As B2B companies reach new levels of maturity in their social media marketing, the savvy ones recognize the golden opportunity available to them by studying what their key competitors are doing through social competitive intelligence.
While most companies are focused on building out their own social channels, listening to their buyers, engaging with their buyers and influencers, a few B2B companies have realized the unique opportunity afforded them by studying what their competitors are doing.
The multitude of listening and measurement tools available can be, and should be, applied to monitoring the conversation, following growth and engagement, and watching what your closest competitors are doing. By comparing what they are doing to best practices (and to what you are doing), you can create an unfair advantage.Learn from What’s Working
The first advantage you create is that, by paying attention to the competitive landscape and studying your competitors’ tactics, you can discover what’s working for them, and learn from that. That way, you can capitalize not only on what’s working for you, but also on what’s working for them. In other words, you leverage your competitors’ efforts. For example, you should pay attention to what kind of photos and videos they post, the cadence of their posting, the time of day of their posting, and what content themes they choose to post. Then, study their resulting engagement with the public.
Recently we were watching the social media efforts of one competitor who consistently posted a daily question on Facebook, to engage customers. When the competitor changed from posting text-only status updates to questions embedded within an image, we saw them experience an increase in engagement of 30 percent.
In other words, you can take your competitors’ experimentation efforts on their social channels and leverage what you learn from that to improve your own interactive marketing solutions. Not only can you learn as much as the competitor does, but you don’t have to experiment. You just do what works best.Learn from What’s Not Working
On the flip side, you can also learn from what isn’t working. We watched a competitor launch a new branding campaign for a product line. This competitor was particularly proud of their new branding, and had a great deal to say about it on their social channels. The problem was that their audience was more interested in getting support issues resolved than they were in learning more about the new branding.
What didn’t work was that the competitor and their audience were speaking two different languages. They were not communicating. There was a disconnect in the competitor’s approach. Buyers were not hearing the competitor’s message about their new branding because they had other concerns. This was a missed opportunity for the brand, and a great reminder to focus on your audience’s concerns.
But even more important than a missed opportunity was the fact that customer complaints were not being addressed, and customers were frustrated at not being heard. And they made their frustrations known online.
So how do you put this into practice? Imagine you are studying a competitor’s interactive marketing efforts on social channels, and it turns out they are getting great engagement numbers. What you find curious about it, however, is that the engagement results from content that is very entertaining, but which is not relevant. Closer examination reveals that your competitor is so focused on increasing engagement that they don’t seem to care whether or not they are engaging with the right audience – and their audience profile doesn’t match the profile of their buyer.
Since you are focused on the same buyers, this is an opportunity for you to talk to the buyers about issues that are important to them, as opposed to focusing on just increasing your engagement levels, regardless of the audience. That competitor’s mistake enables you to communicate more effectively with the same target buyers – at a time when that competitor is talking to the wrong people. Capitalizing on that can give you a larger share of voice.Create Social Media KPIs
Once you start focusing on your competition and the competitive landscape, your key performance indicators should not only compare your current performance to a prior timeframe, but should also compare it to your competitor’s.
In fact, you should use social media KPIs to measure the difference between you and your competitors, such as share of voice, share of engagement and even share of discussion. These are metrics you can create with a robust social competitive intelligence program.
With these new KPIs you will have information that will inform your social strategy, and will enable you to create an unfair advantage and beat your competition.
This post was co-authored by Robert McHardy. He is a Senior Social Strategist at Crimson Marketing. He is an expert in social strategy, marketing and analytics.
Many B2B marketers are still trying to figure out social media for their companies. Years of product marketing driven writing, or content as we now call it, has honed their skills on features-based marketing. No matter how exciting your products and services are, this kind of marketing is boring. And it is not going to work in a social media context.
Prospects and customer want solutions to their problems. They don’t want to hear about your products in a blog post. Once you identify your target audience and their pain points, you can begin creating top-of-the-funnel content to connect with them by solving their problems. With the right content in mind, on paper and on screen, how do you make sure that your content is found, read and shared by your audience?
Start by making it remarkable!
