Autumn Green

Updated 3/15/2018 with infographic.

When social media first emerged as a content marketing tool, B2B companies were skeptical. They thought social posts were too informal and much more suited for their casual B2C counterparts. The B2B companies that did use social content on Facebook struggled to make their posts engaging enough to attract a following worthy of their effort.

Now, however, businesses in all sectors seem to be on board, as 94 percent of companies in the B2B field say they use social media for content marketing purposes. Additionally, 92 percent use these channels to distribute other pieces of content.

But a tool is only useful if you know how to use it. That statement is true of power drills, and it’s true of social media.

So, think of this post as the user’s manual that comes with every Craftsman or Black + Decker: It won’t lead you step by step to a furnished apartment (or, in this case, market domination), but it’ll give you a handy reference for getting there.

The B2B guide to successful social media campaigns

Step 1: Learn from B2C brands

B2C companies have a lot of social media strategies you can adopt for yourself.

Brands like Apple and Patagonia focus on the products at hand, and so should you. Use whatever you sell to form the structure – the skeleton, if you will – of your creative social media efforts, and build everything else from that.

B2C brands also have the freedom to be personal and informal with their social media posts, which serves a major purpose: to make them relatable.

You can achieve the same goal while still maintaining your professionalism. You may not want to be as crass as, say, Comedy Central, but a little humour never fails to attract an audience.

Similarly, B2C brands use literal rather than abstract imagery more often than not. Starbucks shows real people enjoying its drinks on Instagram, and Meow Mix tweets pictures of actual cats.

Take a page out of their books and ditch the dated, abstract corporate stock photos for something your audience can relate to.

See how Google used video of real people to tug at the heartstrings? That ad was all about a search bar, yet we all connected with it because, in 2017, we probably Googled how to do something. Also, it was just fun to look at, wasn’t it?

Want another example? Take a look at Novartis’ Instagram. Novartis is a Swiss pharmaceutical company, but its social content is all about real people – the ones behind the medicine and the ones receiving care.

A post shared by Novartis (@novartis) on

Again, much better than never-ending diagrams of drug molecules or what have you. The picture of cancer cells is pretty cool, but an Instagram full of them won’t resonate with followers.

Step 2: Look at the major B2B players

Your budget may not match IBM’s, but you can still adopt the tech giant’s strategies to suit your business.

For example, large B2B companies routinely use their social media profiles to promote industry trade shows and conferences – either their own or ones they plan to attend. There’s usually a hashtag involved – something like #CES2018 – to align themselves with the event. Then, they’ll post live during the event, streaming to their audience in real time or sending links to blog roundups of the day’s events.

This type of promotion doesn’t have to end after the conference is over. Panasonic posted a highlight reel of its booth at this year’s CES, complete with catchy music and snazzy imagery.

The reel is short, but it further establishes Panasonic as an important industry player (“The company was at CES!”) and gets viewers excited for next year’s possibilities (“What will the booth look like in 2019? Maybe we should attend!”).

Of course, conference promotions are just one of the many ways major B2B corporations use social media to promote themselves. Look at your largest competitors and see what sort of content they’re posting on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. Chances are, they’ve conducted a ton of market research and have optimized their social content according to what performs best. Try doing what they do and see if it works as well for you.

Step 3: Know your voice

The tone you choose depends on your product, content goals and audience. People once expected all B2B companies to use overly stuffy language in the past, but startup culture changed all that. Now, many businesses have found that casual words are A-O.K.

But how do you know if you’re one of them?

  • Review your competitors’ content. Are they confident? Casual? Formal? It’s likely you’ll be able to use the same tone. That said, differentiating yourself could help you stick out from the crowd.
  • Research your audience expectations. What do they want when interacting with a company like yours? If you’re talking to dedicated software developers or the finance industry, for instance, write social posts that contain enough terminology to tell your audience that you’re the industry expert.

Still, a universal rule of thumb is to choose words and strategies that encourage your audience to respond, whether the statements themselves are formal or casual.

Ask for reader opinions, have them vote in polls, hold giveaway contests (perhaps free tickets to a conference you’ll be attending?) or showcase user-generated content. Each of these strategies strengthens your relationship with your existing social media audience and humanizes your business to newcomers.

Step 4: Decide what to share

The content you post on social media shapes how audiences view your business.

If you want to humanize your company, share content of the people behind it. Show off your office culture with Instagram pictures and videos. Even if the product you create is quintessentially corporate, people will view your business more favorably with such a human aspect.

#Holiday bake sale in the #Boston office today to raise money for @familyreach!

A post shared by Brafton (@brafton) on

If your goal is to be a thought leader, share links to your blogs and white papers, particularly those that touch on subjects no one else in your industry talks about. Also share content from other relevant thought leaders to build credibility. Not only does referencing others show readers you’re tuned in to the pulse of the industry, but it also displays a bit of confidence.

Step 5: Choose the right channels

Pop quiz! Don’t worry, it’s an easy one: What social media platform do you use for content marketing purposes?

