“I want to go viral.”
My eyes glazed over. I was in the middle of an interview with a prestigious tech company hoping to bring someone on to amplify their content. They needed someone with social media skills, content marketing skills, and a brain for content strategy.
Their CMO looked at me intently as I furrowed my brow. I’d heard this desire before: “We need a content marketing ninja,” “We need a social guru” and “We want to make a big bang” are all common phrases uttered in the B2B world, but few really understand what it means.
“Going viral” turns your content into a contagion, a one-off strain that inspires people to engage and share your promotion. In many ways, going viral is good: it can lead to more clicks, users, brand awareness, and even clients. But “going viral” is not an end goal in of itself. There’s no measurement that says when a piece has gone viral, nor is there a magic formula, for any social network, that guarantees its blowout success.
In an effort to spread their message as the internet would allow, this company was on fifteen different social media sites. You might be asking yourself, “Are there really that many to be active on?” Easily. Consider just the most popular social media sites:
- Yik Yak
And on and on and on.
As a software company, you might not have a lot of luck on sites like Swarm or Tinder, but even that’s not a guarantee. B2B social media engagement varies; you can’t always predict what will do well solely based on your industry. (Tweet this!) A lot of it is try, fail, and repeat until you succeed.
The reality is that most companies don’t have the budget to experiment with the major 200+ social media channels, let alone the unknowable number of niche-specific sites.
So what’s a business to do? Dump social all together?
Nope. Social all comes down to content marketing strategy. Let me explain why (with the help of cat gifs).
Why should social media strategy stem from content marketing strategy?
When I went to Content Marketing World last year, the opening keynote was Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic, who focused on content strategy. Key takeaways included how to document your marketing strategy, how to prioritize and create goals, and how to execute and measure your results. The talk was powerful stuff.
Content marketing strategy, as per Halvorson, “guides planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” She, along with other content marketing rock stars like Joe Pulizzi, emphasize that strategists should take the time to get out of the “more is better” mentality and instead focus on creating content relevant to your audience.
Audience, of course, is the key to creating a social media plan as well. And, just like the traditional business world, that all comes down to buyer personas.
Cara Wood did an excellent job defining and explaining buyer personas in a recent Capterra post. She wrote,
A buyer persona is essentially a collection of all the relevant information you need about your buyer in order to reach your buyers effectively. You can write it up like a profile, or create a fictional character based on the information – the format that you present the information in can be creative; it’s the actual facts that are important… Do make sure to formalize your buyer persona in some type of form that can be easily accessed and shared around your company.
Usually a company doesn’t have just one single persona. Customers are all different, and you will likely find that you can categorize them into several different profiles… For B2B companies, you should come up with a “persona” for the ideal company you sell to, as well as the individual people who work there and would be involved in the purchase decision.
Additionally, you may even want to create a negative buyer persona, made up of traits that you would never want in a customer (think: no budget, or a type of company that will never be able to use your type of software).”
In other words, a buyer persona is your perception of who you’re trying to sell to.
While fairly simple to understand as a concept, finding your actual buyer persona(s) can be a daunting task. You need to figure out which questions are most important to define your buyers. Some questions might include:
- What pain point does our product solve for our customers?
- What size business is our customer?
- What industry do they represent?
- What is their title within the organization?
- How do they measure success?
- When are they most likely to be looking for your products?
- Who are they in their free time?
- What social media networks do they prefer?
Wood recommends that in order to find these answers, the first step is to chat with your sales and customer service representatives. They deal with your customers the most, so they’ll probably have some invaluable insights. You can also talk to your customers directly through formal surveys or informal conversations. Finally, I’m sure you have plenty of audience analysis tools. From your CRM to your marketing automation software, you likely already have a host of quantified information about your target audience.
While building your buyer personas, Google Analytics will be your best friend. You can use it to determine key demographic features, like age, gender, and location.
More importantly, you can use Google Analytics to see how your audience is getting referred to your site.
