Your 2015 B2B Social Media Predictions Are Totally Wrong. Or Maybe They Are Totally Right!

b2b-social-media-predictions-2015It is the time of year when bloggers dust off their crystal balls and try to predict what will happen in B2B social media in the coming year. I have done this for many years myself. Whether these predictions are based on recent data, anecdotal experience or pure conjecture, they are frequently wrong. Or maybe they are right.

But the best part of writing these blog posts is that nobody ever goes back and looks at last year’s post to see what bloggers got right and what they got wrong. It is a content creators dream come true: attractive headline, shareable content, no repercussions.

Anyone can predict the future if they are not accountable for being right.

These opinion pieces are just that. Opinions.

It is very easy to find a survey and say that B2B companies are increasing their social media budgets. The percentage of B2B marketing budgets spent on social media will rise from 9% to 13% in the next 12 months. It will continue to rise to 21% in the next five years. This single data point will let a blogger predict growth in social media budgets for the next five years. And this survey is updated every year, so this one can go on for eternity.

But nobody is checking up on the bloggers to see what really happened. Or the marketers.

Every year the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs release their benchmark report about content marketing. But in this year’s version they changed the definition of content marketing and the number of B2B marketers indicating that they used content marketing went down from the previous year from 93% to 86%. Does this mean that bloggers can use this study to predict the decline of content marketing? Of course they can.

But other parts of the report reveal that B2B marketers are spending more time and money on content marketing. These selective data points support a prediction of increased reliance on content marketing. A blogger can take their pick of the direction, based on their opinion.

And be right either way. Or wrong.

What about making predictions about mobile? Is this really the year that B2B marketers will finally embrace mobile? It’s very easy to predict. Even easier than it’s been for the past five years that bloggers, including me, have been predicting it. 58% of American adults have smartphones. The breakdown of that data is even higher when you look at groups that likely contain your customers. And that data is almost a year old.

Predict away about the impact of mobile, but B2B marketers will prove it wrong once again. B2B websites, white papers, ebooks are still designed and built for desktop computers. This is one of the biggest no-brainers for marketers in years. But bloggers can predict this until they are blue in the face, but it is just not happening.

Other areas that inspire prognosticating for 2015 are marketing automation, social media advertising, scaling of social media across organizations beyond marketing, measurements of success beyond chasing likes and followers and true executive understanding and adoption of social media.

But for every one of these data-supported predictions, there will be many B2B companies that just don’t follow the trend. And prove the predictions wrong yet again.

It is easy to sign up for a Twitter account, but hard for many B2B marketers to embrace the platform and share information that is of value to their customers. It is easy to pull a white paper out of the archives and say you are doing content marketing, but harder to build a content funnel that matches prospects’ interest and timing so it can all lead to sales. And yes, it is easy to look at your own behavior on your mobile device as a rallying cry to go “Mobile First,” but to get all the pieces in place to make this happen at most B2B companies is hugely challenging.

For many B2B companies 2015 will be the year of true social media adoption and success at many levels. Unless I’m wrong.

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Do B2B Companies Really Need to Be on Facebook?

b2b-facebookMany B2B companies start their social media efforts by gravitating to the large, common platforms and setting up profiles. Step 1: Twitter. Step 2: Facebook. Step 3: LinkedIn. And once these boxes are checked, they struggle to find the right content to post to each of these platforms. And marketers wonder if they should even be on all these platforms, especially Facebook, as organic reach has deteriorated.

This approach ignores several important marketing questions that B2B marketers should be asking about Facebook.

1. What are you trying to accomplish with social media?

B2B companies need to use these social media platforms to achieve higher level business goals that others in the organization are tracking and supporting. Note that I said business goals, not social media goals. Getting more followers is not a business goal. Increasing sales is a business goal. Increasing the number of leads from online sources, especially social media, is a way to track success against that goal. Make sure you have properly framed social media in a business context to evaluate Facebook as an appropriate platform.

