With 2014 officially behind us, it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and speculate on the future. At Cisco, we continue to explore how social media is used not only to generate awareness and buzz, but also to drive thought leadership, influence the customer journey and make a greater impact to the overall marketing strategy. During the last year, I’ve seen first hand how the growth and pervasiveness of social media trends are shaping new digital experiences. Here’s a closer look at our top 5 social media lessons from 2014 and what we can learn from them as we head into 2015.1. Social analytics are mission critical
Proper social analytics methodologies can help you develop a more sound social strategy. Social listening is not a new concept, but understanding how to analyze the data and turn it into actionable insights is not always a simple task. Take for example our listening effort to determine the best strategy around the #IoE and #InternetOfEverything hashtags. While there is not a shortage of hashtag best practices such as use the least amount of characters, use the one where your audience is, and create your own unique hashtag, it’s knowing the one that is best suited for your strategy. By analyzing the usage, frequency and audiences that leverage #IoE vs. #InternetofEverything, we made a decision to invest more on the latter hashtag. The shift in our strategy led to an approximate 440% usage increase in the last 12 months.2. Influencer marketing lends credibility to your narrative
It’s no secret that leveraging authoritative, expert voices in social content can provide deep insight into any conversation. However, there are many formats in which those conversations can happen – beyond TweetChats, forums, and blogs. We’ve seen the power of using industry analysts, pundits and thought leaders in our Future of IT podcast channel, which has received more than 6,000 downloads to date. The result is rich, engaging content that continues to get engagement over time. In fact, when combined with recap blogs, SlideShare decks with key quotes from industry thought leaders and social content across our various channels, we’ve seen more than 100,000 engagements.3. Graphics and videos drive more social engagement
I may be stating the obvious here but it’s important to emphasize how information consumption continues to evolve in favor of visual content and short-form video. We clearly see this with the gaining popularity of visual social networks such as Vine, Instagram and Tumblr. Also, keep in mind other trends such as Facebook’s news feed algorithm update means brands need to get more creative with how they capture audience attention. We’ve learned that by visually showing the impact of the Internet of Everything on the Public Sector, we’re able to drive more engagement and social reach. And through experimenting with short-form video content such as our recent Vine videos, we’re able to increase our engagement by 500% compared to the average text social post.4. The influence of social good campaigns can be transformational
2014 was a big year for social good campaigns such as the ALS ice bucket challenge and many others. Campaigns such as these showcase an organization’s ability to reach target audiences to shape real change. At Cisco we’ve seen the power of challenges such as the IoT Challenge for Young Women help increase awareness for our involvement in emerging tech development.5. Social demand generation can drive demand for goods and services
With 67% of consumers (and 94% of B2B buyers) conducting their own research on goods and services online before making a purchase decision, how brands show up on social media can have a great influence on sales. This goes back to ensuring there is a good content strategy, as well and a digital journey that can be effectively tracked all the way to purchase. Admittedly, this is an area we are continuing to explore and refine, but have already seen initial success. We do see huge upside potential and will continue to explore.
As a follow-up to our list of top B2B Instagram accounts, I reached out to Katie Keating, Social Content & Engagement Strategist at IBM, to learn more about how this globally integrated technology and consulting company approaches a visual platform like Instagram.IBM ranked at the top of the list of B2B Instagram accounts because we prioritized engagement over number of followers. This put the IBM account way ahead of larger B2B companies who are well-known for their social media prowess, like GE, Cisco and Adobe. What is your approach to Instagram, and does it focus on engagement versus growing your following? And what are the metrics that determine your success?
For IBM, engagement is the metric we put the most weight on when we assess performance of our social content on Instagram. Ultimately, our goal is to create and curate content that is intriguing to our audiences, that maybe teaches them something simple but useful, and builds trust among our followers. It’s not about the quantity of our followers but the quality. We don’t want to speak into a void but to an engaged, interested audience, so listening and gathering feedback is a critical first step before we publish anything on our channels.Are you using the IBM Instagram account to communicate with existing customers, partners and employees or are you looking to connect with prospects to drive new business?
We have a number of key audiences that we think are interested in what IBM’s doing, and who may not be aware of some of the incredible innovation happening at IBM. IBM is a global company so we try to showcase the company’s innovation around the world. Employee engagement is a key part of our strategy–we always say that IBM is primarily experienced by the world at large through our employees, so it’s important to us that they’re engaged and feel empowered to share their experiences.In the time period we looked at, some of your top posts were employee-submitted photos showing #viewfrommydesk. Is user-generated content, or specifically employee-based content, a key part of your Instagram strategy, or was this just a good idea that happened to work?