And then here are 10 ideas for make it captivating:1. Use Keywords in the Headline
No matter what you writing about, you have to include the words that your prospects and customers use when talking about your solutions, business and industry. These are used in the questions they are asking in search engines and of their social network connections. The most important keyword location is the headline. See the headline above (and most of the ones on this site) for an example. They always include B2B Social Media or B2B and relevant terms. That’s how B2B marketers find what they are looking for on this site. Posts without those obvious keywords are just not found by the audience.2. Use Adjectives in the Headline
Even keyword-based headlines need to be interesting and compelling. Or captivating. As this one is. No matter where you prospects and customers see your headlines, they are looking for something that will be worth their time. As you are establishing your authority on your subject area, every post is an opportunity to draw in new visitors. Interesting and different descriptive words, like adjectives can do that.3. Find a Compelling Image
In this post I used a recent Instagram photo I took of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. While not entirely relevant to this post, it is a captivating image, which relates back to the headline. Rather than use the same stock photography images of light bulbs or the diverse team around a conference room table, look for interesting images that set the tone for a post. Search Flickr for Creative Commons images and make sure you give credit back to the photographer. Hone your own skills as an Instagram photographer and use your own images. You want to use images that will draw someone in, make them click and make them keep reading.4. Don’t Talk about Your Products
Successful blog posts are not about products. Your website already does that. Provide real value to prospects and customers by providing solutions to their business problems. Demonstrate your industry expertise by giving them something they cannot get elsewhere.5. Solve Prospects’ Business Problems
One of the reasons “How To” posts are so popular in different industries is that they answer people’s questions. Search engines are designed to provide the most relevant results to every search. If B2B prospects are trying to find answers to their problems, your posts have a better chance of showing up if you are answering their questions. And using their terms.6. Share Customer Stories
Leverage your existing customers to tell your story of how your solved their business problems with your products and solutions. These are not just case studies where your product helped your customer reach business nirvana, but a real, human story that is interesting, remarkable and captivating. Ask yourself if you would read the story before you hit publish.7. Use Video
Video is a powerful way to tell a story, share an important detail or present a point of view. A post with embedded video can capture someone’s attention in a different way than a written post. This is an easy way to share the thoughts of an industry influencer you met at a trade show, but keep it short. Definitely under five minutes, and under three minutes if possible. Video viewing dropoff is pretty significant at two minutes.8. Experiment with Different Formats
Every post should not always be 500-800 words on a subject. Try shorter posts if you have a simple comment about an industry news story. A link to the story and three takeaways work. Consider an occasional longer analytical post that really takes a point of view. What about an all image post where you show 20 examples of what others in your industry are doing well, where you only have a line or two of explanation. Mixing up your post format keeps things interesting and keeps you from writing the same post over and over.9. Use Subheads to Make it Scannable
People on the web scan. Subheads make it easy to glean some information from your post without taking the time to read it. That’s why list posts do so well. They match the way people consume information. Scan this post as an example.10. Remember Social Networks
And finally, getting found in search is just part of the equation. Getting found on social networks is also key. Keep headline length in mind for social networks. Know how images show up on Facebook and Google+. Make sure your post description is captivating, as that may be what shows up on networks.
Remember, all of these ideas will help remarkable content get found, read, shared and clicked, but if your content is not worth reading, none of this will help. And keep in mind that blog posts just to drive traffic are not enough. Include calls to action (CTAs) at the end of every post to bring your prospects into the sales funnel.
What are other ways that you have made your B2B social media posts more captivating?
B2B Marketers are always comparing their company social media efforts to other B2B companies. What are other companies trying to achieve? What is working? What are their biggest challenges? In a recent survey Ascend2 asked 687 business leaders, marketing executives and practitioners from around the world just those questions. And good for us they separated out the answers for B2B companies.
Some of these results were featured on eMarketer, but you can download the full Social Media Marketing Strategy Report for free from Ascend2 (registration required). Below are a selection of the results.B2B Social Media Marketing Objectives
Top objectives for B2B marketers were improving customer engagement, increasing web site traffic and increasing their content reach. While the first could be a high level goal, if other parts of the business are focused on that objective, the other top objectives are more tactical. While they can certainly be measured, they are really a means to an end. And lead generation is not a large priority of B2B marketers using social media. But it probably is a priority objective of other marketing efforts. This is one reason B2B marketers are still failing with social media.
