How Can B2B Marketing Become More Social?

B2B marketers have joined the social media marketing movement in droves. In fact, Forrester Research predicts that B2B firms will spend $54 million on social media marketing in 2014, up from just $11 million in 2009 (eMarketer B2B Social Media Marketing Heats Up).

Unfortunately, many of those efforts are entirely tactical, methodical and without a true understanding of the “social” aspect of social media marketing.  B2B marketers that are early in their social media marketing maturity level tend to focus on message distribution such as Tweeting or posting Facebook links mostly to their own content vs. engaging with customers on a human level. That one-way communication profile doesn’t engender discussions and sharing, so social traffic level increases tend to plateau pretty early.

In order to grow and scale the return on social media marketing investments, B2B marketers need to think more about the “social” than the marketing. Here are a few thoughts on that:

Decide What You Stand for Topically

The social SEO benefits of being intentional about language that reflects your key business areas of focus as well as the conversations happening within your target community are essential. Topically fragmented blog and social networking content dilutes a company’s ability to “stand out” to customers amongst the sea of noise in social conversations as well as to search engines.

Practically, that means a strategy that identifies goals, customer personas, content & editorial plans and search/social keyword glossaries.  A content marketing strategy is the plan that executes what your company and brand stand for as well as how it will communicate those key messages. A social SEO keyword or topic plan filters into all relevant web and social content creation. It can also flavor social network topic engagement and conversations. That means a guide for which blogs to comment on, which influentials to network with, word choices for Tweets, blog posts and tags.

Do: Create and participate where your customers and influentials spend their time and with a content plan that supports your key topics of focus. Be useful and share social content that’s worth sharing (whether it’s your content or others’).

Don’t: Overly self promote and publish social content that is not directly or indirectly in alignment with your key topics of focus. That doesn’t mean everything you create is keyword optimized. It means everything you create and promote is thoughtful about where it fits in your social & content marketing plan.

The outcome and benefit is that your own content creation and promotion efforts are aligned to inspire discussion, sharing and links according to topics and keywords that are important to brand, business and marketing goals. An ideal manifestation is that your target audience sees your brand in a positive way everywhere they look for topics XYZ and 123 on social channels, when they search and even offline (inspired by online) word of mouth.

Plan to Win

If you enter a competition half-assed, guess what? No matter what your talent is, the chances of a win are pretty slim. Unfortunately a lot of B2B companies approach social media participation with an attitude of using the least amount of resources possible.  Oftentimes this means following structured best practices list from some self-professed social media guru. Checklist marketing works to make redundant tasks more efficient, but it’s no way to engage a community.

For example, one of the most common “plan to be mediocre” mistakes I see with B2B marketers is predictable social profile creation and publishing focused solely on LinkedIn, Twitter and a blog without researching those channels.  Such a plan also involves a focus on promoting company content and superficial (at best) engagement with the community.

Planning to win means having a plan for networking into influentials’ sphere of influence and knowing what to do once you get on their radar. It means creating social content that will inspire engagement and outcomes to further your business goals. It also means providing training within your organization to distribute and grow the role of social participation within your brand.

Practically, this means forecasting resources (people, process and technology) for social media marketing as significant marketing channel, not just an experiment or a checked box on a list. It means an integrated plan to dominate your category through growing social influence & networking, content, search, word of mouth and media plus the resources to execute and measure.

Do: Hypothesize, forecast and commit resources to test, develop processes and scale social media engagement within your business. What starts as social media marketing can turn into social business as the impact of social media engagement propagates from marketing to other departments and throughout the organization. Winning the social media game for B2B marketing doesn’t just mean increased sales, it means dominating your category.

Don’t: Think that social media content promotion as part of a Search Engine Optimization program is the same thing as social media marketing or social business.  It is not.

The outcome and benefit of planning to win in B2B social media is that you have enough resources to provide value to customers throughout the B2B buying and customer lifecycle. Additional benefits include facilitating awareness, trust, confidence, word of mouth, sales and referrals. On top of that you will have built/facilitated a community in alignment with your company’s goals.

