Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing how Forrester Research came out with a new report saying: “Marketers use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to engage customers and prospects… but it’s not working”. Now as someone who earns a living helping B2B marketers make social media work, this definitely stopped me in my tracks.
Could the social media results I was seeing with clients be a mirage? Or was this just further evidence that social media, like most marketing disciplines, is not easy to master? With those questions in mind, I got my hands on the Forrester report: “Social Relationship Strategies that Work” (Forrester Research, $499) to understand for myself what the author, Nate Elliot was getting at.
Social relationship strategies aren’t working?
Here’s what the report says in a nutshell:
Most marketers are still struggling to generate business value from social relationship marketing. Why? It’s because few people actually see brand posts (think: 2% of social audience) and even fewer engage with them. Therefore, brands are wasting time, money, and resources investing in social networks that don’t add value.
The report goes on to recommend that brands build their own social properties (e.g., blog and brand community) while investing in those social networks that still have high reach and engagement such as Instagram.
Correct but misleading
While I generally agree with the points being made, I worry the report has the potential to mislead B2B marketers into thinking that investing in the major social networks is a losing proposition. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as these social networks continue to be where your prospects are engaging their peers, learning about solutions, and deciding which products and services to consider. So you need to be there, too.
Besides that, average reach and engagement metrics shouldn’t be the main factors used to determine which social networks are right for you. Instead, you should:
1. Invest where your buyers are
You need to be where your customers and prospects are – period. Said another way, if your target audience isn’t spending time on Instagram or Pinterest then who cares what the average reach is on those platforms? Focus your time, money, and resources on the social networks where your buyers are. If that’s LinkedIn and Twitter, then so be it.
2. Build high-quality social network channels
When it comes to building out your social channels think quality not quantity, otherwise don’t be surprised when there’s little engagement, let alone ROI. Look at it this way: Would you open a store selling B2B software at a busy shopping mall? Of course not… so why do something similar on social media?
3. Share content that tells your story
If you want to generate meaningful engagement from your target audience, then it’s not enough to share generic “me-too” content. You need to curate, create, and share content that reflects your brand’s themes, story, and unique perspective. All in a way that’s relevant and helpful to your buyers.
Of course, your social marketing challenge is to do all three things correctly and consistently. And even then it won’t happen overnight… since social media is about connecting and building relationships, not selling.
Your social media approach needs to evolve
So how does a smart marketer defend against the changing tides of the various social networks and build a social marketing approach that works? Consider the following:
• Your blog is more important than ever as a source of content to share on social networks, to educate and build trust with your prospects, and to generate website traffic and inbound leads. But most marketers still need to do a better job aligning blog content with what customers care about, and the story of what makes a given business unique.
• The tactics of social media are changing to reflect the declining reach and engagement of any given tweet or status update. We already went through this curve with online advertising and email marketing, resulting in a more targeted and optimized approach. You need to start thinking the same way about your social media efforts.
• Social marketing is becoming more like search marketing in that you need to consider both “organic” and “paid” initiatives to get the results you’re looking for from social media. This means having a social advertising budget for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is becoming a requirement for B2B marketers (like it already is for brand marketers).
• Success with content marketing is more dependent on social channels as the challenge is shifting from one of content production to one that’s more about distribution. Why is that? Because it’s really hard to generate enough “net-new” leads from simply blasting your email database or relying on SEO to make the cost of producing quality content worthwhile.
• Brand communities increasingly make sense if you want to have a social community that you can truly control. Otherwise, you’ll always be vulnerable to the changing priorities and rules of the social networks (think: LinkedIn Groups). So invest in brand communities as a way to supplement your efforts in building communities on the social networks.
What’s the bottom line?
Making social media work for your company is not easy. With that said, now is not the time to slow down let alone abandon your efforts… instead, you need to double-down on those social networks that make sense while evaluating more deeply how you’re approaching and executing on your social media strategy.
This post originally appeared on CMSWire
Evan DunnFebruary 2, 2015
"Correct but misleading." Agree!
Great post Carter.
carterhostelleyFebruary 3, 2015
Ted RubinFebruary 2, 2015
If a person or brands posts are interesting, contextual, add value, and are engaging, they will still show up (plus you can enhance that buy adding a paid media component to posts that gain traction), and people WILL come to your page to s what you have posted. The way posts showed up before, even when all of your followers saw them, they were just like ads anyway and being ignored. But if you want to only post "ads, offers, discounts and promotional content" then you have to pay to do so.
People are going to realize the changes being made to Facebook are a good thing for those who actually want to do the work. User expereince is being enhanced.
Facebook is making it harder for brands to cheat and better for those of us willing to do the work and BE SOCIAL!
I truly rarely have heard someone from Forrester speak who "gets" social... I would take studies about it, done by them, with a pound of salt.
carterhostelleyFebruary 3, 2015
Hi Ted, thanks for the comment and great perspective!
My belief is that 2015 represents an opportunity for marketers committed to creating high-value content and relationships to double-down... while those marketers looking for quick ROI with their "me-too" content will get frustrated and start falling by the wayside. ; )
Ted RubinFebruary 3, 2015
I agree 100%. Jump ahead of the pack... best time is when others are hesitating.
Raleigh WilkinsNovember 16, 2015
I agree with the content of your rebuttal; blaming social media for the failure of a bad campaign is like blaming google because your website doesn't receive enough hits. In order for a social media campaign to be effective it needs to be focused, targeted, impactful and include an interesting headline that's searchable and ideally include a multimedia asset that's shareable.
The world of social media marketing is more analogous to online dating than to traditional email campaigns. Those old email campaigns worked for the same reason that personal ads did - because people subscribed to and read periodicals. These days, content is still king, but in a fractured fiefdom, spread across the World Wide Web. To be successful, the savvy marketer has to recognize this. Get introductions, build a brand and develop interesting content, then getting to know the audience that you want to endorse your brand and message. Comment on their post, start to follow them - see what their followers respond to and invest in analytical tools that can help you identify key influencers. Certainly, social media distribution and engagement are important components of a marketing strategy, but they cannot be the sole components. You simply can't mass distribute lists of social media profiles, for the same reason that mass sending an email to prospective dating partners won't work. They want to know you and they want to know that they can trust your content. And without influencer identification, you'd have about as much luck in effectively targeting your market as you would by distributing handbills to pedestrians on Michigan Avenue.
carterhostelleyNovember 18, 2015
Hi Raleigh, Thanks so much for adding in your perspective. All good reminders and suggestions!
Dave VranicarMay 9, 2017
Carter, you make good points in your article. But I think your defense of social media for B2B marketers is lukewarm and unconvincing, at least to skeptics like me.
You say, "Could the social media results I was seeing with clients be a mirage?" But you don't say anything more about the results you've been seeing with your clients.
Lack of data is a basic problem with most of the proponents of B2B social media and social selling. They keep citing the worn-out statistic that X% of sales reps using social selling achieve their sales quota, versus a lower percentage for those who don't use social media.
The real question for sales managers and sales reps is, "What percentage of sales pipeline and their quota attainment is attributable to an initial contact made through social media?" No one seems to have this data point.
If you make a living at this, I'll bet you have compelling data. I wish you'd share it.
The fear of sales reps and their managers is that social media requires a lot of effort. Maybe far more effort than the results can justify.
Are Jeb Blount and Mike Weinberg, both of whom wrote best-selling books about sales prospecting, right in criticizing social selling? Is it just another distraction that gives sales reps a reason to avoid doing the hard prospecting work that everyone hates to do?
Can you share success data for some of your clients?