SUMMARY: Making social media part of the B2B marketing strategy can be a challenge. One notable use of this channel is lead generation, which can be done effectively when connecting social media with an overall content marketing strategy.
For this article, we reached out to seven social media experts who provided a range of tactics for generating leads through social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter
Why do you engage in social media marketing? According to the MarketingSherpa 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report, only 54% of marketers monitor and measure the number of leads generated by social media, while 70% monitor website traffic from social media.
And, for good reason — it is certainly easier to simply generate traffic than to generate a lead. However, since your job performance likely relies more on lead generation than traffic generation, we sat down with seven experts in the field to provide a variety of tactics to help you take advantage of social media for lead gen.
They provided a variety of actionable ideas, ranging from combining social media with content marketing, to taking advantage of Q&A forums, and even diving deep into Twitter metrics to maximize earned media placement.
The seed for this article came from a discussion on one of MECLABS’ (the parent company of MarketingSherpa) LinkedIn forums, the B2B Lead Roundtable. Although some tactics apply to any sized business, some of the more granular ideas, such as reaching out to individuals on LinkedIn, are more suited for the small- to mid-sized business marketers.
Tactic #1. Combine content marketing with the social media strategy
Jonathan Gebauer, Product Manager, Co-Founder and CEO, exploreB2B, said to bring social media marketing into the content marketing strategy.
“In my experience, this is the most effective way to generate leads via social media,” he explained. “It is the best way to provide valuable and helpful content for people within a target group. Content ranges from articles, videos and infographics to whitepapers.”
The goal with this strategy is to position yourself as a thought leader in your field. He said if you can position yourself as an expert in your market, the incentive for people to follow you and listen to your social media output increases.
“Content can effectively be posted and spread via social media. It is very important to connect your different channels. An infographic on Pinterest can link to an article. A guest post on a blog can link to a video on YouTube,” Gebauer said.
Shama Kabani, CEO, The Marketing Zen Group, stated, “Create compelling content. Solid content should be the cornerstone of any good B2B online marketing plan. An education webinar for current clients and prospects can be a great lead generating and referral source. For example, The Trade Group, a full-service trade show exhibit provider, holds quarterly webinars for their clients as a way to educate and retain them.”
She added that part of the content strategy should be creating and distributing online videos across platforms. Kabani said, “Online videos are still consistently underutilized by B2B companies — even though they can allow you to reach prospects, and increase visibility.”
Frank Dale, President and CEO, Compendium, also agreed that combining content marketing with an overall social media strategy is the best way to generate leads.
“In a sense, content marketing is the purest form of marketing, because it allows companies and their customers to tell stories that are true and to educate prospects so they can make a choice,” he said. “This approach works well for B2B marketing because it focuses on knowing the customer, understanding the pain points, and developing good information that answers questions.”
He offered three points to use content marketing to generate leads:
- Develop varied content. Develop useful content that will draw individuals to lead generating mechanisms on you website. Mix up your content to include written material like whitepapers and case studies, graphical information like photos and infographics, and interactive material such as videos, podcasts and webinars.
- Use keywords and strong calls-to-action. Make sure content is loaded with keywords to attract prospects, and then draw them to lead generation mechanisms through clear calls-to-action. These can be contact forms, RFP forms or email opt-in lists.
- Share your content. Distribute content on all your channels: blogs, social media, email marketing, etc. Use a content marketing platform to make social sharing easier.
Dale also provided an example of a company leveraging its blog to generate leads through content marketing:
“Widen, a Madison, Wis.-based digital asset management (DAM) software provider, implemented this process to spur inbound marketing,” he said.
Dale continued, “Today, more than a third of Web referral leads come from its blog. The company’s content marketing program focused on educating its audience about the existence of DAM software and drawing individuals toward lead-generating materials, such as webinars, whitepapers and requests for pricing and demos. As a result, Widen’s blog is the top referrer of sales leads to Widen.com, and has helped make Widen.com and its landing pages some of the highest ranked in the DAM industry for key search terms.”
Tactic #2. Utilize Q&A forums to develop thought leadership
Gebauer said, “Another way to show thought leadership is being active on Q&A portals such as LinkedIn and Quora.”
And, in fact, this was the first piece of advice from Courtney Seiter, Community Manager, Raven Internet Marketing Tools.
Seiter said, “Go where people are looking for help and resources in your industry, and offer your guidance and expertise. This strategy might find you on LinkedIn, Quora or more niche-focused Q&A forums. Go where your prospective audience is. Choose a reasonable amount of time — say, an hour a week — to sift through questions related to your industry, and thoughtfully and thoroughly answer as many as you can.”
