B2B marketers are often focused on their industry competitors when they think about social media and content marketing, but that is frequently the wrong way to think about it. It also is not the best want to consider their prospects. They should not worry about a competitor poaching their prospects, or even their customers. They should focus on attention. Their prospects are not just watching Twitter, reading blogs and following influencers and companies on LinkedIn, but they’re watching Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and all those shows that they have been DVRing. Timeshifting is only the beginning of what’s happening to their attention. It’s now all about binging.
Netflix and Amazon drop shows a season at a time. This is not by accident. This is based on viewers’ habits in watching old shows. Since your customers and prospects are staying up all night watching full seasons of “Must See TV,” these platforms decided that there was no reason to continue the idea of appointment television on a streaming platform. If someone wants to watch all 13 episodes of season 3 of House of Cards, there’s nobody to stop them. This is part of what it means for the prospects and customers to hold the power in the relationship.
Are your prospects responding to cold calls? Are they responding to your generic blast emails? Or are they doing their own research about your company and your solutions before they ever want to talk to you? It is a very clear No, No, Yes. And according to research from SiriusDecisions, “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” Again, they hold the power in this relationship by seeking out the information that is most helpful to their journey.
So what about your content? Daily blog posts? Check. Monthly ebook? Check. Quarterly webinar? Check. But can they consume this content on their own terms? Sure they can read all the blog posts they want at anytime day or night, but what about those things behind forms? You’re creating educational content that they can download, but each time they have to fill out the form. Sometimes that form is auto-populated with their information, which is cookie driven or browser driven, but your prospects still have to submit each time to get each piece of content. And depending on how your marketing automation system is set up, those downloads might happen in the browser or in email. This seems quite contrary to how your prospects are consuming things in other parts of their lives.
Let’s look at each of these challenges that B2B marketers face when approaching content marketing.1. Competition for Attention
The best way to compete for someone’s attention is to provide relevant, helpful information in an easy to consume form. Can you teach your prospects how to do something? Can you help them solve business problems? Can you make it quick and easy for your customers to solve issues related to your product? They are used to customer experiences like Amazon’s website and hotels where they are greeted by name. Would you wade through all the outdated pages on your website to find an answer? If there’s too much friction, prospects won’t bother. And this has nothing to do with how good or bad the product is. This is all about having little time and less attention, and when things are too hard to find they move on.2. Buyers Setting the Terms of the Relationship
This is not a new idea, but many B2B marketers are still coming to terms with this. How well do you really understand your personas? Do you really know what their problems are? And how they like to consume information? And where they look for it? The way to make sure that you are part of their consideration set, or even just ensure that your content gets in front of them when they are looking, you must know how and why they are looking. Can you anticipate their questions? Insights into your own customers can give you some guidance in knowing more about your prospects. Using the word relationship to describe this is not accidental. You must be attentive to their needs if you want them to stick around.3. Binge Consumption
Let’s assume that you are creating great content that your prospects want and you are using social media, search, influencers and advocates to drive awareness to your content. Every blog post has a call to action that leads to a deeper dive piece of content. And your prospects love it. But what if they are getting on an airplane and they want to read six of your ebooks and watch two recorded webinars? You have created successful content, but you are not all the way there. You must make it easy for people to download more content. If you are using landing page forms for an ebook, you can have related ebooks on your thank you page. If you send the ebook link via email, include related content there. In either case, you must make sure your system can track these additional downloads without filling out a form again.
If this is not possible, consider pre-packaged bundles of content. When a prospect comes to a landing page for a single ebook, give them the option to download the bundle instead. This gives them multiple pieces of content without multiple form submissions. Don’t let the technology drive your decisions. Consider the customer experience and the websites you interact with. If you are already sharing content, you have the data to determine if your prospects having binging habits. If so, consider developing connected content that meets those consumption preference and create the infrastructure to match.
The more you understand about your prospects and your customers, whether through well-developed personas or not, the better you will be able to create and share content that speaks to their interests and their habits. Again, that sounds like a relationship to me.
