Making Social Media An ROI Positive Channel For B2B Businesses
By Jingcong Zhao
With $5.4 Billion spent on social media marketing in the U.S. alone last year, it’s clear that social media is being cemented as a marketing function in most B2B organizations. Yet, 61% of marketers claim measuring ROI is a top challenge. In addition, 36% claim tying social to business goals is a challenge, and only 9.4 % are able to quantify the revenue driven by social. Why is social media’s ROI so elusive, despite marketers’ increased focus on this function and despite the proliferation of social marketing tools?
The biggest reason for this challenge has to do with the mindset with which B2B marketers have approached social. Most B2B marketers are still using a social media playbook developed by B2C companies. B2C companies were the first ones to take advantage of social media. They saw social as a channel to build their brand, by taking a broadcast approach and posting content with broad appeal. This approach works well for B2C companies who care most about branding, but doesn’t work for B2B companies whose biggest directive is to generate demand and provide qualified leads to a sales team.
Today, a majority of B2B marketers still think of social media as a top of the funnel play. It’s there for brand awareness. It’s a good way to get our messaging out there. It’s a place where we have to be because our competitors are there. However, most of us still don’t have visibility into how our efforts translate to business outcomes such as new leads generated, MQLs, opportunities and revenue. To make social media an ROI positive channel in a B2B context, we need to change the mindset that social media is just an isolated channel or just a top of the funnel play. While social media is a great way to build a brand’s reputation, it can also be a powerful driver of demand.
Social media activity data is a vast source of real time customer intelligence. You can search through social profiles, user generated content, and engagement patterns to identify your target prospects who are just entering a buying cycle. Because B2B buyers are inundated with marketing messages, you need to find new channels to communicate with your prospects. Social provides a one to one engagement channel with your target audience. Private message features like Twitter DMs, LinkedIn Mail and Facebook Messenger provide new channels to communicate with buyers. This type of private channel can be used in the same way as email, enabling delivery of relevant and timely content to your prospects and customers.
If your goal is to use social media to drive real business outcomes, you need to take a step back from the frenzy of building an editorial calendar and response management. Take time to think through how social impacts each of your marketing channels and each stage of the buyer journey.
To attract an audience of potential prospects, it’s important to show that you understand your target buyer’s problems by sharing content that builds trust. Your potential buyers are just starting out their research process and prefer to look to a variety of information sources to self educate. At this stage, posting useful content that educates your buyers on industry trends, tips and best practices that they can apply in their job is the way to go.
You want to help your potential buyers by offering them new ideas and solutions rather than promote your own products. To figure out what content your prospects crave, visit social forums where your target audience are having discussions. Audit the social profiles of influencers in your industry and see what they’re posting. Follow publications in your space and see what content gets the most engagement on their social profiles. By posting high quality, educational, engaging content, you can grow a community of prospects and influencers who amplify your messages and help you grow your social media presence.
At this stage, the goal is to drive potential prospects to your website so that you can capture their contact information through gated landing pages and start to qualify prospects through nurture programs and content. By using social media in a targeted way, you can bring the right audience into your marketing funnel.
Discovering Potential Buyers
B2B buyers reveal a lot about themselves on social networks as they share content, ask questions, interact with brands, influencers, peers, and react to the events they attend. By using conversational keywords (event hashtags, topical hashtags, mentions of brands, mentions of influencers) and bio keywords (job title, company, location), you can really hone in on your target audience and find those who are actively researching solutions in your space. You can use this insight to craft personalized, relevant messages to prospects who are just entering your buying cycle.
In your message, mention that you’re reaching out because you saw they were interested in a particular topic and offer them a resource, an article or e-book, aligned to their interest. For example, let’s say a prospect just shared an article from an industry influencer. You had just done a webinar with this influencer. You can send the prospect the link to this webinar. Because the prospect already endorses this influencer, he or she will appreciate the related content you just sent.
Today most B2B organizations are using some sort of model to score their leads. Chances are, your organization is already using a lead scoring model that incorporates some behavioral data like email engagement, website visits, ad clicks and downloads of your gated content. Not having social activity data in your lead scoring model means that you’re missing a key piece of demand generation data. Social activities provide indicators of buyer interest. For example, someone who clicked on a social post is comparable to someone who clicked on an ad or an email link.
Someone who retweets your post is someone who’s endorsed your content. Someone who follows your brand handle is choosing to subscribe to your content and should be equivalent to a blog or newsletter subscriber. Someone who replies to your direct message has taken the time to engage, and can be considered equivalent to an email reply. Whom your prospects follow on social can also provide insights into their mindset. Followers of certain Twitter handles (i.e. influencers in your space, senior executives in your company) or LinkedIn groups are expressions of interest you can score along posts and clicks.
Social media can be an effective channel for lead nurturing. By tracking the social activity of leads in your marketing automation system (i.e. interactions with certain keywords, brands, events, influencers), you’re able to know in real time when someone is ready to engage, respond to them promptly, either directly on social media or through a triggered email nurture program, and move them further down in the marketing funnel. For example, if you found that one of your leads just tweeted about leaving a competitor, that’s a hot lead that should be sent to sales immediately.
Social media also presents an opportunity to re-engage with cold leads or lost opportunities. For example, you could identify leads who have not visited your website in the last two weeks, have not opened your emails in the past 30 days, but have mentioned relevant keywords related to your product space in their tweets in the past week. You could reach out to these leads on social and send them a resource to keep lines of communication open.
In the past, our job as marketers was done once we passed the leads over to sales. Now, we are increasingly held accountable for the quality of leads we generate. We’re also expected to assist our sales team in closing deals. Marketers have always invested in conferences, trade shows and industry events, because we know that in-person events help close deals. Today, every conference comes with its own hashtag, used by hundreds of attendees as they discuss relevant topics and react to what they hear on social media. As a business attending or sponsoring an event, the conference hashtag is key to targeting, engaging, and closing your qualified leads.
Last May, we sponsored the Marketo Nation Summit. Through our own platform we set up a campaign to track the hashtag #MKTGNation. For any lead who tweeted the hashtag, we sent them an invitation email letting them know that we’ll be at the event and included a link to a form where they can register for our “VIP List”. Those who attended the event also received an automated email from our sales reps to schedule a one-on-one demo at our booth for a chance to win booth prizes. We were able to set up all of our booth demos using this campaign before the Summit even began.
After the Summit, rather than just calling down the list of attendees we collected from the event, we made sure to stay connected with those who are still the most engaged from the event (based on their social media activities). One of our customers, Dynamic Signal, also used this tactic and as a result doubled the number of opportunities generated compared to their traditional post event follow-up.
Finally, one of the benefits of social media is that you don’t actually have to sponsor an event to generate leads. These strategies can be used even without a booth presence. One company, a leader in contract management software, uses a social demand generation solution to generate leads from conference hashtags and handles, and they’ve seen enough success from social alone that they’ve been able to scale back their event sponsorship budget. Now that’s a good return on their investment.
At the end of the day, you want to make sure that all of your marketing channels, including social media, are focused on bringing your sales team qualified leads and opportunities. Social networks and social activity data provides new ways for you to discover, engage with, and nurture your prospects to bring new customers to your company.
Jingcong Zhao is the Content Marketing Manager at Socedo. She is responsible for content strategy and oversees the development of content across the marketing funnel. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter. Socedo is a B2B social demand generation system that helps marketers discover, engage and qualify leads through social media to increase revenue at scale.