2. Are your customers on Facebook?

This is a critical question in evaluating the platform, but you have to do so in a business context. Even though 71% of online adults are on Facebook, many B2B buyers may not use Facebook during the day or like Business Pages. While there are B2B companies that have large followings on Facebook and have generated traffic and leads, if you are struggling to build an audience there, you may be chasing shadows. And even if you do get people to like your Page, if they don’t engage with your content, Facebook is less likely to display it in their newsfeed.

3. Are you able to provide value to customers and prospects through your content?

If you are creating content to educate, inform and entertain customers and prospects, that is the first step. If you see that your content is being downloaded and shared on any platform, then you know that the content is appropriate for your audience. At any point during this evaluation process, you can ask select customers or prospects about the value of your content. It is easy to make a list of the topics you think would connect with your audience and would drive action, but without direct feedback, it’s possible to miss the mark. And don’t survey them, ask them.

4. How do you reach them without advertising?

Facebook only shows the most interesting posts in the newsfeed, as determined by its algorithm. Interesting is defined as posts that people will interact with (like, comment, share, click). You need to use as many off-Facebook techniques to get people to interact with your content so Facebook will show them more of it. If you get good engagement on Twitter, then post exclusive content on Facebook and use Twitter to drive traffic to it. People need to know what’s there and to like it so they will see future posts. And don’t forget email signatures, newsletters and phone conversations. “We just posted this really fun picture of the sales team on our Facebook Page. You should like it.”

5. Can a B2B company quit Facebook?

And now the biggest question of all. What if your customers really are not on Facebook in a business context, those that are don’t engage with your content, Facebook doesn’t show your updates to many people who like your Page, and you just can’t justify advertising to increase reach, can you really delete your Page and leave Facebook altogether? Do your customers expect you to be on Facebook? Is there a stigma attached to not being on Facebook? If Twitter or LinkedIn are working for you, driving traffic and leads, and otherwise serving your business and its goals, and Facebook is not, it is time to leave. If you have tried everything and it’s only getting worse, you can go. There is more of an expectation for B2B companies to be on Twitter than Facebook. And when you leave Facebook, write a blog post about all your efforts and share the numbers of your lack of success. Nobody will fault you for dedicating your resources to platforms that have business value. One final thing to consider before leaving: It makes some sense to keep the Page alive, but not active, to keep the custom Facebook URL. If you do this, post a note on the Page where people can find you and your current content.

If you have Facebook success stories about your B2B company, please share it in the comments below, especially if you have turned around a low-performing page.

B2B Sales Teams Can Use Content Marketing to Generate Leads

b2b-social-selling-content-marketingMy friend Tom Skotidas and I talked about what can finally bridge the gap between sales and marketing. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but we talked about a situation where the sales team can actually generate leads with content marketing.

Some of the highlights of our conversation:

  • How to use content within a LinkedIn profile to generate leads
  • What happens when B2B sales teams start to understand what content converts
  • How sharing content through individuals targets audience segments
  • And the sharing of this content is trackable. You will know which of your B2B salespeople have results.

Photo credit: Flickr

B2B Sales Pros Need to Create Demand with Content Marketing

b2b-demand-generationI recorded another video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but that really oversimplifies the process.

Today’s conversation is about demand generation. Tom smartly points out that no matter how much content you create or share, if you are not creating demand for your product or service, nobody will want to buy it.

Highlights of the Conversation:

  • Without demand, there are no buyers.
  • Use authoritative third-party content to create demand for your products or services.
  • Create hybrid content that “wraps” your own content in someone else’s authority.
  • Speak the language of your prospects and customers.

How are your sales teams using content to drive demand for your B2B products or services?

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Marketing Team Drives B2B Social Selling Success

My friend Tom Skotidas and I recorded a video conversation defining social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation.

Social selling, or #socialselling, is a term that is used by lots of people to mean lots of different things. It is more than my definition of sales people using the tools and approach of social media. Watch the video to hear Tom’s definition.

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Social selling is really a social marketing program for sales enablement.
  • It is a hybrid approach between marketing and sales.
  • Conversations about social selling should always start with marketing. Not only because they bring the strategy, the skills and the process to move the market, but they also bring the budget.
  • A well-executed program lets sales people connect more effectively, get more meetings and build more pipeline.

