Social media might not be the marketing channel that directly drives the largest percentage of sales (email and search still outperform it), but it's the one most used for content discovery. For top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) engagement, social is tops.
With social media, you can reach your ideal audience members where they're already participating in conversations relevant to your business. You can feed your sales funnel with relevant prospects, build anaudience, nurture relationships, establish trust and boost awareness of your brand by sharing the wisdom that speaks most directly to your unique value proposition.
However, as with any topic, there's a lot of confusion surrounding the best way to leverage social media marketing channels for inbound marketing business performance. Many misguided "marketers" erroneously believe that social is a one-way messaging platform, that it can be used to directly drive sales, or that reaching massive numbers of people on as many different networks as possible is the key to success. You may be running across a lot of bad or confusing advice about these issues, or you may be overwhelmed by the idea of diving into this unfamiliar realm, where people are constantly up in arms about lingo-drenched buzz topics like the latest content promotion algorithm changes and declining organic reach.
By familiarizing yourself with social media marketing's established "best practices," while keeping an eye on what makes sense for integrating social activity into everything else you're doing with inbound marketing, you'll be in great shape to get started. Tapping into your common sense should go a long way too. Just remember – the most productive social media activity focuses on conversations, offering value, increasing brand awareness and connecting with both your current and ideal potential customers.
In this series of articles, we're going to cover social media tactics from both a strategic and tactical standpoint. We're also going to break it all down into step-by-step instructions that spell out how to build a flourishing, engaged audience on the four leading B2B social channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Each one of these channels has its functionality considerations and its cultural norms. Your sales prospects use each channel for different reasons and in different ways. We'll spell it all out for you so you can dive in with confidence.
Different Activity for Different Channels
Facebook is far and away the most popular social media platform, boasting nearly 1.2 billion users worldwide. It's also home to the most evenly distributed demographics of any existing platform, with rich targeting tools that allow expert paid media marketers to reach the right people at the right moments. When it comes to paid media tool sophistication that's accessible to businesses of any size, Facebook's advertising platform is the only one that holds a candle to Google AdWords. Many swear by Facebook's Events interface, even preferring it to their own calendars, so if you're promoting anything with a calendar specific peg, this may be an avenue worth exploring.
Depending on how you measure, LinkedIn can be considered the second most popular network, although it lags significantly behind Facebook's usership with a “mere” 350 million members. LinkedIn, however, offers two distinct advantages –an older, more professional, higher earning audience, and a long-form publishing feature which empowers anyone and everyone to instantly distribute content to an extensive, business-oriented audience.
Twitter, while fourth in usage, has successfully cultivated loyal stickiness – over one-third of Twitter users log in daily. In addition, Twitter is unequivocally the best platform for free-flowing engagement, real-time news, limited time offers or any other type of timely content. While other channels focus on building connections, Twitter is made for building influence, with unilateral following of peers and a culture that allows any user to engage in open discussions with any other.
Heralded as a powerful marketing platform, inbound efforts onGoogle+ constitute more of a long-term investment than anything else. It's consistently under scrutiny for being a ghost town, but, on the other hand, the platform serves as the hub for a surprisingly high volume of activity – official statistics count no fewer than 540 million active users. Not surprisingly, the "social signals" emanating from here already exert influence on Google's search rankings, although speculators suspect that this is just the beginning. However, it’s already a must for brick and mortar businesses, since Google+ already feeds the search giant's “local” algorithms, and its fun "Circles" interface guides users to bundle connections into segments – super convenient for targeting messages over time.
There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to all of these channels. While your choice to become active on any of them should be determined by your branding, audience preferences and engagement strategy (whom are you trying to reach, and what do you want them to do?), it’s imperative to become familiar with all of the leading options before diving in.
Rules for the Road
According to one tally, there are more than 800 social networks active today. Each channel provides a different medium to tell your brand’s story to a particular audience and build relationships with those who are part of that community. Collectively, these channels are powerful vehicles for listening, monitoring and interacting that allow you to engage with your prospects and genuinely help them.