- 43% of B2B Marketers say improve customer engagement is their most important objective
- 37% of B2B Marketers say increase web site traffic is their most important objective
- 34% of B2B Marketers say increase content reach is their most important objective
- 29% of B2B Marketers say increase lead quality is their most important objective
- 27% of B2B Marketers say increase lead quantity is their most important objective
Creating content are the top activities for social media marketing for those surveyed. Content is what drives lead generation and other top of the funnel activities, so these tactics are on track. But if lead generation is not a stated goal (above), it means that B2B marketers are not capitalizing on these tactics and including calls to action with every piece of content.
- 40% of B2B Marketers say creating articles/blog post content is their most effective tactic
- 32% of B2B Marketers say creating research/whitepapers is their most effective tactic
- 29% of B2B Marketers say creating audio/video content is their most effective tactic
While those B2B marketers surveyed indicated that various content types were their top activities in social media marketing, it turns out those same activities are the most challenging for them to complete. It is a different mindset to create content at the top of the funnel, or even to serve customers, that solves prospects’ and customers’ problems, rather than promoting the features and benefits of your products and services. Here are some B2B blogging ideas to help you to execute these activities.
- 32% of B2B Marketers say creating audio/video content is the most difficult to execute
- 32% of B2B Marketers say creating research/whitepapers is the most difficult to execute
- 31% of B2B Marketers say creating articles/blog post content is the most difficult to execute
And finally here are the main obstacles to success for B2B social media marketing. These are common problems at B2B companies. Who is going to do it? How do we measure the value and does the rest of the organization understand what you are doing with social media?
- 37% of B2B Marketers say staff limitations is the biggest obstacle to achieving objectives
- 36% of B2B Marketers say inability to measure social ROI is the biggest obstacle to achieving objectives
- 27% of B2B Marketers say lack of organizational committment is the biggest obstacle to achieving objectives
Do these survey results match what you see in your B2B company or those you work with? What are some of the ways you have dealt with some of these challenges and obstacles?
In a recent study, CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google found that 57% of the buying process is complete before a B2B buyer ever contacts a salesperson. And their results showed an even higher number, 70%, in some instances. The researchers used their interviews with more than 1500 decision makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase at 22 large B2B organizations (spanning all major NAICS categories and 10 industries) as the basis for their Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing whitepaper. The authors contend that mastering the following three topics are required for succeeding in the world of digital B2B marketing:
The project itself is a great example of content marketing. It is featured on the Google Think site, with a narrative written in an informal, friendly style. The research also has its own landing page, complete with an overview video. There are links to download the complete whitepaper or a presentation version (both as PDFs), with no registration required.
Each of the three subject areas (Digital Integration, Content Marketing and Analytics) has its own page including a short video, links to download just that chapter of the whitepaper or the whole whitepaper. There is also a link to take an assessment survey on each topic.
Rather than summarize each section, I have included the key findings below.
Digital Integration Key Findings:
■ Companies still struggle to integrate digital tactics deep into broader marketing campaigns, but there are a few key points of leverage (such as pushing to mandate an objective “Channel Consideration Review” early in the process) that can help weed out reflexive channel bias, opening the door for digital influence.
■ Armed with past performance data and evidence from external best practices, a growing number of marketers are pushing to develop standardized campaign architectures, which offer a strong platform for promoting the best applications and integration points for digital tactics.
■ Increased digital marketing efforts demand continuous and collective management, something few companies are designed to support. The value destroyed by this misfit approach—although hard to quantify—is potentially very large. Several companies are taking steps to restructure as a result.
Content Marketing Key Findings:
■ Many companies are attempting to overlay a coverage model on their existing campaign-oriented content production efforts; this helps to orchestrate a continuous flow of content aligned to the topics and issues customers care about but introduces a hidden danger.
■ Many companies display a troubling overemphasis on tools, shallow consumption metrics, and process—placing a greater emphasis on producing a steady flow of content than the quality of the content.
