop or desktop to make their purchase, with 45% citing security concerns of the mobile web and 43% noting the lack of a mobile-friendly website.

And if you take this one step further and think about a Twitter order. Do you know how many of your regular customers are on Twitter? Let’s ignore the marketing problem of that question and examine the steps of the process:

  1. Your customer enters a standard order that can be shipped or invoiced based on a tweet.
  2. Your customer authorizes certain Twitter accounts to place these orders.
  3. You and your customer agree on the text of the tweets. These don’t have to be Emoji. They can be text. Since Twitter is a public network, your customer will want to mask their order a little bit. And note that this process only works if it is already known that your customer buys from you.
  4. You establish a confirmation response, whether through Twitter or another means. You can establish a separate Twitter account to automatically respond when the order is processed.

This becomes like an automated subscription service, but with a manual trigger that happens to be public. Maybe you are selling 500,000 bolts to a manufacturer every month. Due to a slight production slowdown, they need their next shipment in 33 days instead of 30 days. This can help them easily manage that delay of just a few days.

A benefit of a program like this is some social proof. Having companies order from you in public becomes another form of a socially-promoted customer testimonial.

This is not just for products. Service companies can consider a system like this where existing customers regularly renew monthly service agreements based on their needs.

Share why an approach like this would work or would not work for your B2B company either in the comments below or on Twitter.

5 Tips to Increase Engagement on B2B Social Media Sites

b2b-increase-engagementEven if your B2B company has been posting to social media sites for some time, it is always a good idea to review your activities to make sure you are getting maximum engagement from your followers. Below are five considerations that can help everyone from the beginner to the seasoned veteran.

1. Post at the right time

Make sure you are posting to your social media profiles at a time when your customers and prospects frequent those sites. In most cases you might find that B2B buyers will show up on weekdays from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, thus making this an optimal time for posting messages. Still, every B2B company has its own target time frame, so make sure you pay attention to when your audience is posting in response to your messages and when traffic increases.

2. Add calls to action

You can add calls to action to your individual social media posts to encourage prospects to learn more about what you have to offer. Your posts should give B2B buyers the opportunity to raise their hands and express interest in your products or services. The best way to do that is to make a compelling offer that will drive them to a landing page on your website. Usually they will need to exchange their contact information for the offer. These offers can be a mix of things that generate awareness at the top of the funnel and things that help drive consideration. Sometimes it can also entail telling a prospect why a particular offer is more appealing than something else. In other cases it might involve telling a B2B buyer why the product or service in your offer is so important. Anything that can be used as a call to action will be worthwhile for your marketing plans.

3. Keep from being overly personal

While you might have lots of friends that follow your B2B company on your social media profiles, you should treat your page as a business-first spot. You need to avoid posting too much personal information. Focus on posts that are relevant to what your business is doing right now and what it has to offer your customers.

4. Take risks

Sometimes you’ve got to take a few risks in order to go places. You might want to take some small risks that will cause your B2B company to look more appealing. Don’t be afraid to post funny videos that are relevant to your customers and prospects. This could be your chance to break out of the “boring B2B” mold. The odds are people will see the human side of your business.

5. Get special guests

Consider adopting the idea of the celebrity takeover on your social media profiles. Identify influencers from your industry, or even subject matter experts from within your B2B company. Customers and prospects are more likely to engage with these industry stars during the takeover. There is really no limit to who you can tap for this purpose, and it can even become a regular feature of your social media profiles.

If you follow these reminders for how to post and interact on your social media channels, you will create more engagement with your B2B prospects and customers, especially if you can drive them to your landing pages or website.

Photo credit: Flickr

5 Smart Ways to Build B2B Thought Leadership with Content Marketing

B2B-Thought-Leadership-Smart-Content-Marketing-smallLet’s face it; B2B buyers are unlikely to take you seriously unless you’re a big-name brand or they’ve heard about you from an independent source, for example through a recommendation on a social network. Unless you’re Google, Apple or you happen to know the buyer’s cousin, you might as well not exist, right? Wrong. You can establish B2B thought leadership and build awareness through a smart content marketing campaign.

You’ve likely read blog posts explaining how to establish thought leadership in 10 Easy Steps or other such nonsense. But establishing real thought leadership, the kind that can position you as a trusted source (and one worth buying from), isn’t some kind of cheap parlor trick. Content marketing takes work. With so many B2B brands out there clamoring for the sacred status of “thought leader,” you’ve got to go the extra mile with your content marketing if you want to position yourself as a truly trustworthy and authoritative B2B brand.

