Marketers need to stop treating social media differently to any other channel that’s used to attract, engage and nurture customers. 

Like approaching strangers at a networking event or a party, there needs to be a polite introduction (confident but not overbearing). You would ask questions, listen and when you respond with what you have to say, it’s tuned-in to their interests. In short, good social skills are critical for turning conversation into a conversion. Social media in B2B is no different in that respect.

That is what your brand wants to say and what your customers need to hear. In between those two conditions, lies the ‘sweet spot’. Information overload means we tend to filter, only engaging with disruptive, peer-endorsed and/or content relevant to our needs. Brands can’t muscle their way into audiences’ lives without having permission to talk to them first. You need to understand their pain points, their buying process and their interests.

The content and people found on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter is a resource for B2B buyers. They discover new products and services, get advice when comparing different vendors and get in touch with sales reps to ask questions. If your B2B buying customer doesn’t see a relevant message from you in ‘the feed’, you are ignored. Again, no different to what you would expect with your email or search content.

Relevance is also dependent on time, channel and content type. The GlobalWebIndex Q1 2015 report says that 79% of business leaders have a Facebook account and YouTube, Twitter or networking is the highest activity. The McKinsey Quarterly review on B2B buying habits cites that a B2B customer will regularly use six interaction channels throughout the decision-making process. The need for real-time relevance is therefore increasing with the need for multiple formats like infographics, video and presentations. 

Understanding what kind of material, message and tools your audience needs, on what device, channel and time of day is important to consider. People are unlikely to want heavy messaging at the start of the week, but content should get more immersive and engaging as the week goes on, ending with something lighter and more entertaining for the weekend.
Finally, relevance must also be human. At AdWeek’s conference this year, the big theme at LinkedIn’s B2B event was authenticity. You must be true to the brand, have strong values, deliver on service and have heart. Just because it is B2B, communications don’t have to be cold and inhuman. They can be entertaining as well as relevant.

The importance of setting objectives and KPIs

If you do not have a goal, how do you know it has worked? Just like every other marketing channel, social needs objectives and KPIs to focus efforts, communicate performance that the business understands and respects. The habit that marketing folk need to quit, is setting objectives that don’t mean anything. Likes and Retweets certainly make us feel good, but our colleagues in Sales, Finance, IT and Operations do not care. What they care about is how social media metrics and engagement contribute to increased revenue.

Setting objectives and KPIs also help you form hypotheses that you can test. They also help you filter what metrics are important and which are not, rather than being bombarded by ambiguous web analytics and dashboards. 

There are so many tangible measures that social media can create – reducing cost of customer service, conversion tracking and attribution, audience reach, lead generation and so on. BT saved £2m a year moving over 600,000 contacts from its call centres to social media channels. Maersk did not think they could sell shipping containers through social, but they do now. US company, AGCO, can attribute $10bn of sales through connecting their business to farmers on social media. As you can see, it is not just likes and shares!

How can B2B marketers remain consistent?

Guidelines and education is the answer. Social platforms can be a nightmare for brand teams. There is very little that can be done to control a conversation once it starts. Complaints are public and have the propensity to spread like wildfire. Misinterpretations and mistakes are troll-fodder.

Having simple, clearly defined guidelines about how the brand and its employees should represent themselves is a start. But the key to maintaining consistency (and achieving objectives) is education: Giving all staff an understanding of how they can use social platforms to achieve individual and business goals; refreshing and updating skills often and regularly as the landscape is fast moving; providing feedback to improve skills and performance over time.