Since 2011, I’ve spent considerable time researching and testing social media marketing in a business to business context. Initially, I treated social media as another marketing channel, like email, to distribute content, whether educational or otherwise, to individuals. A communication channel to reach an audience. The goal was two-fold: (1) grow the social audience (e.g. more followers and fans) and (2) generate click-throughs to get visitors to my brand’s websites.

The approach, as I considered it then, made sense. Treating social media marketing like email marketing enabled me to simply apply the same performance metrics across all marketing channels. At the time, my marketing and editorial teams focused on the big four – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Although, even then, Google+ was a laggard. Yet with rumours of it having a potential influence on a brand’s Google organic rankings, we included it as one of the four social media platforms we would use.

Overall, this approach worked well. We grew fans and followers on each of the four plans through a combination of contests and audience-building tools. We measured and tested. We also discovered, like with email, the nature of the content distributed played a massive role in the engagement generated by social media.

In time, we became more attuned to what type of content engaged better on one social media platform versus another. Eventually, as we gathered and analyzed 12- 18 months of data, I began to see that social media marketing took a lot of work, yet on paper, its performance was far less impressive. Yes, we had built a significant number of fans and followers. And, yes, we were generating reasonably good visitors to our websites. Yet, the effort seemed to outweigh the benefit. Search engine optimization and email required similar effort yet, comparatively speaking, performed significantly better. This created a dilemma and a conflict for me.

Dilemma and Conflict with Social Media

It was an awkward situation.

On one end, we couldn’t afford to abandon the audience we had built. On the other end, I was struggling to justify the resource effort to continue without achieving better performance. Unfortunately, before I could resolve this dilemma, my company was acquired.

It wasn’t long after the acquisition when I realized this dilemma wasn’t being solved by much larger and less resource-constrained companies either. As my team integrated into the new organization we discovered its B2B marketing team had no clue how to utilize social media marketing!! They were even further behind the learning curve than we had been.

I shared this experience because many B2B companies are also faced with this dilemma. CEOs are hearing how their teams should leverage social media for selling. Agencies talk about driving traffic through paid social like Twitter ads, Facebook ads and Instagram promotions. There is a great deal of buzz around social media marketing. But, in the end, what should your company be doing and how?

Social Media Has Changed – Or Has It?

On the surface, much has changed with social media since my early experiences. New social media platforms have emerged and quickly gained scale like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat while older ones have also grown substantially. Some have fallen from grace – e.g. Google+. New tools and services have been launched and major algorithm changes executed that have tossed best practices out the window.

Now, only a small percentage of your followers and fans actually see your shared content unless you pay for broader reach. The game has changed, but looking back, I’m not sure it really has under the surface. However, my thinking about how to approach it has changed.

4 Effective Ways to Integrate Social Media Marketing Into a B2B Marketing Plan  

After transitioning out of the company and into B2B marketing consulting, I continued to struggle with trying to understand how best to integrate social media marketing effectively into a B2B marketing plan. On one end, I retained my original thinking of it as being like email marketing. However, social media also had some characteristics of public relations. PR is something you have to do knowing it’s tough to measure. And, although you control the message out, you don’t often have control over the final message delivered.

After considerable research and testing, I uncovered four ways I recommend integrating social media marketing into your B2B marketing plan.

ONE: Know why you’re there and what you expect to achieve

First off, before any individual or team jumps into social media marketing, an honest and open conversation has to be held among the sales, marketing and executive teams to clearly define purpose and objectives. If all agree social media will only be used for random updates in order to exert minimal effort then great. At least purpose and an objective have been defined and it’s time to move on.  

On the other hand, if social media marketing is expected to be pursued for social selling, brand awareness, customer support, and/or lead generation purposes then all corresponding objectives, resources and metrics must be defined. Besides the obvious budget, time and people conversations, the team also should discuss authenticity, transparency and voice. These brand characteristics will help form the social media strategy and associated guidelines.

Social media involves building relationships through conversations. In reality, whether you care to join the conversation or not, it’s happening. The real decision is whether you prefer to join in or ignore it. Both reflect a brand and the image the CEO wishes it to convey.

TWO: Produce the Right Content for the Right Audience for Each Social Media Platform

Once purpose and objectives are defined, the budget, time and people conversation should focus on social media platform selection, content production, and ownership.  

  • Selecting the Right Social Media Platform

Determine which social media platform your target audience (and specific buyer personas) use for information-gathering and research. Don’t assume or rely on logic to make this decision. Instead, use research and data. I had incorrectly assumed Instagram was a business-to-consumer platform yet discovered via research and data it generates significant engagement for B2B brands. In one study, Instagram actually generated far greater engagement than every other social media platforms including LinkedIn! Search Google for phrases like “audience stats (or demographics or buying behavior) for Instagram” to conduct the research and gather the data. Also, be wary of article and research publication dates since these platforms to grow and audience dynamics can shift (e.g. Facebook usage among teenagers now versus when it was first launched.)  

