As B2B marketers work on refining 2012 strategic marketing initiatives, social media has become a central focus. Advances in search engine algorithms bring social media in focus for link acquisition and as a potential signal of trust for engines. The emergence of a converged media imperative ties the value of user generated content (social shares, organic reviews, etc.) to the overall marketing mix through performance benchmarks in advertising and brand development initiatives.
BtoB Magazine‘s latest report on B2B social media marketing provides further support and insight into the strategies, applications, and challenges marketers face. While the first step is developing a solid social media plan, there is more to it than just organization planning. Here are 9 key insights and action items I found while reviewing the B2B social media marketing report.
The Role of Social Media
Social media is not only a customer communication-specific marketing strategy. While the report does not delve into specifics, B2B marketers are leveraging social media for customer service, product marketing, hiring and recruiting, and traffic and lead acquisition.
Those organizations not involved in social media are clearly in the minority. Only 18 percent of those polled would have “little to no” involvement in social media initiatives by 2013 (3 percent indicated absolutely no involvement). More than 50 percent would be very involved or more, in comparison to 32 percent very involved today.
Define Social Media Goals
The breadth of marketing challenges social media might address may be surprising to those just starting out. Of the 10 most popular goals social media addressed, eight were deemed effective by 40 percent or more of respondents polled.
For B2B marketers, this chart emphasizes both the diversity in organizational objectives and the notion that social media can play a role in multiple facets of marketing strategy.
Look Before You Leap
While the opportunity to “reach large audience(s) through new and popular platform(s)” was the most influential reason B2B marketers were adopting social media strategy, marketers must carefully consider the following before getting involved:
- One Size Does Not Fit All
- Earned Media Is Not Free Media
- Can You Really Be Everywhere, All the Time?
These considerations are discussed in greater depth in the next three sections.
One Size Does Not Fit All
B2B marketers differed in their response to the social media platforms they used most, found most important from a ranking perspective, and considered most important for B2B marketing objectives.
As indicated in my Search Engine Land column referenced earlier, our experience has been similar to what others have indicated about the tone and style required for individual social media platforms.
- Facebook is more informal. We have seen greater success with interaction when using video and graphics as opposed to only text updates.
- LinkedIn requires greater group participation, asking and fielding more in-depth questions and discussions.
- The audience on Twitter wants information faster. Shorter, more concise material (such as lists) tend to get shared more often.
It was pleasantly surprising to see B2B marketers continue to acknowledge the effectiveness of blogging in their social media initiatives. This speaks to the importance of traffic acquisition and SEO performance, as well as the value B2B marketers should realize in fully owning the assets they are creating.
Earned Media Is Not Free Media
There is a misconception that social media, like SEO in years earlier, is attractive because there does not need to be direct advertising dollars tied to its initiatives. However, the report accurately acknowledges there are costs associated with the time and investment in auditing an organization’s marketing needs and competitive landscape.
The survey later revealed that it took an average of 13 months of usage in the most important social media channel before B2B marketers polled felt truly effective in using that channel. There are certainly training and opportunity costs associated with this development.
Can You Really Be Everywhere, All the Time?
The answer is no (but we tend to try to do so anyway). Social media platforms need to be selected based on a company’s goals and objectives.
- LinkedIn was considered the “most important channel” for B2B marketers. Survey data infers that this platform’s characteristics may better support objectives specific to lead generation and sales activity.
- The big three B2B social media channels used by B2B marketers were LinkedIn (83 percent), Twitter (80 percent), and Facebook (79 percent).
- The report identified the interesting surge in Google+ usage, which is likely related to the potential implications Google+ may have on search engine optimization.
While newer platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr might be a “hot topic” in leadership circles, B2B marketers should assess how they will contribute to pressing goals they think social media may help solve.
Don’t Sacrifice Proven Channels
While more than 50 percent of marketers polled were increasing social media budgets, proven marketing channels should not necessarily be sacrificed. For example, B2B marketers facing aggressive lead generation goals should not sacrifice PPC initiatives delivering satisfactory results.
The report identifies additional reasons search engine advertising should not get sacrificed, including:
- There is no assurance “earned” and “owned” media will go viral.
- Paid search can be used for regional targeting and specific product/market interest.
- Paid search can also provide benefit to brand recognition and awareness.
Greater Budgets Mean Greater Scrutiny
Even though 71 percent of B2B marketers were moving as much as 10 percent of their traditional budgets to social media, what this really means is that goals and success metrics will be scrutinized that much more closely in the months to come. The reality is that ROI is still lacking.
Sixty percent of B2B marketers polled were still not putting measurement in place to establish some form of ROI for their social media programs. While more than 60 percent were satisfied with their social media programs without specific ROI metrics in place, you can be certain this will change as marketing dollars without truly measurable results are reported.
Can Social Media Advertising Work?
While it might be assumed that social media advertising would receive the cold reception in popular platforms, advertising tools within social media sites have reached a surprising level of maturity, according to the report.
- LinkedIn advertising is considered a favorite because of the segmentation capabilities associated with lead generation initiatives.
- Facebook has a variety of options for targeting audiences, type of destination, update, or promotion.
- YouTube launched full availability of a paid search service for video that works similar to Google AdWords.
- Twitter has augmented its platform with a new self-service feature for promoted tweets.
B2B marketers need to consider areas of need in their marketing objectives and whether the advertising tools in social media platforms may provide a solution. While lead generation was the most important benefit of those polled (35 percent), branding (24 percent) and product/event promotion (5 percent) were also highly ranked. Our organization has successfully helped clients with all three of these social media advertising initiatives in recent months.
How are your social media initiatives shaping up this year? For those struggling with organization and/or execution, BtoB Magazine’s report may come at the right time, as it is easy to question the validity of a social media engagement when results are in question (or not well defined).