These insights will help to point you towards the right channels for your social media marketing efforts.
Not every channel is created equal
Looking at our traffic numbers above, we get a boatload of traffic from LinkedIn, a paltry bit of traffic from Scoop.It, and justa few views from YouTube in the past year.
Of course, this is a chicken and egg problem; we only have a few videos up on YouTube, no presence on Scoop.It, and dedicate a lot of time promoting our posts on LinkedIn. It’s not too surprising to see how the numbers fall as they do.
Furthermore, the purpose of each channel is different. For example, we use YouTube for brand awareness and care a lot more about how many people have seen our videos rather than who hops over to our site. On LinkedIn, one of our primary strategies is to attract people to our blog, so we measure those efforts with referral traffic stats.
So when you’re planning your strategy, evaluate your current state of social media interaction. Are you using best practices for the channels that you use now? What channels refer the most traffic? Are you getting a decent return on investment for the time and resources that you’re putting into social? Answering these questions will help you determine which social channels are working, which ones you need to abandon, and any missed opportunities.
Quantitative studies on social media use
Trackmaven, a social media analytics company, recently released a roundup of insights about social use over the course of 2015 for B2B specifically. In the 2016 Social Media Impact Report: B2B Edition, they found a number of overarching takeaways:
- The median social media audience size for B2B brands is: 109,000 followers on LinkedIn; 34,000 page likes on Facebook; 18,000 followers on Twitter; 3,000 followers on Instagram; and 420 followers on Pinterest.
- Social engagement varies greatly by industry. For example, motor vehicle manufacturing excels on Pinterest, computer hardware brands get the most engagement on Facebook, and the engineering community tends to do well on Instagram.
- B2B brands have an average engagement ratio that is below two interactions per post per 1,000 followers on Twitter.
- In the software industry, Instagram tends to be a winner.
As you can see, there is no generalist approach to predict how your audience will react on different channels. I recommend looking at the study, finding your industry, and to start testing from there.
Lots of people recommend the “big four” social media channels: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. In general, it’s a good idea to have some presence on each channel, but those are just standard guidelines. Keep an eye on your traffic acquisition data, and be prepared to cut a social network if it isn’t providing regular engagement.
Buyer personas and social media
Now that you have your industry guidelines, it’s time to come back to those buyer personas.
You’ll find that users differ on different social media sites. For example, LinkedIn tends to be for professionals (thus its popularity in the B2B space). Facebook is a catch-all. Instagram’s user base is largely under 29-years-old.
Engagement also tends to differ. For example, men tend to comment more than women do. The younger the average buyer, the more comfortable s/he tends to be when using social media for business. In terms of population demographics, Pew Research Center notes that Latino internet users are disproportionately attracted to Instagram, whereas the same could be said of Black users and Twitter, and White users and Pinterest. They also found that income makes a difference: “78% of those living in the highest-income households use social media, compared with 56% of those in the lowest-income households – a 22-point difference.”
In other words, rely on your buyer personas to see where your users congregate.
Then test, test, test!
So when do I say “no” to more social media channels?
It’s no secret that there’s a few new big social networks every year. In 2014 it was Ello — in 2015, it was Periscope; who knows what new social network will be infecting us this year. I recommend learning best practices for only five to start with. From there, you’ll be able to see how much time, money, and ROI are involved for each test.
Capitalize on what works after six months of data, and get out of those that don’t (like Mr. Bubbles above). Then try and try again until you have a steady stream of social traffic. Aim to make social media around 30% of your referral traffic; that’s about average among all sites, though, and not necessarily B2B.
So back to the original story: the woman who was interviewing me wanted to “go viral” without a real understanding of how engagement works on social, and how that’s absolutely impossible to promise, regardless of the social network.
I know I covered a lot here, but there’s much more that goes into picking the right B2B social media channels. What do you recommend? How many networks do you use? Let us know in the comments below!
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