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

25 B2B Social Media Statistics About Platform Usage

b2b-statistics-25The latest social media industry report from Social Media Examiner is loaded with statistics about social media usage broken down all different ways. Since 39% of the respondents of the survey were B2B companies, many of the statistics are further broken down by B2B versus B2C. Since many of us use these kinds of statistics as benchmarks, I pulled out all the B2B specific stats and grouped them by platform to make it easy to find what you are looking for.

Do these stats reflect your usage of these platforms? Share your thoughts on Twitter with #b2bstats or in the comments below. You can also tweet any of the stats with the link after each one.

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Photo credit: Flickr

Understanding the Millennial B2B Buyer Will Change How You Sell

b2b-buyer-sales-millennialsThe B2B workforce is changing with the arrival and promotion of millennials, but how does that affect how your company approaches sales. In the following interview, Dustin Grosse, Chief Operating Officer of ClearSlide, a sales engagement platform that empowers sales teams to engage customers, shares his thoughts about the changing dynamics of buying, selling and managing the generation that is out to save the world.

1. As more millennials continue to join B2B companies, what is their role in the buying process? How are the roles of researcher, recommender and buyer changing as a result of this new generation’s involvement?

Millennials are an increasingly important — by 2020, it is estimated that they will make up more than 50% of the workforce. They are fast becoming decision makers in their respective companies and have a fundamentally different approach to the way they research, recommend and buy. Millennials were born with cell phones and computers in hand – with 87 percent of millennials saying that their smartphone never leaves their side. Competition for millennials’ business is only a click away.

Traditional sales processes have been linear in nature, from qualification to educating the buyer to creating interest to close. That approach is dramatically changing in part because of millennial buyers — they do research and learn about products on their own, through consuming content and consulting social networks and blogs. In fact, buyers are now as much as 57% of the way through the buying process before actually engaging with a seller.

2. How does a B2B sales team adapt to selling to an organization populated, or even dominated, by millennials?

It is critical for modern sales organizations to learn to sell where buyers are, and most importantly by engaging buyers where they do their research. Social communities like LinkedIn and Twitter allow buyers to understand your value proposition while doing their own online research, and they readily consume valuable information like videos, blog posts, how-tos, testimonials, and more to form their impressions.

In fact, millennials are more likely to trust information found in these social communities because they believe they provide more accurate, authentic information — 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. In order to remain competitive in this changing landscape, sales teams must make a strong effort to represent their brand positively across these platforms.

Since most of the information gathering happens before any direct interaction with a company, sellers have to learn how to adapt to where buyers are in the selling process. Linear sales pitches end up frustrating millennial buyers and risk lengthening the sales process. Sellers today need to ask questions, listen, and demonstrate value that aligns to what the buyer already knows and what they need to know to move the sale forward.

According to a study by the Alexander Group, salespeople spend as little as 15% of their time actually engaging with customers. With so little time in front of the customer, it is imperative that every interaction is optimized for success. One of the best investments that organizations can make is in tools that help sellers read buyers’ digital body language, respond and sell when buyers are ready to be engaged, and tailor the conversation around their needs. Sales engagement platforms like ClearSlide can give sellers an edge by notifying and tracking what and when content is resonating, as well as helping them more successfully engage throughout the buying process.

Implementing sales mobility is also key. Because millennials are digital natives, they expect to be able to work from anywhere, anytime – and they expect sellers to engage with them similarly. Eighty-seven percent of millennials use between 2 and 3 devices at least once on a daily basis. Making information and engagement throughout the sales cycle available on mobile devices is already important and will continue to grow as more millennials enter the workforce and mobile tools continue to develop in sophistication.

3. Since many in the millennial generation are digital savvy, does the educational approach of content marketing provide ways to connect and build initial relationships?

Content marketing is an important part of driving awareness and consideration for those buyers who are doing more research before engaging with a seller. It is important for companies to engage them before a person-to-person interaction through educational materials demonstrating thought leadership and expertise. This is an opportunity to educate buyers on what they should be thinking about when they are going to buy and position the value your product or service will deliver.