B2B-Thought-Leadership-Smart-Content-Marketing

1. Authenticity Is key

According to Michael Brenner, former VP of Marketing and Content Strategy at SAP, in an article for Forbes, “thought leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.”

Rather than push out half-baked content that’s merely trying to give the impression that you’re an authority in your field, you need to actually acquire the necessary knowledge and provide B2B buyers with purposeful, practical advice. In doing so, you’ll build trust and develop a relationship that could eventually lead to a sale. This is what real thought leadership is about &mdash knowing your topic extremely well and pushing out informed, creative content.

2. Do your homework

Do you know what pains your B2B buyers? You better if you hope to make any sales. B2B buyers will be more likely to engage with you if they feel comfortable with you and see that you’ve spent the time to get to know the kind of problems they deal with on a daily basis. It should not seem like you’re simply pushing them to buy your product.

Thought leaders are perceived as being entrenched in the pains that exist in the market, and that’s not something you can fake. You’ve got to spend ample time getting to know your B2B buyers’ pain points, by speaking with end users, reading relevant content, and attending industry events.

Spend the time getting to know the pain points of your B2B buyers and the content you produce will be more informed and more likely to make a positive impression on your buyers.

3. Think outside the box

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your B2B buyers’ pain points, it’s time to hit them with content that demonstrates your knowledge of said points. As mentioned above, it’s not as easy as spending millions of dollars (as if that were easy to begin with.) It comes down to creativity.

Your competitors are likely pumping out blog posts and e-books to establish thought leadership themselves. The Internet is practically clogged with this kind of content. If you want to stand out in the sea of would-be thought leaders, you’ll have to go a step further with your content. What this looks like (or sounds like) depends on your brand and its unique place in the market, but you can do it if you put in the time and effort.

What can you say that others haven’t said? How can you solve a problem no one else has been able to solve? Again, you’ll be better prepared to create more original content if you’re knowledgeable about the buyers’ pain points.

4. Be a presence

You know the saying “out of sight, out of mind?” That certainly applies to B2B brands trying to establish thought leadership on the web.

Once you’ve amassed a content arsenal, it’s time to get it out there. By strategically placing your content throughout the web &mdash on popular content marketing blogs, YouTube, podcasts, social media, online magazines, etc. &mdash you’ll start gaining more recognition.

The more B2B buyers see your name, the more they’ll think “Hey, I see this brand’s name out there all the time. They seem to understand me.” Just make sure that your content is honest, smart and helpful. Visibility is important, so long as what’s being seen is top-notch stuff. Remember, quality over quantity.

5. Don’t Take Shortcuts with Your Content Marketing

Content marketing isn’t something you can “hack” or do in “just fifteen minutes a day!” It takes a concerted effort on your part and a willingness to really learn the pain points of your B2B buyers. By becoming an actual thought leader, as opposed to one solely doing it just for the sale, you’ll create more meaningful content and, in turn, will be more likely to have a more comfortable, open conversation with the buyer.

Happy B2B Customers Can Get You More New Customers

b2b-customer-acquisitionAs we all know, word-of-mouth is the best marketing channel there is. Social media gives us the opportunity to create and scale word-of-mouth on a level that was impossible a few years ago. Top B2B companies are already taking advantage of this. According to a 2012 report by the Aberdeen Group, the top B2B firms gained 230% more leads via social media than their competition.

So how does this happen? The process has a few steps:

  • Identify why customers love you
  • Build a relationship
  • Ask for referrals and get them started
  • Make it a system

1. Identify why customers love you

Why do your customers love you? It may be your unique value proposition (i.e. we provide a super simple way to create media clips), or something distinctive about your company (i.e. we provide great customer service).

If you don’t know this, the way to find out is simple. Just ask. Ask your happiest customers why they are so happy with you. Ask them why they love your product and your company. Ask them what drew them to you, and why they are staying.

Make sure you write down as much as possible. You’ll be able to hear directly from customers what keeps them with you, and you’ll use this exact language later.

Now that you know why your happiest customers love you, it’s time to build a deeper relationship with them.

2. Build a relationship

When you’re dating, you don’t ask someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend right away – you build a deeper relationship. And when you’d like a referral, you do the same thing. The goal is to transition from customers to happy customers, and from happy customers to evangelists.

To start, make sure that they’re getting top-notch customer service. Then get them more involved with your company so that they feel an emotional investment in your success. The best two ways to do this are through case studies and testimonials.

