Many industrial B2B companies I talk to are still struggling to define what social media means to them. Facebook seems to be reserved for funny animal videos and irritating high life people on their tropical holidays. LinkedIn is for motivational quotes. Twitter is for digital marketing seminars with ambiguous hashtags.
Sure, having tens of thousands of followers in Facebook means that your company is engaging with people. But in our pay-to-play world, you are reaching fewer and fewer of them:
And even if you manage to get the message through, are you able to get people to engage with your website? Based on our analysis, it seems to be really hard. Take a look at this graph which shows the main sources of web traffic for 2 global B2B companies:
This is a typical situation across industries. Some companies are doing better but the share of social traffic rarely exceeds 5% threshold.*
Of course, driving traffic to website is just part of the bigger picture in customer engagement. But as marketing departments already struggle with shrinking budgets and increasing demands for showing ROI, there’s an important question to be asked: should B2B companies invest in social media?
Fundamentals of B2B Social Media investments
Before we can answer the question, let’s define the fundamentals for investing in B2B social media.
Every social media channel basically constitutes of two types of agents: persons and organizations. Both may have followers, but the latter usually tell more boring stories. Every social media channel has also two types of publishing methods: organic and paid. The latter is mainly reserved for organizations, but the line between a person and an organization can be pretty blurred. All this results in the following matrix:
It’s all about time and money. The horizontal axis gives the size of media investments while the vertical axis gives the work hours needed (e.g. one full time community manager vs. twenty social media ambassadors). This matrix will help in defining how to invest in social media.
Sure, social media channels differ in their importance across companies, but this framework can be applied to any channel. Companies should first study their customer journeys to define in which channels their target audience spend their time.
As you will learn, the question is not about should the companies invest, but how to invest in order to maximize ROI. Let’s start with the most uncanny quadrant of them all.
Paid / Person (PP)
Doing paid personal promotion in social media is possible for instance in Facebook (page) and in Twitter. But how uncanny would you feel if you saw an unfamiliar engineer’s promoted post about his company’s new product? Without leverage from your personal connections, social sharing has a little meaning (unless you are a politician).
How to invest: do not invest organization’s media budget or resources in this quadrant.
Organic / Organization (OO)
This is the quadrant is the home for community management – and for an average reach of 6%. This quadrant also has the biggest gap between expectations and reality.
Since the Epic Split, every B2B marketer has dreamed of viral phenomenon with million impressions and 10k shares. But too often only poor replies to angry people go viral – and suddenly even the CEO is investing his time on social media.
Should companies even invest in this quadrant? Instead of hiring a community manager, the money could be spend on additional sales resources. Or in search engine marketing (SEM).
Organic social media is however important, especially in terms of findability (people searching for information) and search engine optimization (SEO), since links from social channels to website affect rankings in Google too. Furthermore, Facebook and other platforms are becoming search engines on their own, emphasizing the need for social content (another major consideration is employer branding, but let’s focus on the customers here).
How to invest: invest enough company resources to distribute content (old and new) on daily basis and maintain a reasonable response time for comments and complaints.
Organic / Person (OP)
Almost all companies have tried to engage their employees to use social media. But the success of these initiatives is notoriously poor. Trying to get the average engineer to promote the latest company blog post in LinkedIn is as hard as telling them not to speak about their daily work struggles to their friends.
But the situation is not that bad. First, you need to have the right tools in place (such as Smarpshare). Second, you need to define the internal groups that have the highest competitive advantage in using social media. Quite naturally, people involved in sales is the most important group. There’s also a term for making sales people use social media: social selling.
Personally, I don’t like the term social selling. When has B2B selling been antisocial? But nevertheless, the concept works – salespeople can have tremendous uplift for their work using social channels. This requires careful planning though. First, you need to find and train “change agents” – the most digitally savvy salespeople. Second, you need to get others onboarded – the easiest way is through results and success cases.
How to invest: define change agents / ambassadors and invest enough resources and time to ramp up their social selling capabilities. Invest also in necessary tools (e.g. Smarpshare / LinkedIn tools).
Paid / Organization (PO)
As said, we live in a pay-to-play world. Social media giants rely on their organic visibility algorithms that are constantly tweaked to balance monetization and customer experience. But is not a bad thing for B2B companies.
Behavioral and demographic data allows for highly targeted stakeholder reach. It’s the end of spray and pray marketing – why to waste even a cent if it’s possible to narrow down all CFOs in a given customer segment and provide them with not just ads but valuable content?
To succeed in paid promotion, you need to understand your market, the segments in that market and key buyer personas in each segment. But how much should you invest in paid promotion?
This is where marketing needs to step up the game. It is not enough to measure clicks and impressions. Instead, marketing and sales should define a business case: what is the expected value of a high quality lead in a given market and how much money can be spend in acquiring that lead with paid promotion in social media.
Based on the reachable market in social media, marketing should define the overall budget for promotion. The key to success is constant optimization: A/B-test personalized messages and optimize over channels based on their success rate.
How to invest: define maximum cost per lead in a given market. Allocate enough budget for multiple channels and constantly optimize media spending across the channels to maximize ROI.
Start thinking about social media as a strategic investment
Most industrial companies have jumped the social media bandwagon without calculating business case. That’s perfectly reasonable. But in the digitalized world, decision makers should strive for solid business cases, even when it comes to social media.
To succeed in social media, companies need to invest both time and money. This framework should make it much easier to define how to invest, regardless of the channel.