How do you define social selling?

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What’s the Difference Between a B2B Blog Post Topic and an Ebook Topic?

b2b-blog-post-ebookB2B marketers are trying to produce and publish more content than ever before. More social media channels mean more content. More followers mean more content. More content from others means more content. And ever increasing goals mean more content.

In this ongoing battle between more content and better content, B2B marketers sometimes choose the volume side of the fence. When your boss is looking for more leads for the sales team, one way to get there is by producing more ebooks. Even though this can sometimes create an unsustainable model of content that can spiral out of control, I have seen the result of heading down this path.

Blog posts masquerading as ebooks.

Since ebooks are often gated content hiding behind lead forms, it is easy to think that you should turn some of your blog posts straight into ebooks. But that is not the way to build trust in your content or your company. Blog posts drive traffic to your site and the ebook offer converts the visitor. They are not likely to fill out a lead form for lightweight content. The ebook offer needs to provide more depth to the blog post topic, not just be a blog post prettied up by a designer and converted to a PDF.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good B2B blog post topic (Tweet This)

  1. It is about one simple idea.
  2. It can be based on another blog post.
  3. It can be based on one product update.
  4. It can solve one customer problem.
  5. It can easily be divided up into several small sections.
  6. It can easily be presented as a short list.
  7. It doesn’t need complex graphs or charts to explain it.
  8. It doesn’t require more than one author.
  9. It can easily be read on a mobile device…
  10. in a short amount of time.

Here are 10 characteristics of a good B2B ebook topic (Tweet This)

  1. It is about a big or complex idea.
  2. it can be based on several blog posts.
  3. It can be about something one level more general than your product category.
  4. It can solve several customer problems, or one big problem with multiple steps.
  5. It can be divided into multiple chapters.
  6. It can contain lists as examples within chapters.
  7. It can use charts, graphs or graphical elements to better explain or divide it up.
  8. It can have multiple authors to bring multiple perspectives to it.
  9. It is substantial enough that it needs to be downloaded…
  10. and maybe even printed out to read it.

Have you considered creating a PDF of a single blog post idea just to get leads? Did the short term result of leads pay off in the long run with sales?

Photo Credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

3 Ways Your B2B Content Can Provide the Most Value

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

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

1. Understand What Content People Care About

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

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

2. Make Your Content a Gift That Gives Continual Value

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

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

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

3. Be Surprising

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

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

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

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

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

nic-story 3

Photo credit: Flickr

The Search for Meaning in B2B Marketing

b2b-marketing-meaningOur friend Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners has written a lot about the what and the how of B2B marketing, but never the why. In this amazing Slideshare presentation called The Search for Meaning in B2B Marketing, and embedded below, he tackles the question of what makes his career in B2B marketing meaningful.

In addition to the ideas expressed, pay attention to the presentation itself. Presented as a notebook with handwritten notes, sketches and more formal type, this comes across as the simple musings of a creative guy (which Doug certainly is). He really captures the right tone and visual style in this piece. And the voyeuristic quality of reading someone else’s notebook makes it even more fun.

b2b-marketing-meaning-doug

The honesty of Doug’s writing really creates a connection with his audience of B2B marketers. While he is working out meaning in his own career, he hopes that it helps others in the field. My favorite line is:

When you were a kid, you never said, “I want to be a B2B marketer when I grow up.”

You definitely need to check out the whole notebook, but here are the seven things that give his work as a B2B marketer meaning:

1. I like helping companies grow.

2. I Like helping our clients achieve success in their careers.

3. I love working alongside talented, engaged, positive people who also love what they do.

4. I love learning new things.

5. I love work that demands creativity.

6. I like honest work that asks me to build a great case for my client.

7. I like figuring out how the business of business works.

Are there other things that give meaning to your career as a B2B marketer?