In a case study, you would feature the customer and their success using your product. If possible, try to make the case study a longer form piece of content, like a long form interview, a video, or a podcast. This gives your readers more quality content and allows you to spend more time with your customer.

Testimonials are also useful. It’s always good to have testimonials, and they also help build a stronger relationship with a customer. Remember, the more you interact with your customers (within reason), the better the relationship.

One you have case studies and testimonials, feature them on your blog or website. Share it on social media, and invite your customers to do the same. When they do, engage with them and have public, online conversations. This breaks the ice of you talking about your business on social media with the customer. It also makes them feel special, because they were highlighted on your blog and on social media. It’s a win-win.

3. Ask for referrals and get them started

After you have established a relationship, directly ask for a referral. At this point, this should be easy. By now you have a long-standing relationship with them, beyond just being a vendor. You have talked to them about why they are happy and what makes them stay, you have ensured they’ve gotten top-notch customer service, and you’ve given them exposure in your blog and in social media. They should be delighted with you, and delighted to do it. If not, you can win them over using the same language they used with you when they said why they loved you.

How you structure the referral program is up to you. There are many different flavors of this. Dropbox has a referral program built into the product – they offered up to 16 GB of storage space for referrals. Many companies have referral programs that are simply discounts for both parties for a certain period of time. Some firms don’t have formal programs, they just ask for customers to refer others as a favor. Figure out what works best for you.

The key to making this work is to make it easy for them and to get them started yourself.

Take the time to create suggested LinkedIn posts, Facebook posts, or Tweets for them. In the suggested posts, use the language that they themselves used to describe you. It will resonate more with them and make them more likely to share it.

When they do share, Like/Retweet it, and engage in (another) conversation with them online.

4. Make It A System

You should systematize this process in your company, moving new customers to becoming happy customers to becoming evangelists. In the process you’ll gain insight into your customers, create great content and testimonials, and ultimately, get more referrals.

Your B2B Prospects Want to Binge Your Content

b2b-content-binging-house-of-cardsB2B marketers are often focused on their industry competitors when they think about social media and content marketing, but that is frequently the wrong way to think about it. It also is not the best way to consider their prospects. They should not worry about a competitor poaching their prospects, or even their customers. They should focus on attention. Their prospects are not just watching Twitter, reading blogs and following influencers and companies on LinkedIn, but they’re watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and all those shows that they have been DVRing. Timeshifting is only the beginning of what’s happening to their attention. It’s now all about binging.

Netflix and Amazon drop shows a season at a time. This is not by accident. This is based on viewers’ habits in watching old shows. Since your customers and prospects are staying up all night watching full seasons of “Must See TV,” these platforms decided that there was no reason to continue the idea of appointment television on a streaming platform. If someone wants to watch all 13 episodes of season 3 of House of Cards, there’s nobody to stop them. This is part of what it means for the prospects and customers to hold the power in the relationship.

Are your prospects responding to cold calls? Are they responding to your generic blast emails? Or are they doing their own research about your company and your solutions before they ever want to talk to you? It is a very clear No, No, Yes. And according to research from SiriusDecisions, “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Again, they hold the power in this relationship by seeking out the information that is most helpful to their journey.

So what about your content? Daily blog posts? Check. Monthly ebook? Check. Quarterly webinar? Check. But can they consume this content on their own terms? Sure they can read all the blog posts they want at anytime day or night, but what about those things behind forms? You’re creating educational content that they can download, but each time they have to fill out the form. Sometimes that form is auto-populated with their information, which is cookie driven or browser driven, but your prospects still have to submit each time to get each piece of content. And depending on how your marketing automation system is set up, those downloads might happen in the browser or in email. This seems quite contrary to how your prospects are consuming things in other parts of their lives.

Let’s look at each of these challenges that B2B marketers face when approaching content marketing.

1. Competition for Attention

The best way to compete for someone’s attention is to provide relevant, helpful information in an easy to consume form. Can you teach your prospects how to do something? Can you help them solve business problems? Can you make it quick and easy for your customers to solve issues related to your product? They are used to customer experiences like Amazon’s website and hotels where they are greeted by name. Would you wade through all the outdated pages on your website to find an answer? If there’s too much friction, prospects won’t bother. And this has nothing to do with how good or bad the product is. This is all about having little time and less attention, and when things are too hard to find they move on.