For the CMOs of B2B companies, the to-do list is never-ending. Provide more original social content. Engage your target audience. Attract new followers. Create ambassadors. And these tasks can appear monumental given the lack of time and the fluctuating gap in social skills, which require an understanding and communicating on multiple social networks, each with unique style, form, and community.
To be successful requires more than a social presence. It requires continuous social storytelling. Original stories are now one of the most strategic marketing deliverables B2B companies can create for engaging social audiences and communicating a company’s core positioning and value proposition. If told in a meaningful and engaging way, this narrative can become more than just story – it can become the blueprint for a B2B company’s entire social communication strategy.
But how to deliver effective social stories and content every day? Recognize that social media has created a new marketing lifecycle, combining social awareness, education, and engagement. CMOs must execute this new lifecycle within a digitally driven ecosystem against unrelenting competition to win buyer influence. Storytelling is at the speed of social.
In order to answer the challenge, you must have a team in place that shares your company’s vision and positioning. Form a story marketing team that is capable of telling original stories with clear roles, processes, and techniques. The goal for a story team is to make social storytelling part of the internal flow of conversation, to reach messaging alignment, and to deliver lifecycle organized social communications. Without clear storytelling management and workflow, your marketing team will be stuck in a world of one-off social media efforts. Here’s how to get started:
- The story team members: product experts, customer experts, digital media designers, and experienced social marketing communicators. Select individuals from product marketing, product management, marketing communications, customer experience, and social media management.
- The story team roles: story owner, collaborator, and viewer. Owners create and drive ideation and targeting. Collaborators add context and content. Viewers help share and communicate stories before, during, and after delivery. Consider a center of storytelling excellence to share roles across teams.
- The storytelling process: story planning, design, and production. Planning is simple and fast. Ideate and organize ideas everyday. Design includes social targeting, social contexting, and social message testing. Production takes feedback from tests and completely prepares the final digital versions, the sequence, and schedule. Make sure these three phases become a standard lifecycle. Story is a deliverable so it requires a lifecycle process.
Delivering these original social stories that drive awareness and increase engagement by your prospects must be designed with the following key strategies and techniques in mind:1. Know your rainforest
Your social rainforest is your target ecosystems and social connections. Entering social networks is much like wandering into a rainforest where everything is fundamentally connected. If you enter this ecosystem without knowledge of the power of its connectivity, extinction is eminent. Stories provide the link between your positioning, digital media, and target customers. They are that crucial connecting thread between your marketing team, your desired image, and your target social communities. In other words, the marketing team needs to be one with their target community. Aligning your employees and your story is the first step to telling it to the world.2. Be authentic and helpful
Stop the vendor speak. Making an emotional and real impact means telling your story in an authentic, honest, helpful manner that is accessible to all parties. Worry less about impressing your audience and more about engaging them.3. Find the stories within the story
Your story is just the beginning. Within that story are additional narratives, flowing together to help express your core beliefs and ideas. Think about it – every blog post, webinar, e-book, and customer experience has many related needs, tragedies, successes, and conflicts that can be shared on social networks to increase awareness and positioning. Finding and telling those stories will only enhance your overall story.4. Arm your team
Social storytelling marketing teams must compete like sports teams. They need the best equipment. They need to create the strategies and they need to craft brilliant play books. They need experts in the right positions and, above all, they need experience playing the game.5. The right apps
Today, CMOs and their team improvise by patching together an ad hoc mix of marketing tools and unmanageable volumes of content without a blueprint for scaling people, technology, and processes for storytelling. Invest in integrated, social ware marketing applications that instantly guide users through creating the right story for the right ecosystem through the right content and network. Thus, the entire marketing team is able to focus on creativity rather than administrative tasks. Arming your team with collaborative, marketing intuitive apps for story planning, story component design, digital publishing, and story measurement allows your team to deliver empowering and compelling social stories every day.
Your story is your strategy. By creating a high performance storytelling marketing team for your B2B company with clear roles and processes you can begin to source and pipeline ideas and content from across your team, partners, and customers. Team consistency and alignment becomes the norm versus the project. Turning social media into social storytelling requires well-designed organization, digital content, and applications that truly orchestrate social story planning, design, and delivery seamlessly and successful from ideas to wins.
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.