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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Five Steps to a Successful B2B Social Media Strategy

by Matt Heinz

Social Media Marketing StrategyThe beauty of most social media channels is that they're so easy to join and engage. Most are free. It takes just a few minutes to get set up, and literally seconds to start publishing. But if you're marketing and selling a B2B product, a simple five-step process can ensure you're getting the maximum, measurable yield from your efforts in terms of increased pipeline size and new sales. Here's how.

1. Strategize

Social media is mostly about engaging & participating with like-minded others, but that doesn't mean you don't need a strategy. Execution without strategy, after all, is really just guessing. That said, creating a strategy for your social media implementation shouldn't take long. Most important, answer a few basic questions.

Who are your target customers? Are you targeting different types of customers within a target account? Are there deal influencers (inside and outside of the organization) you want to target & influence as well? For each of these groups, think about what you want them to hear, what you need from them, and how all of this translates into the type of content you want to share with them.

This up-front thinking should also extend to the specific social media channels on which you'll focus. First priority should be external networks where your customers already participate and engage. Could be mass-market channels such as Facebook and Twitter, but it also could be vertical or audience-specific channels elsewhere - like LinkedIn Groups or Ning.

You'll likely refine this strategy and content/audience focus over time, but thinking about it in advance helps hone the how and where you'll launch your social media efforts.

2. Publish

With an eye towards the value-added content your audiences will want to read, start publishing. Publish original content, and start commenting on the content of others. This is especially important if you're using Twitter, as you'll need a stable of at least 20-30 tweets under your belt before others think you're relevant, and choose to follow you.

This doesn't have to be your own content. You know what your audience cares about, and wants to read, so part of your content and publishing strategy should be redistributing content they need. Give credit where credit is due, of course, but there's a lot of value in filtering and aggregating content from a variety of sources into a single feed for a particular audience.

When publishing on Twitter specifically, use short headlines followed by a "shortened" URL. Use a service like bit.ly to shorten and track your links. Where to find content to republish? Start following a bunch of audience-appropriate blogs and news feeds, and pull interesting headlines out of those feeds to republish. Eventually you'll want to start publishing your own originated content (we'll get into why later), but for now you can create value and "follow appeal" from others by using primarily third-party content.

If you're using Twitter, apply hashtags to your content so that it's more easily discoverable (and both followable and retweetable) by others. If you're using Facebook and LinkedIn, take advantage of their "linking" tools to publish content on multiple platforms at once.

3. Follow

The easiest way to start getting the attention of people you want to engage is to follow them first. Use Twitter Search, for example, to find individuals you'd like to follow (and eventually follow you) based on keywords in their own Twitter feeds. Use TweepSearch to find users based on keywords in their Twitter bios. The same would apply within LinkedIn Groups. Spend time every day for awhile finding and following others. On average, between 25-35% of people you follow will follow you back.

Eventually, you can start using tools to automate the task of finding like-minded others to follow. You can search for followers by keywords, hashtag, organization and more.

As you gain followers, you'll start to get pass-along from those primary followers to their followers. Over time, those secondary followers will follow you directly back, and that process and volume will pick up significantly as your audience grows. This works not just on Twitter, but on other social networks as well. The more you write good content, and help others discover you via that content, the more quickly your reach, influence and return click volume will grow.

4. Engage

Perhaps the most important component of building a healthy social media presence is to engage with your audience. Don't just publish, don't just follow. Interaction is key to building trust, credibility and action among those prospective customers.

This engagement can take many shapes. If you're using Twitter, retweet interesting content from those you follow, and reply to them with ideas and questions. Follow the blogs of your prospective customers, and add comments to their posts. Ask your followers for feedback on new ideas, new messages. Occasionally share pictures, share something personal so they know you're a human being.

Your engagement strategy will be somewhat custom to your intended audience and what they're already doing/saying/posting, but engagement in whatever format is important. Without it, you're not a member of the community - you're just a lurker. And without becoming an active community member, you won't get nearly the pass-along and clickthrough value you otherwise could.

5. Convert & Measure

By engaging your network and new community, by becoming one of them, and by significantly increasing the frequency with which they see your name on value-added content and participation, you will naturally and dramatically increase the volume of these prospects who take action to learn more about how you can help their business.

But once you get momentum with your networks, you can also start to feed direct conversion links directly into the conversation. These prospects aren't ready for a pricing promotion or special purchase offer, that's probably too early. But give them something value-added for which registration is required. It can be a research report, a sweepstakes entry, a Webinar invitation. The possibilities are endless, but all focused on helping those interested prospects to "raise their hand" so you can have a direct conversation with them.