2. Buyers Setting the Terms of the Relationship

This is not a new idea, but many B2B marketers are still coming to terms with this. How well do you really understand your personas? Do you really know what their problems are? And how they like to consume information? And where they look for it? The way to make sure that you are part of their consideration set, or even just ensure that your content gets in front of them when they are looking, you must know how and why they are looking. Can you anticipate their questions? Insights into your own customers can give you some guidance in knowing more about your prospects. Using the word relationship to describe this is not accidental. You must be attentive to their needs if you want them to stick around.

3. Binge Consumption

Let’s assume that you are creating great content that your prospects want and you are using social media, search, influencers and advocates to drive awareness to your content. Every blog post has a call to action that leads to a deeper dive piece of content. And your prospects love it. But what if they are getting on an airplane and they want to read six of your ebooks and watch two recorded webinars? You have created successful content, but you are not all the way there. You must make it easy for people to download more content. If you are using landing page forms for an ebook, you can have related ebooks on your thank you page. If you send the ebook link via email, include related content there. In either case, you must make sure your system can track these additional downloads without filling out a form again.

If this is not possible, consider pre-packaged bundles of content. When a prospect comes to a landing page for a single ebook, give them the option to download the bundle instead. This gives them multiple pieces of content without multiple form submissions. Don’t let the technology drive your decisions. Consider the customer experience and the websites you interact with. If you are already sharing content, you have the data to determine if your prospects having binging habits. If so, consider developing connected content that meets those consumption preference and create the infrastructure to match.

The more you understand about your prospects and your customers, whether through well-developed personas or not, the better you will be able to create and share content that speaks to their interests and their habits. Again, that sounds like a relationship to me.

How B2B CMOs Can Turn Social Media into Social Storytelling

b2b-social-storytelling-cmoFor the CMOs of B2B companies, the to-do list is never-ending. Provide more original social content. Engage your target audience. Attract new followers. Create ambassadors. And these tasks can appear monumental given the lack of time and the fluctuating gap in social skills, which require an understanding and communicating on multiple social networks, each with unique style, form, and community.

To be successful requires more than a social presence. It requires continuous social storytelling. Original stories are now one of the most strategic marketing deliverables B2B companies can create for engaging social audiences and communicating a company’s core positioning and value proposition. If told in a meaningful and engaging way, this narrative can become more than just story – it can become the blueprint for a B2B company’s entire social communication strategy.

But how to deliver effective social stories and content every day? Recognize that social media has created a new marketing lifecycle, combining social awareness, education, and engagement. CMOs must execute this new lifecycle within a digitally driven ecosystem against unrelenting competition to win buyer influence. Storytelling is at the speed of social.

In order to answer the challenge, you must have a team in place that shares your company’s vision and positioning. Form a story marketing team that is capable of telling original stories with clear roles, processes, and techniques. The goal for a story team is to make social storytelling part of the internal flow of conversation, to reach messaging alignment, and to deliver lifecycle organized social communications. Without clear storytelling management and workflow, your marketing team will be stuck in a world of one-off social media efforts. Here’s how to get started:

  • The story team members: product experts, customer experts, digital media designers, and experienced social marketing communicators. Select individuals from product marketing, product management, marketing communications, customer experience, and social media management.
  • The story team roles: story owner, collaborator, and viewer. Owners create and drive ideation and targeting. Collaborators add context and content. Viewers help share and communicate stories before, during, and after delivery. Consider a center of storytelling excellence to share roles across teams.
  • The storytelling process: story planning, design, and production. Planning is simple and fast. Ideate and organize ideas everyday. Design includes social targeting, social contexting, and social message testing. Production takes feedback from tests and completely prepares the final digital versions, the sequence, and schedule. Make sure these three phases become a standard lifecycle. Story is a deliverable so it requires a lifecycle process.

Delivering these original social stories that drive awareness and increase engagement by your prospects must be designed with the following key strategies and techniques in mind:

1. Know your rainforest

Your social rainforest is your target ecosystems and social connections. Entering social networks is much like wandering into a rainforest where everything is fundamentally connected. If you enter this ecosystem without knowledge of the power of its connectivity, extinction is eminent. Stories provide the link between your positioning, digital media, and target customers. They are that crucial connecting thread between your marketing team, your desired image, and your target social communities. In other words, the marketing team needs to be one with their target community. Aligning your employees and your story is the first step to telling it to the world.

2. Be authentic and helpful

Stop the vendor speak. Making an emotional and real impact means telling your story in an authentic, honest, helpful manner that is accessible to all parties. Worry less about impressing your audience and more about engaging them.