Here are the main principles at play that apply across the board. Keep them in mind when posting to all of your social channels, and you'll do great.
First and foremost, engagement is the key to success. If your social posts are distinctive, well-written, consistent, helpful, memorable and provide real value, then you'll succeed at building a loyal audience that converts. Content links alone will never be sufficient. If no one engages with your posts – or worse, no one sees them at all – then you’ve wasted your time creating them. Instead of simply pushing out content, however, amazing your publications may be, ask questions, start a dialog, share others' materials, reply attentively to comments and jump into the river of ongoing conversation. Themed interest groups ("communities" on Google+, recurring hashtag-powered chats on Twitter and "groups" on LinkedIn and Facebook) are perfect for tapping into sub-tribes pre-selected for relevance.
Second, just like any relationship, your social presence needs to be based on listening. Yes, there are metrics, tools and specialized apps for social listening, but really, it just boils down to good communication. Social listening includes monitoring what people are saying about you or your brand and responding appropriately, but it also encompasses paying attention to what others operating in similar business spheres are saying and doing. It’s a matter of learning how to best serve the people you care about most and humanizing your social voice.
Speaking of humanizing your presence, keep in mind that everyone wants to feel connected, included and validated, especially on platforms that are made specifically for these dynamics. If you consistently create distance between you and your audience by communicating in the third person or favoring jargon-heavy corporate speak, you’re fostering an engagement gap. No one will be able to relate to you. A better route is creating and iterating your narrative. People love stories and are far more likely to engage with you when they know a bit about (and relate to) your history, values and challenges.
Social relationships are virtual and digital, but they are still relationships. Avoid thinking of your audience as a faceless group of potential buyers; rather, keep in mind that each individual has his or her own motivations, goals, desires and baggage, along with a healthy distrust for strangers. For that reason, the onus is on you to establish and build trust. One disrespectful exchange too many, and your reputation goes down the tubes. So treat those who are active online the way you would treat a trusted colleague. Use the same respectful language you would be comfortable using in that colleague’s presence. Respond to inquiries and dissenting opinions courteously. Offer assistance, and be a resource in a similar manner to how you would want to behave in real life.
Create a communications calendar. Regardless of your channel choices, you need to post consistently, or you’ll lose your audience and stop being able to attract new followers. Social media is not a one shot deal, and since many brands are vying for your audience members' attention, don't be shocked if they're quick to ditch you in favor of someone else's more predictable presence.
Marketing – Not Selling
Social is no place for hard-sell pitching. Salespeople need to close deals, get contracts signed and make quotas. As a marketer, you're on social media to educate your potential clients. Empower them. Build relationships and maintain them. It’s all about brand awareness and providing value, which often means posting links to useful resources that others have published (it's best to keep posts linking to your own content limited to under 30% of your activity volume). Social media is a long-term commitment. Don’t expect instant results, even if you’re investing heavily in paid amplification. If you treat social media marketing like a finite campaign, you’ll never earn the results you’re after.
The Right Channels
Before you even start to listen, post, follow and share, you need to first determine which platforms are right for your business. Not every social network is appropriate for every business, and each one demands in-depth familiarity with the nuances of its constantly evolving functions and subcultures, so make sure not to spread yourself too thin. Do a bit of homework first, so you can invest your time and efforts wisely. Strongly consider your goals for social media, what works for your industry and where your ideal customers commonly congregate.
Benefits of a Strong Social Media Presence
Ultimately, when it comes to using social media as an inbound marketing customer acquisition channel, the key to success is engagement. Of course you want to capture leads to nurture via email, and of course you’re striving to build brand equity, but to accomplish these end goals, you need to establish your position as a memorable, genuinely valuable resource for a growing audience.
A strong social media presence is pivotal for building trust, providing real-time customer service and improving your visibility. Now that you have the lay of the land, it’s time to drill down into what works best on each of the leading channels.