■ More progressive companies have consolidated strategic and creative guidance for content, to help business units get more impact from their content and to stitch together cross-BU points of view that have broader impact in the marketplace.
■ In selecting what content to create, marketers should place greater emphasis on the power of communication channels versus the competitive noise they have to contend with; many organizations seem to pursue content strategy with little regard for the clutter they are competing with.
■ B2B marketers have been slow to push into more visually engaging content (typically relying largely on text-based content) due to concerns about skill and cost but most directly due to perceiving it as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.
Analytics Key Findings:
■ The smartest companies dedicate a greater portion of their marketing budgets to improving their fundamental understanding of effectiveness, interactivity, and causality across marketing programs.
■ A central hub for marketing data is becoming more common but is still a long-term aspiration for many companies. Regardless of the data environment, marketers should be focused primarily on extracting insight and decision-support value from the data they do have (which is a lot of data). The single most important factor for success is getting the smartest people you can find to tackle your most important analytical challenges. Ninety percent of your analytics spend should be on people.
■ Pipeline analyses often overemphasize contact-level web analytics data, neglecting important off-site and social behaviors and collective account-level behavior.
■ Conversion attribution modeling efforts typically ignore key aspects of a supplier’s engagement with potential customers (especially nondigital touchpoints). Marketers should make a greater effort to place estimates of digital impact in proper proportion and context of broader marketing strategy and the market environment.
■ Experiments are difficult to design are often executed poorly, rendering results unreliable and wasting time and money. It is a worthwhile effort to create very strict process guidelines to validate experiment design in advance of execution, so results can be confidently applied to decision making.
If any of these findings reflect situations at your company, download this study for details about these findings, recommendations how to overcome them and examples from companies like EMC, CSC and Level 3.
Most people learn how to use Linkedin by building a network of professional connections. Some even take the time to post updates to their activity feed. But if you haven’t noticed yet, not a lot of people hang out in the activity stream on Linkedin.
The lion’s share of real engagement happens in Linkedin Groups, especially for B2B companies. But not all Linkedin Groups. Most are veritable spam fests where unscrupulous marketers spam links to promotions or try to drive clicks to their blog posts.
So how do you find the really good Linkedin Groups? How can you tell which ones are worthwhile, and which ones are worthless?
You could just join a bunch of groups, follow the activity that occurs in each one and learn that way. But that’s time consuming. And since there are nearly 1.6 million Linkedin Groups and you can only join 50 at a time, finding the genuinely worthwhile groups that way could take a lifetime.
As an example, I used Linkedin Group statistics to analyze the three B2B social media groups I’ve been a member of to see which one is the best.
I’d rather spend more time in one Linkedin Group where I can have real discussions with other professionals who are interested in exploring a common topic, then spread myself thin over a bunch of groups, particularly if some of them are spammy.
Here’s how to use Linkedin Group Statistics to see which ones to join.1. Review the Group
Go to the Linkedin Group you’re considering joining. But don’t join right away.
Instead, scroll down below the “Top Influencers of the Week” box in the right-hand column and find “Group Statistics.” The “3,759” number you see in the image is not accurate. Every group uses the same generic artwork. So ignore it and click “View Group Statistics.”2. Review the Activity
Once you’re in the Linkedin Group Statistics page, click the “Activity” tab and check out the graph on the right. “Discussions” are new posts left to the Group and “comments” made underneath new discussions. A better way to think about “discussions” is as “new posts,” because if no one comments, they aren’t actually discussions.
The chart will give you a snapshot of whether or not people are having conversations. If the number of discussions is much higher than the number of comments, people are leaving new posts, but they’re not starting conversations. Unfortunately, this is the case most of the time in Linkedin Groups.
Now and again, as in the Linkedin Group used in the example above appears currently to be hosting healthy conversations, but not until recently. In fact, comments surpassed discussions just last month. Could it be a fluke?4. Look at the Conversations
Let’s check it out and see. Just because there’s a healthy conversation going on, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a worthwhile group. A low ratio of discussions to comments is necessary, but not sufficient. So hop on over to the group’s activity feed and see if the discussions are interesting to you. If they are, join up.
