As 2008 unfolded, our team at Business.com closely monitored exploding interest in B2B social media. The Business.com site is designed to help people find solutions to business challenges through resources like the leading online B2B directory and over 30,000 business how-to guides, and we were intrigued by the potential to connect with our target business decision maker audience through various social media channels.
Like the rest of the industry, we learned from experts like Forrester’s Laura Ramos as they chronicled how early adopters were leveraging social media. We religiously downloaded Marketing Sherpa special reports to glean where business-to-business brands were finding measurable success. We also created our own B2B social media case study that looked at what players like Intuit and Dell were doing right. By year’s end, we were chomping at the bit to dive in!
Our first steps? Defining clear, scalable goals. After all, social media might be a new platform but it’s still marketing, folks. We determined our primary goal is building awareness of the Business.com brand as a source for business solutions and driving higher quality traffic to our site. Our short term goals included determining the key differences between B2C and B2B social media and figuring out just how much effort is really involved in making an impact with B2B social media.
With those critical guide posts staked in the ground, we got to work. In the first half of 2009, Business.com launched two corporate blogs. Each blog targets one of our key audience segments. What Works for Business is the user-facing resource penned by our own small business expert, Dan Kehrer. B2B Online Marketing is our advertiser-focused blog serving up actionable online marketing tips and best practices for B2B marketers.
Over the course of the last five months, we’ve achieved steady growth in the audience for each blog. By testing design, editorial content, plug-ins and posting frequency, we also gained invaluable insight into our audience’s needs and habits. Having two blogs has given us the opportunity to test different approaches and compare results.
To help drive readership and engagement of both blogs, we also joined all the cool kids on Twitter. We started an account that corresponds to each blog, @B2BOnlineMktg and @WhatWorks. We tested key variables – number of Tweets each day, time of day, content of tweets, scheduling tweets, hashtags, etc. We began “following” key social media players like Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) and subject area thought leaders like Anita Campbell (@smallbiztrends) for small business, Galen DeYoung (@GalenDY) for B2B SEO and Stephanie Tilton (@StephanieTilton) for B2B writing/case studies to better understand the Twitter universe (plus find great content to retweet). We even worked hard on creating compelling tweets, a process akin to writing great headlines given the 140 character limit.
Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t always sure what we’re up to is the optimal approach but, hey, that’s what learning is all about and we’ll continue to stumble here and there.
Like most marketers, the biggest challenge we’ve faced has been pinpointing the “right” social media metrics to measure success. Recently, we’ve been focusing on total branded impressions delivered, Twitter follower growth, click through rate on tweets and blog repeat visits to directionally guide our B2B social media efforts. We’ve found tools like HootSuite, Twinfluence, and Radian 6 to be invaluable. In fact, they have become a bit addicting since they show the immediate impact (good or bad) of our efforts.
I think most companies who are honest admit their social media efforts are a bit of an experiment, defined by trial and error. We’ve been particularly surprised/frustrated/overwhelmed by how important the volume of blog posts is to attracting a consistent following and solid search engine rankings. Cranking out quality content is obviously not easy to do with everything else on our plates.
One of our key lessons learned: the importance of clear editorial planning. Don’t expect to do a lot of big posts. Instead, intermix longer ones with more frequent smaller ones. We also recommend finding people on your marketing team with a mix of writing skills. For example, some people are great at writing short summaries of topics, while others can’t seem to write less than 1,000 words to save their lives.
As we begin the second half of 2009, we plan to apply some of the brand extension tactics that the likes of Comcast and Dell discussed at last week’s TWTRCON conference in San Francisco. And we will continue the P.O.S.T strategy that Laura Ramos touted in our recent interview with her. Here are our social media do’s and don’t’s :
- Don’t take on too much- Social media takes significant time to execute well and see results. Focus is critical. No one – including IBM, Cisco, Intel, or other big B2B names – has been successful trying to tackle blogging, Facebook, Twitter, message board participation, etc., all at once.
- Do use social media as a content play for your brand- Refine your content strategy by monitoring key word searches, plugins like “Share This” and Twitter hot topics to gauge most the popular topics in your area of expertise. The key is not just blasting out your message but creating SEO-friendly and unique content that your audience is looking for online.
- Don’t spam - Spam is a big problem online and only getting bigger thanks to all the social media testing going on out there. Producing quality content is vital to long-term success. Don’t sacrifice quality for a few more followers or blog visitors. Period. Remember your company’s reputation is on the line.
- Do figure out what works for you – We’re standing on the shoulders of social media giants, testing out ideas and seeing how they work for us. As we’ve found, some general social media best practices apply to Business.com but some don’t (or apply in unique situations). No one knows YOUR brand and your better that YOU. Look at social media outreach as an opportunity to open a dialogue with your core audience and find out what they want from you. Every company has to experiment with social media and find what works best for them.
Look for more details in future posts as we share important insights from our social media initiatives and visit our collection of best insights and advice about B2B social media strategy and tactics.
In the meantime, tell us: what are your B2B social media do’s and don’t’s?