Is B2B Social Media Worth The Effort

There is a mass of information online, and it seems endless seminars, about the power of social media for business but what is the truth? Is B2B social media really worth the effort?

In my humble opinion for lead generation for SME’s in B2B, markets no it is not. There I have said it, you need read no further. That said, there are other reasons to have a presence on social media but they are perhaps less obvious.

Social Media For B2B Markets – The Numbers

Assessing B2B social media success (or otherwise) for lead generation is a simple numbers game you can try out for yourself. How do you generate leads? I guess part of it is making potential customers aware of what you offer, part of it is building the perception of those that are aware, but not customers, that you are a credible supplier with something that sets you apart from the rest and part of it is to keep touching existing customers.

All of the above assumes you can actually reach out in some way to prospects (not engaged), prospects (engaged) and existing customers. Without getting bogged down in the detail of how you are going to reach out the first step is to determine if your B2B audience is actually on social media.

Simply dig into your CRM and take out 30 of your best customers, 30 randomly selected other customers, 30 engaged prospects and 30 target prospects to give an overall reasonable sample size. Then simply try to identify if those prospects have a presence on social media. In most cases using the basic search tool specific to the social network will suffice. I suggest simply try LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to minimise the time involved.

Based on my own targeting of potential medium sized companies in a specific B2B market sector I came up with 1 in 9 on Twitter, 1 in 7 on Facebook, 1 in 4 on LIN and 1 in 22 on Pinterest but that does not tell the complete story (see below). Of course every business will be different, with its own set of numbers.

The first pass calculation then is simple. If your numbers are similar to mine and you have a total existing customer plus potential prospect base of 10,000 businesses then roughly 1,000 will be on Twitter and 2,500 on LIN and perhaps social media for lead generation is worth considering. If your target base is only 1,000 customers plus prospects then it is most likely not worth the effort.

Make your own assessment but be careful as there is another, more subtle, issue to be aware of. A business may have a social media account but are they active on that account and, more importantly, who maintains it. My own analysis (and every vertical / business is different) shows that many manufacturing businesses have a Facebook page simply because they think they should. The proportion of businesses actually active on their account is low. The same appliers, to a lesser degree, to the other channels.

It does not tend to apply to LinkedIn but Perhaps more important is who maintains the account. If it is just the business marketing department then is it actually worth engaging if you are really trying to reach out to engineers, project people and quality? To research all of the above may take half a day or so but it is time well spent when compared with the countless hours required to build a social media presence that delivers negligible results.

Choose Your B2B Social Media Channel Carefully

Each social media channel has its own advantages and disadvantages but for manufacturing businesses, and B2B in general, then LinkedIn has to deliver the most value. How to use LinkedIN to grow awareness, find business opportunities and generate leads is a lengthy subject beyond the scope of this post but Pagewiz provide detailed information if you would like to read more.

Pinterest can be worth some time and resources if your product is best promoted in a visual way. Twitter can be useful as a content (blogs, news etc.) broadcast medium and to increase reach but I have to admit I don’t see the value in Facebook for B2B. There are some who would wholeheartedly disagree and it is possible I am missing something but I simply do not get Facebook as a relevant promotional tool for B2B.

Video channels, the most famous of which is YouTube (but there are others), can be extremely effective for some manufacturing businesses but video marketing is again beyond the scope of this post.

So Where Is The Value In Social Media

Having dismissed social media as a lead generation tool it is important to note that it can be effective in three key areas

  • Research
  • A knowledge base
  • As a search engine

A vast amount of information is available on all the major social media channels and much of it would be difficult to find using a traditional search engine. By following key market influencers, competitors and businesses in your own and similar market segments a mass of information is available that can give your company an edge.

Social media is not just for publishing information, just being a passive snooper can deliver some real insights. Personally I have found many tools, resources and even businesses I have since partnered with on social media that I don’t believe I would have come across anywhere else. Just this week a re-tweet pointed me in the direction of a start-up business with a great (low cost) service I definitely intend to trial in the coming weeks.

Finally, social media channels are effectively search engines. The search functions on some may be basic but with practice it is possible to drill down to find great information it may be difficult to find on Google and elsewhere. As a test I typed a phrase from a former life (‘high reliability memory’) into Twitter recently and was surprised by the information returned. There was not a lot of information and much of it was several months old but the search phrase was far from mainstream.

Email Or Social Media Marketing – Which Delivers The Highest ROI?