3. Find the stories within the story

Your story is just the beginning. Within that story are additional narratives, flowing together to help express your core beliefs and ideas. Think about it – every blog post, webinar, e-book, and customer experience has many related needs, tragedies, successes, and conflicts that can be shared on social networks to increase awareness and positioning. Finding and telling those stories will only enhance your overall story.

4. Arm your team

Social storytelling marketing teams must compete like sports teams. They need the best equipment. They need to create the strategies and they need to craft brilliant play books. They need experts in the right positions and, above all, they need experience playing the game.

5. The right apps

Today, CMOs and their team improvise by patching together an ad hoc mix of marketing tools and unmanageable volumes of content without a blueprint for scaling people, technology, and processes for storytelling. Invest in integrated, social ware marketing applications that instantly guide users through creating the right story for the right ecosystem through the right content and network. Thus, the entire marketing team is able to focus on creativity rather than administrative tasks. Arming your team with collaborative, marketing intuitive apps for story planning, story component design, digital publishing, and story measurement allows your team to deliver empowering and compelling social stories every day.

Your story is your strategy. By creating a high performance storytelling marketing team for your B2B company with clear roles and processes you can begin to source and pipeline ideas and content from across your team, partners, and customers. Team consistency and alignment becomes the norm versus the project. Turning social media into social storytelling requires well-designed organization, digital content, and applications that truly orchestrate social story planning, design, and delivery seamlessly and successful from ideas to wins.

5 B2B Social Media Lessons Cisco Learned in 2014

b2b-ciscoWith 2014 officially behind us, it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and speculate on the future. At Cisco, we continue to explore how social media is used not only to generate awareness and buzz, but also to drive thought leadership, influence the customer journey and make a greater impact to the overall marketing strategy. During the last year, I’ve seen first hand how the growth and pervasiveness of social media trends are shaping new digital experiences. Here’s a closer look at our top 5 social media lessons from 2014 and what we can learn from them as we head into 2015.

1. Social analytics are mission critical

Proper social analytics methodologies can help you develop a more sound social strategy. Social listening is not a new concept, but understanding how to analyze the data and turn it into actionable insights is not always a simple task. Take for example our listening effort to determine the best strategy around the #IoE and #InternetOfEverything hashtags. While there is not a shortage of hashtag best practices such as use the least amount of characters, use the one where your audience is, and create your own unique hashtag, it’s knowing the one that is best suited for your strategy. By analyzing the usage, frequency and audiences that leverage #IoE vs. #InternetofEverything, we made a decision to invest more on the latter hashtag. The shift in our strategy led to an approximate 440% usage increase in the last 12 months.

2. Influencer marketing lends credibility to your narrative

It’s no secret that leveraging authoritative, expert voices in social content can provide deep insight into any conversation. However, there are many formats in which those conversations can happen – beyond TweetChats, forums, and blogs. We’ve seen the power of using industry analysts, pundits and thought leaders in our Future of IT podcast channel, which has received more than 6,000 downloads to date. The result is rich, engaging content that continues to get engagement over time. In fact, when combined with recap blogs, SlideShare decks with key quotes from industry thought leaders and social content across our various channels, we’ve seen more than 100,000 engagements.

3. Graphics and videos drive more social engagement

I may be stating the obvious here but it’s important to emphasize how information consumption continues to evolve in favor of visual content and short-form video. We clearly see this with the gaining popularity of visual social networks such as Vine, Instagram and Tumblr. Also, keep in mind other trends such as Facebook’s news feed algorithm update means brands need to get more creative with how they capture audience attention. We’ve learned that by visually showing the impact of the Internet of Everything on the Public Sector, we’re able to drive more engagement and social reach. And through experimenting with short-form video content such as our recent Vine videos, we’re able to increase our engagement by 500% compared to the average text social post.

4. The influence of social good campaigns can be transformational

2014 was a big year for social good campaigns such as the ALS ice bucket challenge and many others. Campaigns such as these showcase an organization’s ability to reach target audiences to shape real change. At Cisco we’ve seen the power of challenges such as the IoT Challenge for Young Women help increase awareness for our involvement in emerging tech development.

5. Social demand generation can drive demand for goods and services

With 67% of consumers (and 94% of B2B buyers) conducting their own research on goods and services online before making a purchase decision, how brands show up on social media can have a great influence on sales. This goes back to ensuring there is a good content strategy, as well and a digital journey that can be effectively tracked all the way to purchase. Admittedly, this is an area we are continuing to explore and refine, but have already seen initial success. We do see huge upside potential and will continue to explore.