The #ViewFromMyDesk photo series was done in partnership with the IBM global recruitment team. The goal was to showcase that IBM employees come from all over and work in various types of environments. We invited employees to share photos of the view from their desk–be it a traditional office setting, their home office, office on the road, and more. As a result, we received photos from locations all over the world like Slovenia, Russia, Brazil, Austria, Norway, Venezuela, Taiwan, India, and more. Instagram is a highly global platform and IBM is an international brand, so we thought Instagram would be a great place to host a visually-driven series like this.IBM has a broad, global business serving multiple audience segments. How do you balance that with one Instagram account?
We see Instagram a place to share “moments” at IBM–what it’s like to work in our offices, behind the scenes in our labs, or the process behind innovations-in-progress. We want to take our audience on the journey with us. Our photos come from all over: user-generated content, photos that employees like me shoot themselves, photos of teams collaborating, and more. We’ve even had employees “take over” our account for a week at a time and show us what it’s like to work at IBM through their own photos and captions. It’s really important that anything we publish stays true to the platform–inspiring, visually engaging imagery that tells a story, while being true to IBM. We’re not trying to fit certain messages into a box or follow a strict calendar, but instead we’re in a constant mode of discovery, curation and creation.How do the Instagram photos integrate with social media posts on other channels? How important is visual content to the overall social media strategy of IBM?
We find that Instagram photos also drive engagement across our other channels, so we cross-post. Visuals in general are absolutely critical to driving engagement on our social accounts. I think audiences now expect that visuals should and will be part of the experience.You seem to be experimenting with more branded video on Instagram lately? How does this compare to Vine or YouTube?
Branded “micro-video” is something we’re definitely planning to do more of. It’s a great way to tell a story or create art out of the everyday, which is the sweet spot for platforms like Instagram and Vine.And finally, what advice would you give to other B2B marketers who are looking to improve their engagement on Instagram?
First, spend time on Instagram. Really understand the community aspect of the platform and the caliber of the photography. Think about why your followers are spending time on Instagram. It’s an escape. It’s inspirational. It’s beautiful. Make sure that’s the type of content you’re curating and creating for your branded channel too. Use it as a place to show the real moments, to go behind the scenes, to give access and meaning to your brand. Don’t try to promote, sell, drive clicks (URLs aren’t hotlinked anyway). You will drive engagement and preference for your brand by being real and staying true to the platform.
Last week was a big week for Instagram as they announced that they have 300 million monthly active users. This makes the visual platform owned by Facebook, larger than Twitter. It is also growing at a faster rate than Twitter.
B2B companies need to learn how to tell their stories in a visual manner. There are many blog posts that merely list the largest B2B companies on Instagram, or a seemingly random selection of B2B companies on Instagram. But this post is different. These are the ten B2B companies with the highest engagement rate on Instagram. This means their followers (who could be a combination of customers, prospects, employees and partners) have liked and commented on their photos and videos.
Methodology: A B2B company needed at least 1000 followers to be considered for the list. I examined the last ten Instagram posts for likes and comments. The average number of the sum of likes and comments was divided by the number of followers to determine the engagement rate (expressed as a percentage). If you want to put these numbers in perspective, according to SimplyMeasured, the top retail brands have an average engagement rate of 4%. The top B2B companies below have a similar engagement rate.
Note that General Electric, the biggest B2B company on Instagram with 183,000 followers did not make the list because their engagement rate is only 0.78%. Companies need to not just focus on growing their follower counts, but they also need to make sure their content is resonating with their audience.1. IBM
Engagement Rate: 4.04% 2. Mailchimp
Engagement Rate: 3.98% 3. Infusionsoft
Engagement Rate: 3.88% 4. Fedex
Engagement Rate: 3.49% 5. CBRE
Engagement Rate: 3.36% 6. Maersk Line
Engagement Rate: 2.78% 7. Oracle
Engagement Rate: 2.77% 8. Intel
Engagement Rate: 2.76% 9. Zendesk
Engagement Rate: 2.69% 10. Hootsuite
Engagement Rate: 2.65%
It is the time of year when bloggers dust off their crystal balls and try to predict what will happen in B2B social media in the coming year. I have done this for many years myself. Whether these predictions are based on recent data, anecdotal experience or pure conjecture, they are frequently wrong. Or maybe they are right.