4. This same shift is also happening on the sales side. How does a B2B company hire and train millennials as salespeople, when their motivations are different from traditional salespeople?

Millennial sellers still have an underlying desire to win and be successful. However, they have different motivations and preferences. If you hand your millennial sales team a training manual, they’ll likely hand it right back. A better strategy is to encourage your millennial reps to learn from their peers – and specifically from leading reps. Use technology to make this possible – a homepage of all sales activity (like a social network), daily update emails, or the ability to listen to how top reps pitch via calls or videos, are all great learning opportunities. Social learning and collaboration is far more impactful than the traditional “coffee is for closers” sales environment.

In addition, millennials thrive on competition and want to feel part of a team. They want to know that they are having an impact on their company (and the world) and that their contributions are recognized. Gamification can help introduce competitive spirit and foster teamwork, and can be as simple as a competition between reps or teams. You can also spark millennial salespeoples’ desire to over-achieve by making recognition visible. Leaderboards and simple recognition like balloons tied to chairs for top performers can serve as public reminders and motivators to succeed.

Encouraging peer learning and healthy competition requires transparency throughout the entire sales process. By tracking engagement in a platform that enables every sales person to see what others are doing, you create learning opportunities and engender competition at the same time. Savvy salespeople will be able to see what top performers are doing and incorporate that into their own selling practice. This higher level of visibility will also benefit sales leaders, because they will have more specific information on what works and what doesn’t.

5. Is there something millennials should do to more easily adapt to traditional workplaces, or should they embrace their differences and push workplaces in a new direction?

I think this requires a balance of both. New blood in an organization forces everyone to learn new and modern ways of doing things, which is good. Buyers are changing, so you need sellers to change along with them. Millennials can push their workplace in new directions by advocating for openness and transparency, peer-to-peer learning, modern tools, mobility, and by engaging customers through social media. At the same time, millennials should recognize that they have plenty to learn from other, more experienced colleagues as well.

6. Is this overall shift good for B2B companies?

I think it is. Millennials joining the workforce are helping B2B sales organizations evaluate new ways of approaching their sales process. The reality is everyone in business is being asked to do more with less – less time and less money – so the key is to be hyper-efficient and maximize every interaction between buyers and sellers.

The reality is that it’s increasingly difficult to get buyers’ attention, let alone a face-to-face meeting, and your company is just one of the many that are competing for business. It’s not personal, but a reflection that time is precious resource. Technology is helping salespeople adapt by providing access to data and insights that weren’t previously available to them. With the right tools, salespeople can prioritize their outreach based on their buyer’s digital body language, ultimately making them more efficient. An added benefit is that they may actually get more time with the buyer by making interactions easier and more efficient, helping them win more.

Photo credit: Flickr

10 Ideas to Refresh Your B2B LinkedIn Presence Before Summer Vacation

b2b-linkedin-summer-plansMany B2B marketers are frequently looking for ways to enhance their social media presence and build more and stronger connections with prospects and customers. As you plan to wrap up big projects before summer vacation, this is the perfect time to focus on one specific social media platform: LinkedIn.

In the 2015 Social Media Marketing industry report from Social Media Examiner, 88% of B2B companies use LinkedIn and 41% of them cite it as their most important platform.

With this in mind, rather than wait until a busier time later in the year, here are 10 ideas that you can use to refresh your LinkedIn presence for your B2B company over the coming months as people are in and out of the office.

1. Review Company Page Description

The company page description is the kind of standard copy that not many people review and update, but you may find that it has gotten a little dated. That product launch is no longer new. You have added new capabilities or new locations to your business. You might even have a new brand position that totally changes how you present your B2B company to the world. Making updates to this page is simple, and won’t take you very long if you already have the new copy available. (Tweet this idea)

2. Change Company Page Image

This image was probably uploaded when you created this page and it has a very corporate look. Consider changing this image seasonally, or change it to highlight a current promotion. Visual content is making waves on other platforms and you can take advantage of that here. Make sure you resize your image to 646 pixels x 220 pixels so it will appear as you expect it. Since followers don’t usually visit your company page, but view your updates in their feeds, consider a brief update about the new photo. (Tweet this idea)