Lee Odden: @LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of TopRank's B2B Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.

View Comments (20)

  • Thanks for this post.

    It is important for companies to research social media platforms and understand how their audience and their industry's influencers use these platforms. Having clear goals and expectations as opposed to aimless posting on a Facebook profile not only makes you more knowledgeable, it makes your company's content strategy more efficient. And who doesn't like efficiency?


  • Yeah thank you for the post. Every one who had success with social media says that we have to do it consistently over time, and don't sell too yourself too much.

  • Few small companies are involved in social marketing which means there is an opportunity for small companies to grew quickly. The problem is being consistent over time to be successful.

  • Smart post Lee.

    I think "social media marketing" has turned into one of those buzz phrases that have become so heavily used with variable meanings that it's easy for a business in its infancy of outreach to misunderstand what it is - particular to miss the fact that at the heart of social media marketing is... social. Believe it or not there's people in there somewhere.

    Businesses can get so caught up in trying to get something out of it that they miss the mark on what to put in.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • I agree Derek, that it does have different meanings for different people. I used to subscribe to the idea that "marketing" has no place in the same sentence as "social media" but after 5+ years of implementation, the meaning of marketing has changed.

      What do you think? Can a company's social participation and marketing activities co-exist or is it still a contradiction like Jumbo Shrimp?

      • YES!.... and not at all. It depends on their marketing strategy. I want to lean more towards yes but there are so many companies with a marketing strategy that consists of punching prospects in the forehead until they submit - I'm sure I could make a leg-humping analogy in here somewhere as well. That just doesn't belong in the social environment -anywhere-. Especially not in social media.

        If you look at marketing from a different perspective though, the answer is definitely yes... and you can nom on jumbo shrimp all day long. Your business can be "that guy" at the buffet line. If your marketing with the simple idea that "marketing" is the act of getting people to discover you, fall head over heels for your brand and start to really trust you then yeah. After all that's what we do every day when we're building our normal social relationships. Socializing is all about discovery, making people like us and eventually trust us to the point that we can drink too much, pass out in their bathtub and we know they won't put pictures of us on failblog.

        It can be applied to social media as well in order to create infectious brand zombies.

  • As a community manager who works exclusively with B2B companies, I agree with your points but understand the challenges of implementing social media strategies that truly engage communities. I am fortunate to work with businesses that are excited about the opportunities social media presents and focused on their social media goals. However, integrating social media into a business's marketing strategy requires a big shift in the allocation of time and resources. While many B2B companies understand the importance of social media, they are struggling because they do not have the internal resources necessary to support ongoing social media activities. As a solution, I am available to both advise and offer social media management support to our clients. What are your thoughts on outsourcing social media? Do you think it is valuable in the early stages of a business's social media development?

    • Resource allocation without a clear forecast of return is a challenge for many companies.

      I'm not real keen on people pitching their services on our agency blog, but I can agree that providing strategic advice, processes and training in the early stages can be instrumental for a social media marketing program.

      What companies need to be on the watch for is consultants that get "too ingrained" with a company's social participation, leaving the company over-reliant on a non-employee to be their public face on the social web - even it it's through a persona.

  • Nice article, Lee. Does anyone have helpful resources for creating an effective social marketing strategy?

  • Thanks for the great read Lee. Social Media Marketing is really a great marketing research and networking tool. A business that I follow does it perfectly. She responds to everyone who posts a comment, releases information about her products, with promotions exclusive to her FB fans and also links other related sites and products that would be of interest to her customers ... it definitely draws me in!

    Totally agree that you need to have a strategy in place and allocate time and passion to your social media efforts!

    • Thanks Stacy. Just curious - how are you using social media marketing for research? Any examples to share?

  • I think the core tool of B2B marketing would and could be the company blog. It really depends on how a company utilizes it and what type of content they chose to distribute through the blog but it can be one of the most powerful social tools a B2B business can use.

  • I find many small businesses use Twitter with no purpose; they tweet but no one listen; and the successful examples are few and far between.

Related Post