What delivers the highest marketing ROI in B2B markets Email or social media marketing? The issue is complex and there is no single answer that applies to all industries but based on experience, research date (where available) and some broad brush numbers we try to answer that question.Is the highest ROI generate by EMail or social media marketing

The first point to consider is how many prospects or customers will actually read the message. Symantec estimates 92% of all Email sent is spam and a MailerMailer report indicates that average Email open rates have fallen consistently since 2007. The problem may be that the advantages of Email are also its worst enemy. Its low cost and ease of use make it the ideal medium for the spammers. Email credibility and open rates have declined as a result.

So social media marketing is the way forward? Well it’s not quite that simple, analytics firm Sysomos found that 71% of Tweets on Twitter are ignored by those who receive them. A Pew study found that 41% of Twitter users check the site less than every few weeks. Some report only 1% to 5% of the people that liked a business page actually have the opportunity to view posts.

Email v Social Media – Comparison Methodology

So whatever medium is used a large percentage of targets will simply ignore the message. All that can be done is to build trust and increase read rates as a result. Building an army of genuine follows (there is no point just targeting numbers) and an Email contact list of real subscribers with an interest in the content will certainly help but that is only part of the answer.

Which social media channel is best to compete with EMailOur Email or social media marketing analysis assumes that activity is based on delivering quality content and not pushy sales messages. The debate rages about the purchase of Email lists v opt in lists but that is the subject for another post. If we assume that the Email is addressed to a named person then experience shows a 15% open rate (min) is a reasonable expectation. Assuming an enquiry rate based on 2% (not unreasonable) of those who open then a monthly Email sent to a list of 1000 names should generate three enquiries per month.

Social media covers a wide range of channels. A B2BMarketing.net report found that B2B marketers are far more active on LinkedIn and Twitter than on Facebook. The report found 74% of businesses have a LinkedIn profile that they regularly update compared with 73% on Twitter. By comparison, just 53% have a regularly updated Facebook profile with YouTube (37%) and Google+ (26%) further back. Pinterest and others are further back still but starting to catch up.

Which channel works best for a business depends on the target audience and if they are active (or not) on the channel. LinkedIn, in our view is a special case and is excluded from the following analysis (expect more on LinkedIn in a future post). For those in B2B markets LinkedIn can be much more than standard social media channel. It is also an industry specific search engine and research tool.

Email v Social Media – The Numbers

Although there are many social media analysis tools available it remains difficult to determine how many targets actually engage in some way with the information you post. If we take Twitter as an example and assume most of those following you are following more than 200 others then the chances of them actually seeing your tweet in their feed are remote – unless they are one of the more switched on Twitter users and are using lists. Our own view is less than 1% of followers will engage in some way with a Tweet.

Of course there are many ways to increase engagement (photography, post time, subject etc.) but we are focussing here on broad numbers. Engagement on Facebook (measured by either a comment or like on a wall post) again is less than 1% according to the analysis in this post and elsewhere. There is evidence that similar rates of engagement can be expected from Pinterest and others.

Many studies conclude that when posting content to social media a mix of own content mixed with quality content of others is the best mix both for engagement and for generating more followers / friends. The ratio of own curated content of others compared to own is recommended as anywhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10. To simplify the numbers a ratio of 1 own content to every 3 curated has been used in the following analysis.

For many small and medium sized businesses publishing more than two pieces of content per working day is a challenge. Given the above ratio that equates to a maximum of 12 pieces of own content each month. Assuming 1000 active followers / friends spread over Facebook / Twitter, 1% engage with posts and 2% of them make an enquiry it relates to 2 enquiries / month.

Conclusion

So in the great Email or social media marketing debate Email wins? Well, again it is not quite that simple as there are many other potential advantages of social media. For businesses of an appropriate size with the right organisation and right mix of customers social media can be used as a customer management / support tool. Appropriate outreach via social media can be used to secure high quality backlinks and boost the business website SEO and social media can be an excellent tool for keeping up to date with the latest news and best practice in any industry.

The key is the activity (or not) of the target customer / prospect base on the chosen social media channel. In the ideal case any Email list will be based on opt in or (worst case) a targeted list purchase. It is therefore known that whatever message is delivered will reach the target audience. The only issue then is engagement and open rates. The same is not true of social media as without adequate research you could simply be talking when nobody is listening.