But the best part of writing these blog posts is that nobody ever goes back and looks at last year’s post to see what bloggers got right and what they got wrong. It is a content creators dream come true: attractive headline, shareable content, no repercussions.
Anyone can predict the future if they are not accountable for being right.
These opinion pieces are just that. Opinions.
It is very easy to find a survey and say that B2B companies are increasing their social media budgets. The percentage of B2B marketing budgets spent on social media will rise from 9% to 13% in the next 12 months. It will continue to rise to 21% in the next five years. This single data point will let a blogger predict growth in social media budgets for the next five years. And this survey is updated every year, so this one can go on for eternity.
But nobody is checking up on the bloggers to see what really happened. Or the marketers.
Every year the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs release their benchmark report about content marketing. But in this year’s version they changed the definition of content marketing and the number of B2B marketers indicating that they used content marketing went down from the previous year from 93% to 86%. Does this mean that bloggers can use this study to predict the decline of content marketing? Of course they can.
But other parts of the report reveal that B2B marketers are spending more time and money on content marketing. These selective data points support a prediction of increased reliance on content marketing. A blogger can take their pick of the direction, based on their opinion.
And be right either way. Or wrong.
What about making predictions about mobile? Is this really the year that B2B marketers will finally embrace mobile? It’s very easy to predict. Even easier than it’s been for the past five years that bloggers, including me, have been predicting it. 58% of American adults have smartphones. The breakdown of that data is even higher when you look at groups that likely contain your customers. And that data is almost a year old.
Predict away about the impact of mobile, but B2B marketers will prove it wrong once again. B2B websites, white papers, ebooks are still designed and built for desktop computers. This is one of the biggest no-brainers for marketers in years. But bloggers can predict this until they are blue in the face, but it is just not happening.
Other areas that inspire prognosticating for 2015 are marketing automation, social media advertising, scaling of social media across organizations beyond marketing, measurements of success beyond chasing likes and followers and true executive understanding and adoption of social media.
But for every one of these data-supported predictions, there will be many B2B companies that just don’t follow the trend. And prove the predictions wrong yet again.
It is easy to sign up for a Twitter account, but hard for many B2B marketers to embrace the platform and share information that is of value to their customers. It is easy to pull a white paper out of the archives and say you are doing content marketing, but harder to build a content funnel that matches prospects’ interest and timing so it can all lead to sales. And yes, it is easy to look at your own behavior on your mobile device as a rallying cry to go “Mobile First,” but to get all the pieces in place to make this happen at most B2B companies is hugely challenging.
For many B2B companies 2015 will be the year of true social media adoption and success at many levels. Unless I’m wrong.
Photo credit: Flickr
My friend Tom Skotidas and I recently talked about the keys to starting a LinkedIn Group as a means to generate leads for B2B companies. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations about the intersection of sales and marketing, well as social selling.1. Start with your Product or Service in Mind
The first thing you need to do is create a group that is connected to your product or service. This may be related to the product category or your specific industry, but general enough that the right people will find the group relevant and interesting. Choose a group name that reflects the topic and will be meaningful to your prospects.2. Determine the Most Likely Buyer
Since we are looking at this group through the lens of lead generation, make sure you take into account your most likely buyers. The group should be targeted to them. As you are planning the group make sure to develop a targeted persona so you know who should be in the group.3. Never Mention the Product
Even though you have the product in mind, the point of the group is not to sell the product. Market trends and solutions related to the product and services are what is important to the group.4. Create a Closed Group
You can create a closed group or an open group on LinkedIn. Start out with a closed group as you are building it up. This way only people you invite can join the group. As it grows and develops some traction, you may want to make it an open group to take advantage of search and sharing benefits of things posted in the group. While an open group is visible to all, you can still moderate members and comments.5. Manage it like a Community
The LinkedIn group you build is a community and it needs community management. That means you, or someone on your team, must be a manager of the group. This person must have the personality to interact with group members on a regular basis, reach out to them publicly or privately to ask questions or elicit comments, and generally keep the conversation interesting and flowing. A number of different people can serve in this role.6. Build it like a 3-Layer Cake
Start the first layer by getting your staff to join the group so it has a bit of a head start. The second layer includes your closest business partners and some existing customers. Let them know the purpose of the group and that their interaction is encouraged. Once the group has that lived in feeling, invite some targeted prospects to join the group. This is the top of the cake. They are the ones to focus on, and it helps that they are joining an active, growing group.7. Know What Content to Share
The purpose of this group is to provide value to the community, and especially the prospects, so they begin to build a relationship with you. You can do that through content. You can use third-party content related to the theme of the group or even conversation starters, which are just what they sound like. Comments and questions that get people talking.8. Engage the Group
The community managers need to continuous engage the group members to keep the conversation going. That may include messaging someone with a specific and relevant post and asking them to provide their thoughts in the group.9. Practice Both Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation
You can use this group to manage both inbound and outbound leads. Sharing content in the group that provides links back to your blog, website and landing pages encourages clicks and shares to drive more people to those pages. As you build relationships with your targeted prospects in the group, you can coordinate with the sales team to reach out to them. And this is no longer a cold call.10. Remember Marketing Led, Sales Fed
Finally, keep in mind that social selling initiatives like this are run by the marketing team, but ultimately they support sales. You are generating leads for sales.