Did you say LinkedIn? If so, you’re in the same camp as 97 percent of B2B marketers, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Many people think of LinkedIn as the end-all, be-all of B2B social media purely because it was designed as a network for professionals. But now, Twitter and Facebook are almost as popular, with use rates of 87 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

The top six most popular channels, in order from most to least used, are:

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Google+

Based on volume alone, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are absolute musts for your social media content. Their user bases are large enough that you should have little problem attracting an interested audience. LinkedIn, of course, is for professionals, so you know everyone there is looking for something related to their respective industry.

Meanwhile, Twitter has its own groups of people retweeting and sharing links related to their professions (the InfoSec community is particularly active, FYI.) You want to make sure your content is right where these people can access it.

Once you’ve established a following on these websites, you can expand your resources and strategy to include platforms like Instagram and YouTube.

Step 6: Structure posts accordingly

Time is a major factor for boosting engagement and conversions. Unfortunately, there’s no universal best time that works for every business in the B2B sector.

But of course, where would we be if someone didn’t help us all out by creating some general guidelines?

Thank goodness for the guys at CoSchedule. They analyzed not one, not two, but 16 different studies on social media to see what times correlate with the greatest amount of engagement. Here’s a summary of their results:

  • LinkedIn: Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. is best, but businesses tend to see the most clickthroughs when they post during the midweek in the morning (7 to 8 a.m.), evening (5 to 6 p.m.) and at noon. This makes sense, as people will likely check their LinkedIn accounts as they settle into the workday, during their lunch break or while they’re winding down and prepping to go home.
  • Facebook: Posting between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. during the late week and weekends shows strong results. Specifically, content shared at 1 p.m, 3 p.m and 9 a.m. (the odd man out) garners more shares and clickthroughs.
  • Twitter: Sending tweets on weekdays between noon and 3 p.m. is a solid strategy, but 5 p.m. is the peak hour for Twitter. To boost your clickthroughs and retweets, schedule your posts at noon, 3 p.m. and between 5 and 6 p.m.
  • Google+: Get your googling done early; the best times to post on Google+ are weekdays between 9 and 11 a.m. You’ll probably see the most success by posting Wednesdays at 9 a.m..
  • Instagram: Want more likes on your corporate selfies (or to just boost your Stories viewers)? Feel free to share throughout the week, but Monday posts will see a bit more engagement.

If you’re just getting started with B2B social media marketing, use CoSchedule’s analysis to schedule your posts.

Eventually, your analytics tools will compile enough data to tell you exactly where and when to share content on each platform. Each website has its own internal analytics tools, which will show what times and types of content are most successful.

Furthermore, if you use a third-party platform to coordinate your social media posts, you can see all of your vital analytics data in one place.

Step 7: Understand your audience and measure success

We’ve written about this subject before, but it bears repeating here. The typical B2B audience member is different than a B2C one, so you’ll need to tailor your strategy accordingly and change your definition of success to match.

A strong way to measure your B2B social media strategy success is to track leads rather than engagement. Likes and followers are great, but they don’t demonstrate enough of a return on investment for B2B companies. Sure, they make you feel popular, but they rarely have actual or potential monetary value, which is what your business wants.

You need a stronger sign from your audience that shows interest in being a new customer. When it comes to making a sale, leads and conversions are far more promising than hitting a like button.

What’s great about success with social media is that it builds upon itself. Each metric feeds into another:

  • We start with reach, which quantifies how large your audience is. Your reach tells you how many people are looking at your content.
  • Reach feeds into engagement: the number of people who like, comment, share, follow or click through your content.
  • That then flows into conversions, i.e., the number of people who take the next step in your lead-generation funnel (downloading an asset, contacting sales or what have you).

This is why promoting lead-generating content in particular is incredibly valuable. A single post can reach a widespread audience, especially when you consider how many users each platform has:

  • Instagram: 500 million daily active users as of Sept. 2017.
  • Twitter: 330 million active users as of Oct. 2017.
  • Facebook: a whopping 1.37 billion daily active users as of Sept. 2017.

As you can see, you have the potential to generate a lot of leads here. If even only a small fraction of these audiences click to read your blog, download a case study or sign up for a webinar, that still could be hundreds of people. The potential is just too great for B2B businesses to ignore social media as a content marketing strategy.

Also, here’s a tip: Use the Google Analytics URL Builder to track each link clicked in one of your social media posts. This way, you can compile even more data on who clicks through to your content, what type of content your social audience is interested in, how many conversions your social posts bring in and more. You may need to use a link shortener to make sure these new URLs fit within platform character limits, however (I’m looking at you, Twitter!)

Getting it all just right

Okay, so we’ve covered a lot here, which shows you just how comprehensive your social content strategy must be in order to see success.

To make it a little more palatable, here’s a brief review summarized into 7 easy steps:

  1. Take inspiration from B2C brands.
  2. Learn and use what you can from your biggest competitors.
  3. Solidify your voice.
  4. Choose what you’ll share.
  5. Find the right channels.
  6. Post at the best times.
  7. Measure your success.

And that’s it!

For all you B2B marketers out there, what social media tips and tricks work well for you? What strategies would you warn people to avoid? We wanna hear from you, so leave a comment below!