The Benefits Of Business Blogging

B2B blogging ROI

Given the ongoing commitment of time and resources required does blogging really deliver a return on investment? Many of the benefits of business blogging seem intangible and difficult to measure. This post discusses both the benefits of blogging and how those benefits may be measured

The benefits of business blogging may be summarized as follows:

  • More traffic to the business website = more sales leads.
  • Ongoing communication = more credibility, engagement and customer retention.
  • Raised profile = more sales leads.

Link between business blogging and more website traffic

A well written, informative and engaging blog post may rank on the search engines as a standalone item for a given keyword. Anyone clicking on that blog post will be taken to the blog residing on the main company website generating visitors who may click around the website (or follow links) for more information once they are there.

A business website will generally have a relatively small number of pages and therefore a relatively small number of keywords. A blog delivers the capability to expand the range of keywords dramatically over time. While it is true each post may attract a fraction of the traffic of the main website pages, over time the combined blog traffic can add up to a considerable figure.

Blog posts may be socially shared via a wide range of channels which further expands their reach and opportunities to generate click through’s and, perhaps just as important, links. Blogging therefore has an impact on search engine marketing and a website that resides higher on the search engines naturally generates more traffic.

Given the dramatic changes to the Google (and others) search algorithms over the past 18 to 24 months it is increasingly difficult to improve a websites position in search without content.

Blogging facilitates ongoing customer communication

B2B market research has shown that when asked why they left their existing supplier over 60% of respondents stated the reason as the supplier did not communicate with them on a regular basis or that they felt undervalued. Blogging is an excellent way to stay in touch with customers without pushing sales messages their way.

Good blogging practice engages with prospects and customers, facilitates feedback, builds credibility and can, over an extended period of time, build a community.

Raise a business profile via blogging

There is little doubt significant resource needs to be allocated to each blog post but fortunately that same content can be shared and re-used many times for maximum effect. Social media channels, good social bookmark sites, slideshare type applications, Video (youTube) and high quality blogging collation sites all extend the reach of a single blog post. All of which ultimately builds the profile of the business.

Blogging and the big lie

I quick look around the internet will show many business blogs abandoned after the first few posts. The reason is primarily based on those involved falling for one of the major internet marketing myths that is ‘build it and they will come’ – what rubbish.

Publishing the post is only the first part of the battle, the post then needs to be distributed widely by the most appropriate channels to reach the audience. It needs to be re-used (as noted above) then distributed again. Only then is it possible to expect any engagement and resulting traffic / interest.

The impact of every business blog post is measureable and each can generate website traffic, engage with customers and prospects and raise the profile of the business. To be successful takes time, significant resources and some new skills but the medium to long term benefits of business blogging can be significant.

Web Traffic and Conversions – The Numbers

When first starting out in internet marketing, and without the benefit of bitter experience, it can be difficult to establish what tools and techniques will deliver the best results. What web traffic and conversions numbers are reasonable to expect?

It is impossible to deliver an answer that covers every situation but a late 2012 Optify B2B marketing benchmark report presented some important insights. The report shows on average:

  • Between 4 & 7% of visits results in a lead
  • Between 0.5% and 3.3% of visits (not leads) result in a sale
  • Lead generation is generally proportional to the quantity of traffic with organic traffic leading the way. Over 60% of traffic is via search engines (organic traffic).
  • Google is responsible for over 90% of organic search traffic
  • 12% of traffic is generated by referral websites.
  • Paid search (PPC) results in 10% of traffic with Email contributing a similar amount.
  • <5% of traffic is from social media.
  • Of the Social Media Channels Facebook delivers the most traffic but Twitter the most leads.

The report also delivered some interesting facts on conversions (sales)

  • Conversion is best for Email generated traffic, followed by referral traffic and paid search with Social Media last.
  • Paid search delivers an above average conversion rate.
  • Bing, although responsible for significantly less traffic than Google, does deliver a slightly higher conversion rate.
  • Companies involved in paid search declined by 10% in 2012.

What conclusions can be drawn from the above? Given the value of organic traffic then appropriate search engine marketing to achieve a high position on the search engines is critical. Pay per Click is an alternative but its value appears to be declining. The impact of social media is limited in driving traffic but it does have importance in other areas.

As for conversion then the Email generated traffic statistic may be slightly misleading. We assume this statistic is actually based on Email to a prospect that has already been through some sort of subscriber loop and therefore has some initial relationship with the business. The power of referral traffic assumes the referral is a source trusted by the prospect.