The Difference Between B2B and B2C Digital Marketing

I was tempted to write a list of seven or so ideas on the differences between B2B and B2C marketing. Traditionally there’ve been several, but in 2013 (and soon 2014) I think there’s only one, albeit with seven or more consequences and considerations.

It’s important that we recognize the shift in how similar B2B and B2C have become. The method by which people find information has largely become the same, thanks to computing technology and of course Google’s drive to make vast information searchable on every level. Whereas B2C was traditionally led by outbound broadcast and press tactics — and B2B by outbound direct mail and sales calls — we’re seeing an always on consumer now searching online and leading the charge for information, creating an inbound approach from the perspective of both B2C and B2B marketers. This starts to reveal a common set of planning imperatives that we’ve outlined below.

What remains the real difference then?

It’s the number of decision makers and influencers involved in the sales and marketing process. The nature of influencing a purchase decision in an individual or household is of course more obvious and directed in B2C, whereas in B2B we have hierarchies and people in decision chains. Though the same B2B decision makers are as emotional and irrational as they are at home, it matters that there are so many of them in one chain. It sounds simple, but it’s not. The reality is that there’s not a uniform B2B hierarchy that we can expect either. These differ by market, and most of all by business size. It’s OK though, since it’s about employing key observations on strategic planning.

1. Product or service explanation

Some might say that B2B products and services require a lot more detail than B2C. I’d suggest the specific insight here is that those products and services require explanatory content in variable levels of detail and format for more audience types at different stages of the buying cycle. This makes it a longer planning process, with more variables to consider. For example, the requirements of a Finance Director at the closing stages of the sales process are wildly different to those of the Sales Director who becomes motivated to short-list the product initially.

b2b-content-matrix

2. B2B is naturally more targeted

Thankfully, there appears to be a little more common sense for customer targeting in B2B, something that we’d hope would exist in B2C, where the attention is more sporadic and possibly distracted with vague ideas of viral and a misplaced value on collecting fans and followers — only to underserve them afterwards. B2B companies, on the other hand, have a better handle on who they’re targeting and where they are, a natural inclination which is also easier to solve. After all, buyers of a particular chemical product or future technology are inherently more findable that 16-19 year old males interested in football.

3. Creative, marketed content fuels inbound

Placing excellent content where buyers already are, or likely to be, and amplifying that with paid media is good sense for targeted marketing. It’s never been more important for B2B and B2C marketers alike to invest heavily in content that solves the problems of the prospective buyer. For B2B that’s also handling content that the potential buyer may need to manage influencers, too. Especially those holding the purse strings.

b2b-inbound-marketing

4. Content strategy

Related to the above is recognizing that our content exists in an eco-system with our own content hub at the center of that. We must appreciate the difference between content requirements around a sales funnel on owned media platforms, whilst at the same time promoting content to an audience away from owned web properties. The quality of process and planning needed to do this well, and affordably, can’t be over-stated — targeted content can be re-shaped, re-purposed and re-created in multiple formats, for multiple applications. Considering long-form content first, and planning the process of atomizing it, can save time and money. Is it here that B2B marketers can seek inspiration from their arguably more creative B2C cousins? After all, all buyers are people, and entertainment and inspiration does not have to come at the expense of credibility, does it?

5. Integrating email and social media

It’s easy to abuse both social media and email, with poorly targeted ‘blasts’ of information that matter to a hungry sales division. This is something that B2B marketers have been notoriously bad at. Planning how to nurture those vaguely interested enquiries to qualified leads is something different again — and there have never been so many tools and strategies to make this affordable for even the smallest of businesses. Returning to the question of “how do I serve the needs of [the target audience],” at every stage of the buying cycle, will enable prospective customers to take the next step towards purchase by showing intent and re-engagement, not one giant and unrealistic leap. Both B2C and B2B marketers are still learning how to enter the conversational, and in the moment, nature of social media, the power and genuine one-to-one potential for slow and steady relationship building — using the networks, portals and platforms for what they are, catalysts for connection, rather than the be and end all.

The key remains to plan appropriately- to plan to succeed through a combination of targeted, integrated marketing that works in the service of the audience first and foremost.