As a rule of thumb, closed groups tend to be less spammy than open groups because they are actively monitored by a community manager. Some Linkedin Groups have rules for what they do and don’t allow. If they have rules, the manger will send them to you if your membership is approved.
So which B2B Linkedin Groups are the healthiest?
I compared the following Linkedin Groups:
Here’s what I found:With more than 200 discussions posted in recent months, both B2B Online Marketing and BtoB Marketing do have more activity. But that’s not an indication of worthwhile conversation because they both have too few comments. There’s almost no conversation occurring there at all in these group, and since conversation is engagement, these are, you guessed it, spam fests.
B2B Social Media, on the other hand, has around half the volume of new discussions being posted, but those discussions most recently have started drawing a healthy number of comments. As of January, the engagement level has picked up sharply. For readers of this site, if you like what you see in the Group’s activity stream, this is the one to join.
Are there other ways you have evaluated LinkedIn Groups, or are there other B2B social media or marketing groups that provided value? Let other readers know in the comments below.
Most of our B2B clients have staked a claim on Google+, but they don’t invest in it. Why? Because they consider it a ghost town. They say Google+ is irrelevant. They invest in Facebook and Twitter and (more and more) in LinkedIn. But you know what? Recent studies indicate that, while many companies were asleep at the switch, Google+ has emerged as the killer platform for B2B social media marketing.
B2B marketers need to understand these four reasons that Google+ is the next killer platform for marketing, and why it should be an important part of your B2B marketing mix.
According to GlobalWebIndex, Google+ now has 343 million active users, more than any other social network besides Facebook. Google+ is far ahead of Twitter, and light years ahead of LinkedIn.
Notice that qualifier: “active” users. The 343 million number is not a measure of the number of people who signed up for Google+ accounts, and who may or may not ever log on. Rather, it is a measure of the number of people actively participating on Google+. Over a very short period of time, Google+ has confounded critics and become a platform that cannot be ignored.
Google+ circles enable you and your B2B company to market in a more intimate way to people who are following your company.
Consider this: because Google+ users can circle your company page, it means they have opted in to receive information from you without having to fill out any forms or communicate via email. That’s true on other social networks, of course, but what’s different is how you can then interact with them.
On Google+, you can do research on the person who has circled you, circle them back, and (most importantly) add that person to unique circles based on how that person fits into your target market. This means you can provide that person with highly useful and specific information, instead of just a general communication blast.
Furthermore, B2B companies can begin to interact with that individual in other, more personal ways. And this means that, in addition to creating a better communication channel, you can make those users feel like you notice and care about them. For example, by sharing that individual’s content and inviting them to private communities, private events, and private hangouts, you don’t just send them a message; you build and strengthen a relationship. And this is a cornerstone of any marketing mix.
Martin Shervington provides a more detailed description of circlecentric marketing.3. Better Organic Search Results
In Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s upcoming book, The New Digital Age, he is quoted as saying: “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
This is the clearest statement yet from Google (which tends not to be very clear) highlighting how authorship is becoming extremely relevant in search results on Google.
This essentially means that if you are posting on Google+ correctly, your content will be ranked higher than content posted elsewhere. Furthermore, because of Google+’s tight integration with the Google search engine, your posts are treated much like regular webpages (unlike posts on other social networks), and will therefore rank higher in search results.4. Google’s Long-term Vision
Google+ is a social destination and a social layer across all Google properties. The integration they have made is breathtaking. It places a social layer upon:
- Google Maps and Local
- Google Now
- Google Wallet
- Google Offers
- Google Chrome
- Google Search
- Google Adwords
- Google Calendar and Events
- Google Play
What Google is really saying is that “Google+ is Google.” And this integration will only go deeper and become stronger over time.
It’s no secret that Google’s business model is to sell advertising. There’s nothing wrong with that and, in fact, their strategy is a brilliant one. Google wants to provide more and more relevant search results to users, so users will do more searching on Google. This means advertisers get better value from Google, which means Google sells more advertising.
Google has created Google+ to be the killer platform for B2B social media marketing. What is your B2B company doing to take advantage of it?