She added that you want to avoid sales pitches and just provide information while making sure your company and product affiliation is front and center. To make this process more effective, be very specific about the topics you respond to.
Seiter stated, “Both LinkedIn and Quora allow you to subscribe via RSS feed to new questions making it easy to zip through questions to find relevant ones.”
She continued, “Of course, make sure to monitor for questions about your company or products, too. Although at Raven Tools we see fewer visits from a lesser-known social media site like Quora, those visitors convert at a much higher rate. That’s because when we answer questions there, we’re interacting with decision makers who’ve already done their research and are deep into the purchase funnel, ready to pull the trigger.”
Tactic #3. Use Facebook to expand your audience
Seiter said to balance Facebook posts between what engages your audience, such as photos, videos and open-ended questions, with what you want to promote, which is typically links to your content or website.
She explained, “The first half grows your audience and improves your EdgeRank (Facebook’s system for determining how widely your brand’s content gets seen) so that you have the largest audience possible when you go to promote your own content. When it comes to engagement, focus on comments and shares in order to increase your brand’s exposure to the friends of your fans, a powerful segment to grow your audience.”
Beyond leveraging content, Kabanai recommended paid placement as well. “Facebook ads can be super targeted,” she said, “and they are a great way for B2B companies to go after their prospects.”
But, Kabani cautioned, “With B2B marketing, you can’t be caught up in how many ‘followers’ you get or simply increasing Facebook likes. Social media needs to be part of a much bigger picture. It has to be in sync with SEO, website conversions, public relations and more.”
Tactic #4. Track effective content and thought leadership using Twitter
Eddie Smith, CRO, Topsy Labs, singled out Twitter as a platform that B2B marketers can use to identify, qualify and generate leads.
He said, “Two specific use-cases come to mind, both utilizing data and metrics from Twitter: Use link mention metrics from tweets to identify what content on specific B2B domains are resonating, and use link-trending metrics generated from tweets to understand what content is resonating on a domain.”
These data points are useful because you get beyond Twitter mentions and find out the velocity of the content and the timing of the mentions for your earned media.
“Using social media, Twitter in particular, B2B marketers can isolate and understand earned media contribution for lead generation better than any other social source,” stated Smith.
Seiter said, “Twitter is an avenue for news and resources at a rapid pace, so capitalize on that by being a thought leader in your segment. Being the go-to source for industry knowledge and trends can open the doors for a deeper relationship and sales down the line. Carve out a set time daily to read industry blogs or news sources, and use a Twitter scheduling tool to tweet the most relevant news throughout the day.”
Tactic #5. Leverage your customers’ connections on LinkedIn
Nichole Kelly, CEO, Full Frontal ROI, sees LinkedIn as the most natural fit for B2B marketing and lead generation.
She said, “LinkedIn provides you with X-ray vision into your customers’ contacts, which could be great prospects for your business. Are you are doing the right things with your customers and providing superior service? If so, simply asking for a warm introduction to one of their contacts should be a breeze.”
Another way to utilize LinkedIn is to search the companies you are targeting to find out if anyone in your network is connected to employees at that business.
Kelly explained, “A large portion of B2B sales is based on whom you know. When you can leverage your network to get a personal introduction to a highly coveted prospect, the time you spent building your LinkedIn network will pay off in hard dollars and cents.”
Tactic #6. Use branded content on social media platforms
Jenny Vance, President, LeadJen, said that branded content on platforms like Facebook and Twitter helps create awareness and builds customer loyalty, and that monitoring social media for negative mentions of competitors or for prospects expressing a need are both opportunities to generate leads.
She also provided a three-point plan for lead generation through social media:
- Monitor. Listen to your target audience by carefully selecting and monitoring keywords. Look for additional terms people are using that you can capitalize on.
- Respond. Develop messages and test them. In social media, companies can send either branded messages from the company or non-branded messages from individuals. In either case, the messages should point recipients to additional content: a landing page, an offer, an article or other content. Test these elements in various combinations (branded vs. non-branded, offer vs. landing page, etc.) to see which drives the best results.
- Convert. Social media messages combined with links provide a wonderful way to engage people and convert the conversation into a sale. Include in your strategy ways to foster conversions with messages encouraging recipients to like you on Facebook and join your email list. Measure your success by following the click all the way through the sales funnel to determine if the program is driving leads and sales, and what the value of the sale is.
To sum up B2B lead gen via social media, Seiter said the process isn’t all that different than for consumer marketers. It’s about connecting with individual people and getting them to engage with your content. She added that no matter what industry you are in, it’s important to have some personality, opinions and genuine conversation on social media platforms.
She stated, “The vast majority of social media users see many of these networks as entertainment, which means even ‘boring’ brands have to find a way to inject some fun into their social presence.”