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Those crafting B2B social media marketing programs should consider employee branding, showcasing C-Suite executives and connecting social media and Account-Based Marketing (ABM) efforts. Those are some of the hot-ticket trends in the business of business-to-business social media marketing, according to Carter Hostelley, founder and CEO of Leadtail, a B2B social media consultancy.

“When I think about B2B social today, companies are very active on social,” Hostelley said. “And the thing I always used to say, and I think it still holds true, is the B2B social side tends to follow by a couple years the B2C side. … Social is discovery driven. It’s really about moving folks from discovering a brand to having interest in brand and then finally having intent around the brand.”

Crunching B2B Social Media Numbers

It’s not like we need convincing today B2B buyers are on social media. But here are numbers reported by HubSpot last year. 76% of buyers are ready to have sales conversations on social media, and 81% of buyers are more likely to engage with brands that have a “strong, cohesive, professional social media presence."

A Leadtail report for Twitter and LinkedIn engagement rates and follower growth rates for Q4 2020, based on the performance of 20 B2B technology companies (startups and public companies), revealed the following:

  • Twitter saw 2.01% follower growth
  • LinkedIn saw 7.79% follower growth
  • Twitter saw a 1.06% engagement rate
  • LinkedIn saw a 3.53% engagement rate

*Total engagements/impressions = engagement rate.

Twitter engagements can be retweets, replies, likes URL clicks, profile clicks, hashtag clicks, media views, media engagements (clicking on image/video), and detail expands (someone clicking on tweet or image to enlarge). LinkedIn engagements can be clicks (all) + social actions (likes, comments, and shares).

Hostelley said the numbers represented a fairly consistent range quarter to quarter, though he cited a definite ramp-up in LinkedIn engagement since the Microsoft 2016 acquisition for $26.2 billion.

Related Article: Where B2B Marketers Are Winning in Social Media

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter: Where to Land?

Charles Cunningham, group account supervisor at digital agency Sparkloft Media, said B2B companies should focus on a two-pronged approach: Facebook/Instagram and Linkedin. The Facebook/Instagram advertising ecosystem provides a flexible and cost-effective platform to target consumers based on industry, job title and seniority, along with traditional demographics. Linkedin provides the most in-depth targeting for B2B with seniority, specific company, job title and organization size.

Dave Nilsson, founder and director of SEO consultancy ConvertedClick, said Twitter has been a source of leads, and one major reason is relevancy to clients. “We share content that is exclusively wired to digital marketing and it immediately catches the attention of our clients,” he said. “... Contrary to popular belief that social media marketing is better suited for B2C companies, I think it works great for B2B businesses, too.”

LinkedIn: the Clear Winner for B2B

Getting down to brass tracks in B2B social media marketing, LinkedIn is a clear winner, according to Nora Leary, growth director at Ironpaper, a B2B marketing agency. Where many B2B companies go wrong is posting content that is irrelevant to their target audience, she added.

“For example, you may see overly technical posts or posts that promote the company's ‘20 years of experience,’” Leary said. “We see this in LinkedIn ads as well. B2B companies have the most success when they target buyers at the correct stage in the sales funnel.”

B2B brands in the awareness phase shouldn't promote an FAQ about the company. The ad should go to an ebook that addresses the buyer's pain points. “Social media can be an excellent lead generation tool if companies take a deep dive into their buyer and understand what content will resonate with them,” Leary said.

B2B company CallRail is also seeing continued success on LinkedIn, while reach on Facebook dropped significantly in 2020, according to Suchi Sajja, social media manager for CallRail. To remedy this, the social team began automatically boosting top-performing Facebook posts, which led to improved results in December and January. Prior to boosting, reach consistently came in at under 100 people per post. After boosting, teams experienced an increase in reach to 5,000 to 7,0000 people per post.

“To maintain and grow success on LinkedIn, we’re focused on fostering an environment for internal thought leaders to showcase their expertise while creating content that is relevant to our followers,” Sajja said. “I also recommend lead generation ads as a great tool for B2B social media campaigns. We’ve integrated both LinkedIn and Facebook with Marketo to automatically import new leads and quickly follow up with them — creating a seamless experience for the user.”

Related Article: Now Is the Time for B2B Marketers to Lead Customer Experience

Defining Personas Can Help Determine Right Platform

The bigger question regarding platforms for B2B social media marketers is what do your customers tell you. Abhi Jadhav, co-founder and managing partner at Bay Leaf Digital, a B2B marketing agency, said the social media platform they use for B2B paid marketing is decided by doing a persona definition exercise. This exercise reveals the preferences of the audience and allows them to focus efforts on the platform where the target persona is most likely to frequent.

“For example, if we are marketing an enterprise SaaS solution, and the decision maker is a C-level executive, then our go-to platform is LinkedIn,” he said. “For a SaaS that has a lower cost of ownership, and the decision maker is a small business owner, we might prefer to market on Quora or Facebook.”

Impact of C-Suite, Societal Issues

Of course, if B2B were as easy as picking a platform. According to Hostelley, this also comes down to creating the right content and being more human as a brand by bringing faces and personality to C-Suite executives, for starters.

“One of the things I would say that's really emerged in the last 18 months on the B2B social side is executive social,” Hostelley said. “Companies now are really starting to understand that going out there and talking about how disruptive their technologies are but then having that company’s C-Suite literally be nowhere to be found on social, not even having their photo on LinkedIn. It just really sends a different signal to the sophisticated tech buyers now.”