What the report does not cover is how to actually convert web traffic to sales, generate the traffic and the resulting sales. It does not cover best search engine marketing practice, Email subscribe processes, the best paid search methodology or social media as a content delivery channel. However, this information can be sourced from various other surveys, posts and reports freely available via the internet or by hiring in external marketing expertise.

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B2B Online Marketing – Best Practice Review

B2B online marketing practice appears to be moving towards inbound (pull) marketing and away from the the traditional push but what are the challenges? What works and what does not? A recent survey provides some insights

According to a recent survey of 1,416 B2B Marketers (company size 10-99 employees) in North America by the CMI/Outbrain 94% use content (inbound) marketing and 57% intent to increase spend on the activity in the next 12 months.

The survey shows the number one objective of content marketing activity is brand awareness, closely followed by finding new customers, then lead generation and customer retention. An average taken across the surveyed companies shows 31% of marketing spend is expected to be allocated to content marketing activity and a marked move away from traditional B2B push marketing techniques.

Inbound (content) marketing activities where defined by the survey as (ranked from most to least used)

  • Social media (excl Blog)
  • Article (own website)
  • E Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Case Studies
  • Videos
  • In Person Events (Seminar)
  • Articles (other websites)
  • White Papers
  • Webinars

With many more, lower priority, activities

The key problem areas identified were (not surprisingly) in priority order – Producing enough content, producing the kind of content that engages and producing a variety of content. 57% of those surveyed produce all their content in house, 3% outsource everything and 39% use a combination of in house and outsourced marketing services.

The figure of 94% using content marketing is perhaps a little misleading as this includes a proportion using only 1-2 of the tactics listed above which, in reality, does not represent a co-ordinated content marketing process. However the survey does show that over 50% of those claiming to employ content marketing are using between 5 and 12 different activities and over 20% in excess of 15 activities.

There is little doubt there is a strong move towards pull (instead of push) B2B online marketing. Statistics based on USA based companies do provide some useful insights but I wonder what would be the results of a survey based on UK companies with a similar profile. I suspect the U.K may be somewhat behind the USA.

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Is Social Media A Waste Of Time In B2B Markets?

Many have the view social media is a waste of time for businesses In B2B markets including, it appears, Simon Carter of Fujitsu who said in an article in the marketer magazine of January 2013 ‘social media delivers negligible value for businesses in B2B markets’. In my humble opinion he was spot on but on the other side of the argument there are the social media evangelists who continue to bang the drum.

Three months ago I did not see the value in Social Media for small to medium sized businesses operating in B2B markets, now, my opinion is changing. There is now what I would define as indirect value in a social media campaign.

The Problem With Social Media
There is little point in talking if nobody is listening and that (historically) has been the major problem with social media in B2B markets. If your prospects are not active on social media then what is the point? However, a number of things have changed.

  • Pull (content based) marketing is increasingly more effective than push.
  • Social signals are becoming more relevant to search engine optimisation

Does Social Media Have Any Value Going Forward

It appears the Google (and the other search engine) algorithm will take more account of social signals in future. This will not happen overnight but it is possible (probable?) Google will take account of what information is shared socially, the engagement with that content and rank accordingly.

To extract most benefit from a inbound marketing process a business needs to place quality, engaging content where their prospects and customers are most likely to find it. As discussed above social media channels may not be the best choice but, here’s the controversial bit, who cares. If content is being created and distributed to where prospects can access it (without using social media) then publishing it on social media channels may become simply an SEO activity.

A Lesson From History

Of course engagement is also an issue but perhaps a lesson from recent search engine optimisation history may be worth considering. Backlinks to a website are crucial to SEO. At one point any link would do regardless of relevance which led to the rise of so called link farms but Google rightly clamped down on this practice.

A higher quality link could then be obtained by submitting reasonable quality articles to article directories (article marketing) which was a common practice approximately two years ago. Today, good article marketing is all about engagement and quality writing. However, in the past, all that mattered was the backlink it did not matter from an SEO viewpoint how many prospects read the article, never mind engaged with it. Perhaps the same is now true of social media.

For businesses in B2B markets social media may have negligible direct impact on lead generation (<5% of B2B sales leads generated this way according to one report – Optify 2012) but it does appear to have value as one tool in the search engine marketing armoury. The jury is still out but it is perhaps a trend worth watching.

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