3. Review Results of Posts

If you have not already been reviewing the results of your posts, this is a great time to do so. While it is easy to review likes and comments on LinkedIn, clicks on links that drive visitors to your blog or website are more important to track. This will help you understand what content drives engagement. You should be using a URL link shortener that lets you track clicks, as well as a web analytics tool that lets you track where traffic came from. Google Analytics tracks Social traffic by platform, and you can even look at it by individual post. (Tweet this idea)

4. Add Relevant Showcase Pages

If your company does not have any Showcase Pages, this is the perfect time to plan them. While these were created to replace individual product pages, it makes sense to create these as topical pages about areas of interest to your prospects and customers. This is an easy way to segment your audience and post content that is relevant for each segment. Consider adding two or three Showcase Pages, and make sure that you promote them on your main page and other appropriate channels. (Tweet this idea)

5. Create Editorial Calendar for Updates

If you already have an editorial calendar established for your other content, make sure you include your LinkedIn updates as part of it. After reviewing your successful posts, you should have a better idea of what works on LinkedIn. Focus on that content and develop a regular cadence of posting. Consistency is key to engagement from your B2B prospects and customers. (Tweet this idea)

6. Throw an Employee Lunch and Learn

Something that is often overlooked in updating a B2B company’s LinkedIn presence are your employees. Most, if not all, of your employees have personal LinkedIn profiles. Each one of those profiles links to your company page. Teach your employees the importance of supporting the company with their LinkedIn profiles. Providing lunch will entice them to attend a meeting. It can also be done virtually for distributed teams. You can explain your overall plans on LinkedIn and some of the ways they can help. Consider sharing the ideas in the rest of this post. (Tweet this idea)

7. Create a Standard Company Description for Employees

Even though an employee owns and manages their own LinkedIn profile, you can make suggestions for their job description. Many job descriptions begin with a description of the company. You should provide a standard, two to three sentence description of your B2B company that has the appropriate keywords and brand positioning. You cannot force your employees to use this, but you can explain why it is important. Each employee can market the company within their own network. This standard description helps employees appear in the right search results. (Tweet this idea)

8. Encourage Employees to Share Company Posts

Just like providing the company description above, you want to encourage employees to share company updates with their LinkedIn networks. Since this also needs to be optional, your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for employees. The easiest way is to select what you want employees to post and give them suggested language to use. You can communicate this to them through your intranet, internal social network or even an internal newsletter. You can also encourage them to follow your B2B company on LinkedIn and Twitter and to share what they think their network would find interesting. (Tweet this idea)

9. Identify Groups for Employee Participation

There are many LinkedIn Groups that provide value in your industry or the target industry of your prospects and customers. If you identify some of these Groups for your employees and give them a tutorial on interacting in those Groups, your B2B company will have a larger presence in these Groups besides just someone from marketing posting there. Real employees with real industry knowledge and connections will get noticed. (Tweet this idea)

10. Select Subject Matter Experts to Blog on LinkedIn

And taking that industry knowledge and expertise one step further, you can identify the most likely subject matters experts and encourage them to publish blog posts through their LinkedIn profiles. This becomes even easier if they are already blogging for your B2B company and you can just ask them to syndicate their posts to LinkedIn. Make sure they include a link back to the original post. This is another way to leverage not just your employees, but their knowledge, to improve your company presence and ability to connect with prospects and customers on LinkedIn. (Tweet this idea)

Bonus Idea: Create a Slideshare Deck for Employee Profiles

One of the easiest ways to add visual content to a LinkedIn profile is to import a Slideshare deck. Create a short deck describing your company, or even presenting some industry opinion or research, that is no more than 3-5 slides. After your post this to Slideshare, your employees can add it to their profiles by simply choosing edit profile and moving their cursor to the right margin on any job description. Click the box in the middle with the square and the plus sign to upload or link to a file. You can also add the content to a different position. (Tweet this idea)
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By taking these simple actions now, your B2B company will be in a better position on LinkedIn once vacations end and your employees, prospects and customers are back in full swing for the fall.

Photo Credit: Me

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.

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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.

