What’s next for B2B social media in 2016

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By Paul Gillin,  January 2016

I was recently contacted by a B2B publication looking for some thoughts on what’s coming up in the next year. I thought some of the questions were interesting and worth sharing here.

What trends are gaining momentum in B2B social media right now?

B2B marketers are finally realizing that merely throwing content into the ether is both expensive and wasteful, so they’re trying to target their content better to the audience and purpose. Marketers realize that buyers are people, not demographic segments, so they are appealing more to the motivations that influence human behavior. That’s one reason we see so much interest right now in buyer personas and buyer journeys. Match the content to the stage of the buying cycle and appeal to the human factors that drive decisions, such as professional recognition or, in some cases, fear.

What tactical changes are you seeing in the way B2B marketers use social media?

I’ve seen less interest in stunts this year. I think B2B marketers are realizing that such tactics don’t have much impact in the context of complex decisions. Basically, social media marketing is becoming more businesslike.

There are still remarkable stunts, of course, mainly when a company is trying to build a presence in a new market or create a distinctive profile. The best ones are entertaining but always relevant to an overarching theme or message. The EMC-Lotus daredevil video was a viral hit that mapped well to a year-long marketing theme built on record-setting performance. I love the Ultratech Superhydrophobic demo, which was another viral hit that showcases the product beautifully. Tim Washer does some fantastic comedy videos for Cisco (see below). But do they sell routers and switches? I doubt it. I just think Cisco likes to expose a playful side of the company’s personality.

What challenges do B2B social media marketers continue to struggle with?

Three come to mind in particular:

  1. They’re constantly challenged to enlist subject matter experts to support their programs. Engineers, developers and designers are the most credible and valuable tools marketers have, but it’s difficult get their time and cooperation. I have seen no magic bullet for this problem. It takes time and persistence.
  2. Coming up with creative content is an issue that frequently tops the lists of biggest marketing challenges. I think this is a bigger issue than it should be, however. The approach you take to a topic can be distinctive all by itself, and there are dozens of ways to peel that onion. Start by targeting a stage in the buying cycle.
  3. Measuring ROI is a particularly challenge task in B2B because the buying cycle is long and it’s difficult to assess the value of one contact in the decision process. Marketing automation can help, but when the sale involves dozens of touch points how can you know which one was the closer?

How important is it for a company to have a distinctive personality in social media?

Personality is great but not essential. You can be successful with a straightforward, just-the-facts approach. The important thing isn’t so much to have a distinctive personality as to be genuine. Your social personality should reflect your company culture. If you aren’t fun, don’t try to be. Look for qualities that make you attractive to do business with, such as social responsibility, commitment to customer satisfaction or compassion for your people. Tell stories and use examples that highlight those commitments. But you must be real about them.

Has the importance of content changed?

Absolutely. Five or six years ago the attention was much more on the media than the message. The tools were still new, and simply using them was a novelty. Now that social media is part of the fabric of business, the emphasis has shifted to the message itself. That’s a much bigger challenge. There are a lot of creative players in the game, the noise level is a lot higher and simply being out there won’t do you much good anymore.

Do social media campaigns that highlight customers or employees help bring in business?

Customer testimonials and case studies have been essential to the buying process since long before there was social media. Customers are a critical late-stage endorsement. They validate decisions that prospects have hopefully already made in your favor. And today we have much better ways to show them off. The core of any well-rounded B2B marketing strategy is lots of customer endorsements.

Employees can be a sales tool, but only in the right context. A few years ago a lot of companies published videos showing employees doing goofy things like lip-synching hip-hop or dancing through the lobby. I’m not sure that helped sell anything. I mean, is that the image of your people you want to convey to customers? Showcasing the expertise and experience of your people instead, as Johnson Controls does,  can be a great way to reinforce expertise and experience.

What’s new in social media measurement?

I don’t see any new metrics being used, but I’m seeing existing metrics being combined more effectively to understand how digital affects the buying process. Basically, marketing automation and analytics are improving.

I’m also seeing a greater consensus that simple metrics like page views and retweets don’t mean very much. The lower the barrier to taking an action the less meaningful that action is. It’s encouraging to see marketers talking more about engagement metrics like registrations, comments and shares than clicks and eyeballs.

Creative Commons photo by Frankieleon via Flickr

About Paul Gillin

Paul Gillin is a writer, speaker, online marketing consultant and social media coach with Profitecture. Since 2005, he has helped business-to-business marketers at companies of all sizes and in many industries use social media and quality content to reach and engage with customers. He is also a prolific writer who has published more than 200 articles on the subject of new media. His books include: "The New Influencers" (2007), "Secrets of Social Media Marketing" (2008), "The Joy of Geocaching" (2010) and "Social Marketing to the Business Customer" (2011) and "Attack of the Customers" (2013). He has written the monthly New Channels column for BtoB magazine since 2006. Paul is a veteran technology journalist with more than 25 years of editorial leadership experience. His website is gillin.com and he blogs at paulgillin.com and Newspaper Death Watch.