The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.