In the world of B2B online marketing, content and media have been used in a variety of forms to educate and persuade customers across long buying cycles with great success. Over the past few years I’ve heard from many B2B marketers that prospects are leading themselves through much of the initial phases of awareness, interest and consideration by consuming useful content discovered through social channels and published by the brand.
The result of smarter content and social engagement is a more qualified and educated consumer by the time they get to sales discussions which can mean a shorter sales cycle and even an impact on order volume and referrals.
Content marketing on the social web is a hot topic in many areas from SEO to Public Relations. Despite growing popularity, many marketers think “more content” is content marketing. What matters with content marketing is the thoughtful creation of information designed for a particular audience and specific outcomes as an individual object and as part of an overall strategy.
Content is educational and a tool of persuasion that can guide prospective customers in the journey from awareness to advocacy, across the entire customer lifecycle.
For a more qualitative approach to content, here are tips on how to make the most out of your content marketing efforts on the social web:
While experimenting with social media applications and platforms is a practical first step, many B2B Marketers seem to think that it’s a strategy. Goals, audience, and approach can allow for social experimentation but also provide companies with some structure and accountability toward achieving business outcomes with social content.
Social content plans don’t need to be set in stone. In fact, with social media content, it’s important for such plans to be adaptable and capable of analytical input and iterative improvements as data increases through growing network participation. A plan will help marketers better evaluate and scale their social media initiatives as well.
2. Prospect Centric
Companies that view social media platforms simply as a distribution channel for self-promotion often fail to create value for the very customers they’re trying to reach.
People don’t typically use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogging, Pinterest, and other social applications for keeping tabs on corporate press releases, product announcements, and promotions. Reasons for social media usage are most often personal. According to a Pew Research Center study, “two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites.” With engaging on personal networks, consumers certainly connect with the brands they like, but contrary to how many brands behave with social content publishing, those connections are part of the social web experience, not the reason for it.
B2B marketers can achieve much better success with social content by empathizing with customer needs, interests, goals, and pain points across the buying cycle. Seeing things from the prospect’s point of view will help B2B marketers develop a content and social media approach that serves as a solution or facilitator to creating the kind of social content that resonates, engages, and gets shared. As prospect-centric social content gets shared, many of those who engage will refer or become customers.
3. Give to Get
Along with self-promotion, B2B marketers have a tendency to expect social communities to behave the way the brand wants them to. The guideline I like to share with B2B marketers that want to foster community and engagement is: “Give to get.” That doesn’t mean, give a sales pitch to get a sale.
Instead, provide something of value before expecting anything in return. In fact, it’s smart to find out more specifically what consumers and those who influence them find valuable as inspiration for a social content plan. Deliver useful information, listen to how audiences respond, and make adjustments. Then repeat.
The investment in creating value that is thoughtful for both customers and the brand’s business objectives is where consumer and corporate needs are met with social content.
A lot of B2B marketing budgets have invested in creating content for companies, but many purists feel that great content should be left to attract attention based purely on the quality of the information. There’s a feeling that if content is really good, it will attract traffic and engagement all on it’s own. That’s a naïve perspective, especially in a competitive category and it also makes some strong assumptions about whether there is a preexisting community for the brand, or not.
With a hub and spoke publishing model, themed content is published into a repository that represents a “go to” resource for topics that the brand wants to be known for. At the same time, that content can be promoted through spokes or social channels among communities that are interested. People often rely on content promotion to discover what’s new. Promotion can attract traffic, social shares, and links, which can all serve as useful signals to search engines and improve standard and social search engine visibility.
Promotion works best with content that deserves to be shared. That kind of content makes a promise to social networks that it’s good. If a B2B brand can consistently create, optimize, socialize, and promote great content, the community will respond with shares, referrals, engagement, links, and even sales.
5. Analyze and Optimize
As they mature in their social content journey, B2B companies develop social profiles, publish descriptions, and contribute content at various intervals as part of their social media participation. They may even actively optimize social content with search keywords and social topics as a way to empathize with what consumers are looking for and talking about on the social web.
A missing piece of this puzzle is the importance of ongoing monitoring and analysis. There’s a process I call, “The cycle of search and social improvement” that involves creating and optimizing social content. As useful content is created and promoted, it gets shared and attracts fans, friends, followers, and subscribers.
As the community grows, even more sharing of links and traffic is involved with brand content. The increase in engagement, search visibility, and social sharing provides a rich set of data with which the brand can improve content creation. It’s a cycle of hypothesis, implementation, and analysis that can improve how effectively a brand is able to refine social content effectiveness at inspiring business outcomes.
A version of this article originally appeared on my ClickZ Social Media Smarts column.
If you’d like a deep dive on these topics with plenty of how to’s, then check out my new book: Optimize published by Wiley and available this week.