And it doesn't have to be about the company for which C-Suite executives work. Check out HubSpot's CTO and his active Twitter feed:

In line with the C-Suite involvement, Hostelley also noted B2B companies have challenging choices to make when it comes to societal issues. The Black Lives Matter movement gained significant global traction in light of calls for social justice across the world in 2020. And, not to mention, we’re in a global health pandemic that has killed 2.24 million people, and people are looking to companies to make wise decisions and statements in the interest of public health and safety.

“B2B companies are really wrestling with on social media how to engage in what's going on with the social movement and all of these sort of diversity issues that are now erupting on social,” Hostelley said. “B2B companies are really struggling with the questions of do they embrace this on social, or do they put their head in the sand? … Some buyers now want to know what the vendor’s record is or what they're doing around sustainability and diversity. ...and most importantly, how they're reflecting that on social media where all of these conversations are happening.”

Plenty of them did so in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May.

But, remember, there is always the possibility of negative ramifications of putting your brand out there on critical societal matters:

Why Showcasing Employees Matters

Certainly a less risky endeavor is showcasing employees on social, according to Hostelley. Employee branding helps B2B companies see the people behind the brand.

“It’s not just the employee of the month crap,” Hostelley said. “But let's highlight what employees are doing in the community, let's highlight an employee's first shot of them on their first Zoom call with their brand new company. Let's highlight the fifth-year anniversary. Let's highlight every Friday an employee with their pets.”

B2B companies really struggle with this tactic sometimes because they hide behind the corporate style guide. But Hostelley encourages B2B brands to be more human and authentic.

Hostelley shared a sample of a brand with which his company worked:

Invest Energies into Video

Cisco predicts that by next year 82% of all internet consumer traffic will be through video. Videos are the perfect combination of visual and auditory stimulation that will grab people's attention and keep it, according to Phil Strazzulla, founder and CEO of SelectSoftware Reviews. “It puts a face to the company so that people know you are a person, not just a company,” Strazzulla said. “The best marketing strategy on social media is to try to make business-to-business more like person-to-person.”

One of the most effective ways to use LinkedIn as a marketing channel is to post content with images or short clips, said Nina Jensen, community outreach manager at 8x8, a provider of digital workplace software. When posting content with videos, they should generally be about one to two minutes long and able to capture your audience's interest within the first few seconds, she added.

“Remember to add subtitles because most people will have their sound muted while scrolling through LinkedIn," Jensen added. "Additionally, don't underestimate the power of a live video. Live videos get an average of 24x more comments than regular clips and videos on LinkedIn. Use this to your advantage when creating your content marketing strategy.”

YouTube is another network of focus for B2B marketers, according to Vivianne Costa, director of digital marketing at PROS, an ecommerce platform. Not only is there a growing demand for video based tailored B2B content, but YouTube’s hidden value lies in its search engine and the real estate for video results on Google SERP (search engine results pages).

Related Article: How AI Is Tackling Marketers' Top Video Management Challenges

Seeing Success Through ABM

Costa said an integrated multichannel strategy is crucial for a successful B2B buyer journey that drives both brand awareness and meets demand KPIs. Her teams have seen success leveraging social media networks both for earned and paid placements. PROS’ ABM (Account-Based Marketing) program generated 46% of lifted target accounts (target accounts with higher website engagement) in 2020 through this multichannel approach.

“Using a good mix of content that serves different communication objectives and KPIs is key to success in using social media,” she said. “For example, we work to make sure that our editorial content has a balance of thought leadership, educational, and culture-related content, that is offered in a variety of formats (videos, images, polls, etc.). Videos playing within the social networks tend to drive high post engagement, but it’s very likely that if your organization also has social media KPIs related to driving website traffic, and also needs prioritizing social content that directly takes visitors to the website.”

Linkedin is definitely the primary social network for B2B marketers in both a paid and earned media capacity, Costa added, because it has a growing focus on ABM. The platform is key for enterprise B2B marketers given their need to connect to and influence large “buying groups” within carefully targeted customers and prospects.

“LinkedIn’s evolving targeting capabilities poses great opportunities for B2B marketers, including integrations with different B2B marketing tools,” she said. “For PROS, this helps us refine and automate campaign targeting, driving better campaign results and more efficient processes.”   

Hostelley sees with ABM an intersection with social media where brands reach ask targeted contacts and accounts to share insights on a podcast or in a blog post.

Not Far from the B2C Map

Ultimately, many of the same principles of B2C marketing apply to B2B social media marketing, according to Jadhav of Bay Leaf Digital. The content needs to be engaging and relevant in order to resonate. Video content earns a lot more engagement than does the same information delivered in written form.

“Where you post this content also matters,” he said. “We advise our clients to focus on a platform that resonates best with their audience while keeping a minimal presence on the others. Social media marketing can be time consuming, and often digital marketers come away with nothing to show for their time and attention. Keeping that in mind, one needs to be selective about the platform they choose to engage on and precise with the type of content they promote.”

And remember: social media success in B2B doesn't always immediately translate to sales. "Even after we acquire these leads," Jadhav said, "a considerable amount of time might be spent on nurturing these leads through webinars or email drip campaigns."