Are there other best practices you have developed in using LinkedIn groups to generate leads?
The challenge of generating high-quality leads looms large in front of business-to-business marketers today. 78% of B2B marketers say lead generation is their biggest challenge. Just like any other large problem, the best way to address this is to break the process down into bite-size pieces rather than trying to digest it all at once. You need to develop a lead generation process, and support it with robust systems and the right people in the right places.
1. Create a Strategy
Start with the big picture. This should flow naturally from your overall marketing strategy. It should define your target client, including what positions they hold within an organization, the industries they work in, their company’s size, and their geographic locations.
2. Define Your Difference
Before you approach your target market you need to wrap your mind around exactly what makes your product, service, or solution different than competitors’ offerings. And, even more importantly, why that differentiation matters to your prospects and customers. For example, if you are selling a CRM system that can process millions of transactions and your target customer only handles hundreds of transactions, then you have a mismatch.
3. Decide the Criteria for a Qualified Lead
On the face of it, defining a quality lead may seem simple. This is, however, the place where many lead generation efforts fall apart. That’s because sales and marketing have different definitions of what qualified means. Your definition of a qualified lead needs to include:
- The budget that has been allocated to solve this problem.
- Whether or not the lead has the authority to make a buying decision.
- Their need for a solution.
- How soon they plan to buy into a solution.
- The ability of one of your products and/or solutions to solve their problem.
4. What Information Should You Pass to Sales?
A quick handoff of leads from marketing to sales that includes the contact information is not enough. You need to define the information that will be included with the lead. Sales is going to be much more successful if they are given a deep understanding of the prospects’ buying situation, the problems they are facing, the decision-making structure within the organization, how the prospect has responded to content provided to them, and any perceived obstacles in the way of purchasing.
5. Capture the Leads
Now it’s time to determine how you are going to attract and capture leads. The best campaigns bring together these strengths of both inbound and outbound marketing tactics. While Web and content marketing are extremely effective in attracting people who are actively trying to solve their problems online, they can’t do all the work.
If your company is not highly prominent online, the web searcher may not find your content. Also, many executives are extremely busy and don’t have the time to do extensive Web searches. In both of these cases telemarketing is a highly effective and efficient way to reach specific accounts you’re targeting and to help them solve their problems.
6. Nurture Until Sales-Ready
Many marketing departments feel that the job is done once they have captured a lead. The problem, however, is that the majority of leads are not sales-ready.
Perhaps they don’t plan to buy in the near future, or they are simply not educated enough on the problems and solutions to make a decision. In these cases a lead will need to be nurtured. The nurturing plan should likely include email marketing, relevant content, and the occasional phone call to answer questions, provide relevant information, and, of course, add the all-important human touch.
7. Score Your Leads
You also need to define a system for scoring your leads. This system should be based on both on how the lead has interacted with your website and content, as well as judgments made by your salespeople as to the lead’s interest level.
8. Give Sales People Leads They’re Excited to Follow Up On
Based on the scores generated, you can finally pass the leads over to your salespeople. When you do, make sure you also provide all the juicy background information so they are prepared to make the sale.
9. Measure, Adjust, Optimize
Even when you have made the sale, the process isn’t over. You constantly need to be measuring the results, adjusting your process, and optimizing it.
Photo credit: Flickr