Interview: How IBM Leads B2Bs in Instagram Engagement

b2b-instagram-ibm-deskAs a follow-up to our list of top B2B Instagram accounts, I reached out to Katie Keating, Social Content & Engagement Strategist at IBM, to learn more about how this globally integrated technology and consulting company approaches a visual platform like Instagram.

IBM ranked at the top of the list of B2B Instagram accounts because we prioritized engagement over number of followers. This put the IBM account way ahead of larger B2B companies who are well-known for their social media prowess, like GE, Cisco and Adobe. What is your approach to Instagram, and does it focus on engagement versus growing your following? And what are the metrics that determine your success?

For IBM, engagement is the metric we put the most weight on when we assess performance of our social content on Instagram. Ultimately, our goal is to create and curate content that is intriguing to our audiences, that maybe teaches them something simple but useful, and builds trust among our followers. It’s not about the quantity of our followers but the quality. We don’t want to speak into a void but to an engaged, interested audience, so listening and gathering feedback is a critical first step before we publish anything on our channels.

Are you using the IBM Instagram account to communicate with existing customers, partners and employees or are you looking to connect with prospects to drive new business?

We have a number of key audiences that we think are interested in what IBM’s doing, and who may not be aware of some of the incredible innovation happening at IBM. IBM is a global company so we try to showcase the company’s innovation around the world. Employee engagement is a key part of our strategy–we always say that IBM is primarily experienced by the world at large through our employees, so it’s important to us that they’re engaged and feel empowered to share their experiences.

In the time period we looked at, some of your top posts were employee-submitted photos showing #viewfrommydesk. Is user-generated content, or specifically employee-based content, a key part of your Instagram strategy, or was this just a good idea that happened to work?

The #ViewFromMyDesk photo series was done in partnership with the IBM global recruitment team. The goal was to showcase that IBM employees come from all over and work in various types of environments. We invited employees to share photos of the view from their desk–be it a traditional office setting, their home office, office on the road, and more. As a result, we received photos from locations all over the world like Slovenia, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Norway, Venezuela, Taiwan, India, and more. Instagram is a highly global platform and IBM is an international brand, so we thought Instagram would be a great place to host a visually-driven series like this.

IBM has a broad, global business serving multiple audience segments. How do you balance that with one Instagram account?

b2b-instagram-ibm-designWe see Instagram a place to share “moments” at IBM–what it’s like to work in our offices, behind the scenes in our labs, or the process behind innovations-in-progress. We want to take our audience on the journey with us. Our photos come from all over: user-generated content, photos that employees like me shoot themselves, photos of teams collaborating, and more. We’ve even had employees “take over” our account for a week at a time and show us what it’s like to work at IBM through their own photos and captions. It’s really important that anything we publish stays true to the platform–inspiring, visually engaging imagery that tells a story, while being true to IBM. We’re not trying to fit certain messages into a box or follow a strict calendar, but instead we’re in a constant mode of discovery, curation and creation.

How do the Instagram photos integrate with social media posts on other channels? How important is visual content to the overall social media strategy of IBM?

We find that Instagram photos also drive engagement across our other channels, so we cross-post. Visuals in general are absolutely critical to driving engagement on our social accounts. I think audiences now expect that visuals should and will be part of the experience.

You seem to be experimenting with more branded video on Instagram lately? How does this compare to Vine or YouTube?

Branded “micro-video” is something we’re definitely planning to do more of. It’s a great way to tell a story or create art out of the everyday, which is the sweet spot for platforms like Instagram and Vine.

And finally, what advice would you give to other B2B marketers who are looking to improve their engagement on Instagram?

First, spend time on Instagram. Really understand the community aspect of the platform and the caliber of the photography. Think about why your followers are spending time on Instagram. It’s an escape. It’s inspirational. It’s beautiful. Make sure that’s the type of content you’re curating and creating for your branded channel too. Use it as a place to show the real moments, to go behind the scenes, to give access and meaning to your brand. Don’t try to promote, sell, drive clicks (URLs aren’t hotlinked anyway). You will drive engagement and preference for your brand by being real and staying true to the platform.