As B2B marketers invest more time and effort into social media marketing, many are trying to figure out the practices that work best, and whether their investments are yielding results.
In our research to determine the ROI of social media, Alinean (my company) examined the differences in social media marketing efforts and popularity of various platforms between companies in different industries. To understand the popularity differences, we measured Twitter followers, Facebook fans and Linked In connections for the Fortune 500. Although popularity does not directly yield ROI, it is a key initial measure of success, and one that can be used to predict potential bottom-line impact.
The results showed that industry to industry, and company by company within each industry, there are large differences in level of effort, practices and popularity. The B2B companies that have adopted social media marketing best practices earliest are experiencing an enormous popularity lead over laggards, by a factor of 300 or more. As social media channels continue to grow in popularity and B2B marketers figure out not only how to grow a following but also monetize these channels, those companies implementing best practices soonest and best will have a large competitive advantage.
We found that one of the best ways to generate social media popularity is to have a great content marketing strategy tied to your social media efforts. The best efforts had content initiatives aligned with the buying lifecycle, providing key decision making tools at each stage, driving more than twice the advantage over those social media efforts with low content marketing leverage.
Integrated with social media marketing, these five content marketing strategies have been found to drive popularity:
More than ever, buyers are doing more of their own research online, actively seeking new problem solving ideas and thought leaders for guidance and advice. To help buyers recognize needs, savvy social media marketers are leveraging content that illuminates market trends, highlights issues others are successfully addressing, and provides tangible ideas on how to solve problems. The more independent the content, the more credible it is. Similarly, the more timely the information, the more popular it is. Here are a few ideas on how to connect with early-stage buyers:
- Market opportunity research
- White papers
- Thought leadership videos
- Article highlights
- Thought-provoking blogs
- Interactive assessment tools
In the face of two economic downturns over the past decade, buyers have fundamentally and permanently changed. They seek solutions that can help them “do more with less,” deliver fast payback, provide high ROI and realize superior value versus other solutions. We have termed this condition Frugalnomics, and even as the economy recovers, research indicates that this trend will continue.
Offering exclusive contests, discounts and deals are popular ways to connect with buyers who seek a “bargain” from every purchase. But price is not all that matters, so help economic-focused buyers discover the best solution by promoting content that validates potential benefits, such as:
- Value-proposition-focused white papers
- Success stories
- Interactive ROI and total cost of ownership (TCO) tools.
Many B2B buyers are engaging sales later than ever, relying on a company’s digital profile to connect, engage and evaluate. Trust must be gained through your digital profile versus looking a salesperson in the eyes. Making a personal connection with followers, fans and connections is vital, and content with a personal feel (versus corporate) tends to be the most popular. Some examples:
- Independent reviews
- Video testimonials
- Success stories and case studies.
Content marketing in the social domain isn’t just about broadcasting, but about creating a collaborative dialogue with your followers, fans and connections. Here are the keys to success:
- Monitoring activity
- Actively engaging the user base
- Responding to and collaborating with participants on a timely, personal basis
- Answering questions
- Providing advice
- Delivering competitive intelligence.
The marketers that appear most successful are leveraging the right content at the right time to connect on a personal level and move the buying cycle forward.
Everyone needs a laugh now and then, and entertaining content is playing a larger role than ever in attracting attention and driving popularity. Entertaining yet thought-provoking videos, animations and cartoons are being used to great effect to gain followers, fans and connections.
The right content leveraged via social media channels is proven to drive more connections and improve company popularity twice over. Content aligned with the buying cycle and targeted towards ideas, value, credibility, personalization and entertainment show the greatest success at driving popularity.
And although popularity is no guarantee for return on social media investment, presence and reach is still a key element for success. After all, without followers, fans and connections, there is no chance for social media ROI success. And without leveraging content, there is little chance for social media success.
The full Alinean research note can be found at: Winning the Social Media Popularity Contest.