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From lead to Link: Using LinkedIn and other social tactics to convert B2B customers

B2B marketers have never had more opportunities to create engaging content, with social platforms like LinkedIn making light work of the challenges around targeting vast audience groups at scale.

Content is set to be one of the biggest areas of growth in the B2B market, with 42 per cent of marketers saying they plan to increase spend in this area this year, according to Forrester. Additionally, with 94 per cent of business buyers conducting some form of online research prior to decision-making, content is more important than ever for B2B marketers – and social media is helping them target this content to the right audience.

With 400 million professional members globally, LinkedIn is hard to rival for scale and audience targeting. Allan Blair, head of strategy at Tribal Worldwide, says the platform enables marketers to create a dialogue with business customers.

“LinkedIn offers B2B businesses the opportunity to target specific industries, job titles and even individuals with detailed product content. It’s a great opportunity to create a dialogue with their customers around job related issues.”

Producing content quickly, in an agile manner, is something marketers have had to grapple with in recent years, and nowhere more so than in the B2B space where providing insights, generating relevant case studies and setting forth solutions to potential buyers’ business problems is central. Whether organic or paid, social content is playing an increasingly essential role in building that dialogue.

“It’s been a very sudden swing. The chief executive now consumes content from a brand on a mobile, so writing content in a format that can have impact in a relatively short amount of time, rather than something that is printed and consumed over many hours, is one of the key adaptions B2B marketers have had to make,” explains Henry Clifford-Jones, director, marketing solutions at LinkedIn.

This perhaps explains the growth of LinkedIn’s sponsored content updates. Clifford-Jones puts this down to the fact marketers are targeting users with sponsored content while they are in a “professional mindset”, adding that “you have to be able to reach somebody, that decision maker or chief marketing officer, but you don’t want to reach them when they’re thinking about their family – you want to reach them when they’re thinking about work.”

‘Work mode’

Though by far the biggest social network globally by numbers, Facebook’s effectiveness as a B2B platform has been questioned by marketers. Rob Blackie, director of social at OgilvyOne Business, says LinkedIn trumps it for organic reach. Research commissioned by the agency suggests a brand with 100 followers across LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will get 95 views on LinkedIn for one of its posts, but just 10 on Twitter and one on Facebook.

However, Blair argues, it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Facebook is a much richer platform for speaking to a broad audience at scale. B2B audiences are on Facebook, but usually aren’t using it in ‘work mode’. Nevertheless it is a chance for businesses to create more emotional content around their products and services – things professionals will engage with and share in their personal lives because they say something about them and their industry.”

Laurier Nicas Alder, head of social at TMW Unlimited, argues that Facebook’s keen media targeting means B2B brands shouldn’t overlook its potential. “With a current base of 1.59 billion monthly active users, all catalogued with specific professional interests and behaviours, you’re dealing with a massive database that can be drilled down to very specific audience; that’s hard for any brand to ignore. B2B is just marketing to people like B2C is, but in a different context.”

How is b2b social marketing getting results?

Knowing what content resonates with audiences

Effective content strategies avoid making assumptions about what topics will resonate with a target audience; content discovery tools such as BuzzSumo can help you curate your content based on analysis of what’s currently engaging them.

Providing something useful

Microsoft’s Skype for Business LinkedIn page has a nice mix of content, including a series of useful practical snippets on how to get the best use of the platform, such as how to take notes using OneNote during a Skype conversation, all presented in a graphical format that's quick to digest.

Drawing on the insights of communities and the industry

Adobe’s mix of content on its LinkedIn company pages includes posts featuring tips from professionals on topics relevant to that audience, for instance, practical advice from designers on how to avoid the most common mistakes in web design.

Using rich content for better explanation of B2B subjects

Marketers shouldn’t neglect video in a B2B context – it can be the best way to communicate often complex concept and convince buyers of the product or solution’s benefits.

“B2B subjects typically need to be explained in more detail, within context, in order to capture the attention, interest and, ultimately, money of a potential buyer,” says Rob Blackie of OgilvyOne Business.

“Videos are the ideal medium to do this, but are often too costly to invest in purely for social channels. Gifs are a great alternative – particularly when it comes to conveying graphical information but they need to substance behind them.”

Harnessing visual content to enhance B2B social pages

Visual platforms such as Instagram are now central in the marketing efforts of many B2C brands, but B2B companies can also benefit from the power of images – take shipping group Maersk, which gives a bit of personality to an otherwise dull brand by displaying beautiful photography posts on its Facebook page (pictured).

This idea is echoed by Blackie, who says more of his clients are rejecting the view that B2B is fundamentally different. “We’re marketing to human beings, which means we have to be relevant, human and interesting to keep their attention. That doesn’t mean everything has to be tweet length, but being serious doesn’t mean you have to be boring. However, recognising this doesn’t mean that we should simply dumb everything down and act as if we are selling chocolate.”

Are we seeing a swing to B2B content becoming more emotional and less focused on capabilities? Possibly, argues Blair, who suggests we’re witnessing a shift in tone. “In some ways B2B marketing is becoming more emotional, pulling on the levers that make people feel proud and happy to do their job, but in other ways it’s becoming less like marketing and more like a service. B2B brands are producing content and tools that help people be more effective at their job, and explaining why their products are integral to them. It’s a new way of thinking and a smarter way to talk to this audience.”

Helpful gestures

What’s for sure is that business buyers want to be understood. 68 per cent value vendors that understand their business issues and can clearly articulate how to solve them, according to Forrester.

Clifford-Jones argues that because LinkedIn users are trying to get better at what they do, marketers can succeed by helping them achieve their individual goals on the way to tackling business goals. “Content that is not only cognisant of what the marketer wants to achieve, but also cognisant of what the member is trying to achieve, is the stuff that tends to generate the best results.”

The shift to mobile is one of the biggest challenges facing B2B marketers in the social domain, often leaving them struggling to connect the dots when it comes to buyers moving through the sales cycle. According to Blackie, small gestures can make a big difference in ensuring the user stays engaged with content across various platforms.

“Offering simple solutions such as ‘email yourself a link to this’ work best because they enable readers to move content across devices – typically from their personal mobile to their work laptop. Small gestures and tools like these significantly increases engagement and conversion levels.”

Control

The ability to measure, track and attribute results has moved front of mind for all marketers and as such many businesses are turning to the control and agility that self-serve platforms offer. This is a significant area of growth for LinkedIn.

Despite closing its lead accelerator ad business after just one year, saying it “required more resources than anticipated to scale,” sponsored content updates are the company’s fastest area of growth. Furthermore, it is planning to improve its self-serve capabilities, according to Clifford-Jones, by building on the realisation that there are a large number of companies who want to access the platform in a more “scaleable” way.

“Our strategy is to build one unified platform,” he says, adding that self-serve is “vital” to LinkedIn ensuring it is servicing all types of B2B marketers.

“We realise there are a relatively small number of larger customers who have sophisticated agencies and marketing departments that can work directly with us to invest in campaigns on an ongoing basis. There are many more companies who also have B2B marketing goals who want to access the platform in a more scaleable way than they can do themselves.”

So, do self-serve tools level the playing field for B2B? Clifford-Jones believes so, saying they open up opportunities usually only afforded to large brands. “In days of old there were only a certain number of clients of a certain size who could afford to invest in the Financial Times or buy a TV spot, so to a certain extent, self service gives the power of social marketing tools to all types of companies.”

This feature was first published in The Drum's special B2B issue.