The B2B marketer’s guide to social media's shifting role in the marketing mix

Earlier this week, The Drum kicked off the launch of its US magazine and its online dedicated B2B hub with a breakfast panel at AOL’s headquarters in New York City.

Panelists included managing director of Stein IAS San Francisco Ted Kohnen, chief marketing officer of Mercer Steven Faigen, AOL's vice president of business and consumer marketing Michele Morelli, and chief marketing officer of HCL Technologies Matt Preschern.

During the panel, the speakers discussed how B2B brands can best leverage social media to achieve their business goals and what challenges marketers in the space are currently facing with it comes to effectively using platforms like Snapchat and LinkedIn.

See five takeaways below:

Define what real-time means for your brand

Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet has become the quintessential example of a brand successfully executing a real-time social media strategy, but B2B marketers are often dealing with much more complicated subject matter than a cookie maker trying to jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon.

Determining what exactly “real-time” means can be a bit murkier for B2B brands since they tend to operate within highly regulated and complex fields like pharmaceuticals or financial services. Approval processes aside, these brands must be careful when it comes to what they can and cannot say on social, which can sometimes hinder how swiftly they can respond to events in the news.

“We’re very careful not to be real-time on the most critical issues,” said Preschern. “I always tell my team, ‘look, if it’s a really hot issue, we better step back. We don’t have to respond in five minutes’”.

Faigen said that he defines real-time as “within the legitimate confines of the daily news cycle, so not five minutes but not tomorrow either,” adding that sometimes the best real-time strategy is preparing for what is yet to come.

“A lot of our ability to act quickly has to do with the work we do well in advance,” he said, adding that preparing reactions related to an upcoming court decision, change in law or economic event can help B2B brands make the most of their time.

Set social media guidelines

It might sound contradictory, but having guidelines and a structure for your social media team can actually help it operate more nimbly.

For example, Morelli said AOL’s parent company Verizon has set out guidelines for the publisher so her team knows what they can and cannot respond to on social.

“This allows us to have freedom and [Verizon] knows that we can respond to things in real-time because they know that we know the guidelines and where the boundaries are. That way, you don’t have to get every tweet approved,” she said.

Kohnen echoed Morelli’s sentiment, stating that “to really have a social media operation that allows you to be agile and nimble, you actually need to have a foundation in place first, particularly in highly regulated markets.”

Invest in paid social to rise above the noise

It’s no surprise that today’s social environment is becoming increasingly crowded. With an abundance of both platforms and content, it’s easy for a post to become buried within a matter of minutes.

That’s why Kohnen said many of his clients are shifting their budgets from print and digital display to paid social and paid search.

“Every client that I have has increased their paid media spend in social and there’s a very simple reason for that. It’s because there’s a lot of noise. Even in the B2B market, even in the most niche sectors, there’s a lot of noise and honestly there’s a lot of junk content out there but it still creates a lot of noise.”

Preschern added that there are many circumstances where a B2B brand could benefit from investing in paid social and paid search marketing. Whether your brand is trying to enter a new market space or is launching a new product, putting some money behind your content can help get the message out.

“Unless you spend some money on the paid side, you simply won’t show up,” he said.

…but make sure your content is worth the money

While paying for social posts is a good way to rise above the noise, it won’t mean much if nobody is interested in the content you’re pushing out.

“If you throw money at something and your content isn’t good, it really doesn’t make a difference,” said Preschern.

Creating eye-catching B2B content is no easy feat, but the panelists all agreed that at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that they are marketing to human beings just like B2C brands do.

“The emotional connection that you build as a B2B brand is super important,” Preschern added.

From a corporate standpoint, Morelli said AOL doesn’t see a difference between B2B and B2C – and because of that, she expects her social media team to create content “that is interesting and actually useful instead of checking a box.”

She said that she tells her team to avoid writing or creating content that they wouldn’t be interested in reading or looking at themselves.

“I ask them to start from the premise that no one cares. Just pretend like you’re going to write something and no one cares, and try to make them care,” she said.

Be a thought leader

Executives and specialists from B2B brands often have a wealth of knowledge about not only their company but their respective industries as well.

Because of this, Kohnen said it’s important to take advantage of any event that “shines a spotlight on your industry” since people will likely go to their social channels to seek out information and opinions from trusted sources.

“For our clients in the technology space, anytime there’s a cybersecurity issue, we know that there’s going to be an intense focus on that issue and that gives our brands an opportunity to capitalize on that that issue and to be out there from a thought leader perspective with a provocative position,” he said.