Social Engagement Study by Kapost

Quick recommendation – start with one social media platform. It will take time to figure out the right mix of content, time and resources to make it work effectively. In some cases, opportunities may exist to leverage content produced for one social media platform with another through minimal effort. In these situations, it can make more sense to pursue more than one to gain further reach. For example, producing a video for Youtube could be cut short and used as a teaser on Instagram. It could be leveraged further and posted to your website too.

  • Producing the Right Content for the Social Media Platform

Once a social media platform is selected, expand your research. Spend time to deeply understand what type of content generates the most engagement on this selected platform. For example, short videos work best on YouTube while images and very short, authentic/raw videos work best on Instagram. Educational content is preferred on LinkedIn although business-related stories tend to perform well too. A search on Google can help identify how-to content on what type of content works best for each social media platform. Read multiple sources though to construct a common approach versus being lured into chasing an anomaly.

Quick recommendation – when selecting a social media platform, determine whether you can efficiently produce the type of content required to build an audience and generate engagement.

For example, if there is discomfort with producing a video (e.g. smartphone videos that are authentic showcasing your culture and team may be perfect) then don’t pursue YouTube or Instagram. If you currently don’t produce a weekly blog or you don’t perform any content marketing, then Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will be challenging. After all, content, wherever it originates, is a major component of social media marketing. Producing – whether video, audio or text – is what creates your brand on social media.

  • Recruiting and Assigning the Right Owner of the Social Media Platform

Lastly, who is going to take on the role of social media marketer? If there is a serious purpose, then designating the right person and giving her or him room to perform is critical. Social media marketing cannot be an afterthought of someone’s day job. It requires planning, collaboration across the company and access to thought leaders.

Once editorial guidelines are set by a team, the team must extend trust to the individual doing the work. This individual will represent the brand to the public and ideally should not be mandated to speak with a superior every time content is being posted.  Management’s moment is in setting clear editorial guidelines (a.k.a the dos and don’ts) and conducting weekly (or bi-weekly) meetings to review a social media marketing plan. All times in-between, except during emergencies, (the type of which is defined in the editorial policy) the social media marketer should be allowed to run with the ball. Therefore, select an individual that lives the voice of the brand, is trustworthy and allocate him or her space and time to be effective. Measure her or his performance on the metrics set for the social media marketing initiative.

If the team decides to outsource social media marketing to an agency or contractor, apply the same guidelines and requirements. Ensure tighter monitoring and control are in place especially during the onset of the new engagement. Be cautious.  have had more than one client share some serious issues they experienced after outsourcing their social media marketing. Set clear editorial and brand guidelines as well as performance metrics to keep the relationship in check and aligned with your purpose and objectives.

THREE: Social Media Marketing Involves Reciprocal Relationships

Social media marketing is unique from traditional marketing because it is truly two-ways. The phrase, “reciprocal relationships” sounds redundant since all relationships should involve giving and taking. However, this tendency seems to fade within the context of business and maybe even more in business-to-business marketing.

  • If a brand wants engagement, it needs to give engagement.
  • If a brand wants its content shared, it has to share others’ content.

Social media is reciprocal. Grant it, there’s no social media police forcing it to be reciprocal just like you don’t have to reciprocate listening to a person after you finish talking about yourself. You could talk endlessly about yourself and entirely ignore everyone else. It seems pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet, brands do it all of the time in social media!

Social media marketing creates a real-time, 24/7, always-on marketing presence for a brand. The individual or team you assign to social media marketing needs the time and space to address questions and demands as they arise. Real-time issues may happen infrequently – maybe even never – but know it’s a possibility and provide the guidelines on how to quickly address them if and when they occur. A call for help left untended is a poor impression on the brand’s values.

Social media marketing isn’t only about pushing content out but also listening in to the conversations happening. Where and when should your brand engage in the conversations? How should it engage?  Building a relevant audience will require your brand to engage a lot in other conversations (even those not about you) in order to create trust, likeability and credibility. Using hashtags and @mentions is the best way to start engaging in relevant conversations and to get on the radars of your target audience.

FOUR: Social Media Marketing is a Long Game Strategy

Social media marketing takes time and, like search engine optimization, it requires a lot of effort way before any significant benefit is realized. If the right metrics are set and reviewed, progress is visible along the way. Yet the greater purpose may take more time to realize. It may also require adjustments as lessons are learned and audience patterns are detected. Whether its further algorithm changes, behavioral shifts in audiences or extraneous events, it’s important to remain adaptive and unafraid to alter course. Remain focused though on the stated purpose and objectives.

The value gained from social media marketing is similar to what’s produced from effective networking over many years. A brand can build a community of believers who engage, share, like, comment and buy. They also recommend and refer, The network effect is something unique to social media and is the holy grail of a highly effective social media marketing initiative.  Yes – viral marketing could happen. But I believe a consistent, day-in and day-out approach to building relationships in an authentic and credible way will lead, over time, to greater benefits than certainly, I had originally thought back in 2011.

If you are interested in developing an effective game plan for social media marketing, feel free to contact me. You’ll get an honest assessment of what’s required and a clear plan for making it work.