These aren't necessary "hot" sales leads. Some may be ready to buy right away, most probably won't be. With the right lead nurture strategy in place, you can now take these new "hand raisers" and accelerate your direct relationship so that, once they are ready to enter a buying cycle, it goes much faster and has a higher likelihood of conversion.



Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Andy Reierson said...

Matt, I enjoyed the post. It's a nice easy guide for businesses to follow when jumping into the social media space. I would add a couple of things to the list:

First would be to listen. Using free tools such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Tweet Beep, Social Mention and others or paid tools such as Techrigy and Radian 6 can give you a good idea of how and where people are talking about you, your category and your competitors. This information will be helpful as you deploy your strategy.

Second, although access to these services are free, it is hardly free to implement. A good social media program takes a huge investment in time to be successful. In most cases social media is a commitment that doesn't go away. A company needs to be ready to invest in this space forever, not for a month or six months.

7:50 AM  
Blogger dorothy said...

ewby....Please explain..hashtag. Thanks!

7:57 AM  
Blogger Braden Kelley said...

Dorothy,

Hashtags are short keywords or abbreviations after a number sign - # - that people use to help others find tweets on a particular topic.

You can see an example at the end of this tweet here:

Five Steps to a Successful B2B Social Media Strategy - http://ow.ly/D25r - Matt Heinz - #sm #mktg #b2b

Braden Kelley
Editor, Blogging Innovation
http://twitter.com/innovate

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Jim Gibson said...

Hi Matt: love your post! We are always pushing great content like this out to our local business community as we drive towards our mission of providing access to the best education. We published a link to this blog post on our FaceBook Fan page (www.facebook.com/Onlinemediatoday) as well as our Twitter account (@OMTMagazine).

Keep up the excellent work!

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Matt Heinz said...

Andy, great additions. The more you listen, and smarter you'll be back to your folllowers (creating more value, and driving more action for your business). Thank you for adding these!

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Ben Hanna said...

Very good advice, Matt. In B2B marketing circles, a lot of people are asking whether or not social media is relevant for B2B and the more guidance experts like you can provide, the better.

Another resource your readers may be interested in is Business.com's 2009 B2B Social Media Benchmarking Study report which we just released. Provides extensive details about how professionals use social media today as a resource for business-relevant information, top social media initaitives at B2B companies and how B2B companies differ from B2C.

Report is available as a free download here - http://www.business.com/info/b2b-social-media-benchmark-study.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Dee Gardner - Management Heretic said...

Brandon, Matt - Step 6 is left out. 6. Don't give up. These things don't happen overnight. Especially as Andy talks about. It is going to take some time and effort.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous @demiwood said...

What excellent timing!

I'll certainly be referring to this interesting post in our Social Media Strategy meeting later today.

Thankyou :)

@demiwood

4:22 AM  
Anonymous internet marketing company said...

Social media is a force to be reckoned with in today’s society, and Twitter and facebook is one of the most powerful social media forces around at the moment.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Urs E. Gattiker - comMetrics said...

Dear Matt

Thanks for pointing me to this post. very interesting. We approached this in a nuts and bolts way for a B2B outfit ===> our strategy for social media looks like this:

http://commetrics.com/articles/leverage-best-practice/

Thanks for sharing this post.

Regards
Urs
@comMetrics

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Denise B said...

I agree with all the basics you have posted, and Andy R's comment about listening. Don't jump in the deep end first. Depending upon the depth of what you sell, you will want to inspire those who publish to have the expertise and thought leadership to be engaging and savvy. The skills are diverse including writing, connecting with people authentically and subject knowledge. That's why listening first is best.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I hear is that social media can be used more or even only for B2C marketing campaigns. This leads me to the conclusion that B2B marketers seem to be schizophrenic about social media. They have been using social media for years just like the buyers in the business-to-business sector. Maybe I am a little biased here because I work in that space but the sheer pace of adoption and the enormous buzz created around social media seems overwhelming.

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Ricky said...

The most important, in my mind, is establishing and maintaining a real and continuous dialogue. The best events are those that serve as catalysts for dialogue — versus those with just interesting speakers. Social media can really help to pre-warm the dialogue and get people talking before they even get onsite, and social media at an event can really enhance the dialogue on the stage.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Kyle Rudy said...

Hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but this isnt special for B2B, this is primarily a B2C strategy.

Problem with Social Media for B2B is that social media is a consumer playground, businesses use social media; but only to attract consumers. Trying to attract the companies that are pursuing consumers wont work because they are looking for customers, not for business partners.

Pretty much the only B2B business that works with social media is consultancies, because they pretty much work like a B2C environment anyways.

1:32 PM  

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