B2B Company? You Need an Agency with B2B Experience

If you are a marketer for a B2B company and are considering contracting an agency to execute social media marketing initiatives on your behalf, you should look to agencies with expertise in B2B marketing. Most agencies that specialize in social media have a lot of business-to-consumer (B2C) experience. They identify clients’ target markets and use online social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to boost brand awareness with the goal of turning people into customers, donors, users, members, etc.

But the B2B sales cycle is different from the B2C cycle. It is more complex, and is much longer. To be successful in B2B sales, companies need to connect with prospective clients and develop relationships with them prior to the beginning of the sales cycle to establish baseline awareness and engagement. A competent social media agency recognizes this, and initiates conversations through Twitter or other social sites to introduce individuals to their clients’ services and provides them with insightful and helpful content. Once this engagement is established, the agency will continue to monitor the activities of your prospective clients, and will be able to recognize when the opportunity arises to position your service as the solution to your prospects’ business needs. Only an agency that understands the complexities of a client’s industry and business model, as well as the typical pain points of the client’s prospects, can be effective at managing these communications and generating new business leads.

A superior agency also recognizes that the sales cycle does not end when you close a deal. Good social media agencies understand that social networks can amplify voices, and that a satisfied customer who raves about your product or service on Twitter can increase word-of-mouth brand awareness, and ultimately, generate more sales for you. But on the other hand, a dissatisfied customer can cripple your sales success, so an effective agency understands the importance of staying in touch with your customers after the close of a sale. If a customer tweets about a problem he or she is having with your service or relationship, your agency representative will reach out and ask how he or she can help. Or at the minimum, the agency will direct the customer to the individual capable of solving his or her problem to avoid any further negative discourse.

Based on our experience, successful B2B Social Media Lead Generation Programs are the result of carefully planned and executed strategies that incorporate the above. These programs typically involve tactics such as:

  • Content development (e.g. white papers, webinars, podcasts, etc.)
  • Monitoring online networks frequented by prospective clients
  • Starting and participating in conversations with prospective clients through these same social channels
  • Web site landing page development to capture business leads
  • Customer relationship management (the process of recording interactions with current and prospective clients and using the information to improve customer service)
  • Drip Marketing (distributing several promotional items over a long period of time to maintain contact with current and prospective clients)

A good B2B social media marketing agency will know how to leverage these tactics and social tools to build brand awareness, listen effectively, start and participate in conversations, maintain good relationships, and most importantly generate quality new business leads.

How exactly should we be using Twitter?

mm_twitter1Quite often we receive this question from individuals that possess varied amounts of online savvy. Some have a solid grasp of how to utilize sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for personal and professional purposes, but they struggle to understand the benefits (and the “point”) of Twitter. Others are just confused about everything that is going on in the world of new media and find Twitter to be the most perplexing.

The fact of the matter is that there is no easy answer to the question. As an individual, you can do whatever you want to do with Twitter. You can follow your favorite celebrities, follow your favorite news site for real-time news updates, or you could just follow a few of your friends in order to communicate with them all within one channel.

But there are plenty of ways to get more out of the time and energy that you devote to Twitter. For the job seeker desperately looking for employment opportunities in a recession, there are hosts of individuals, recruiters and businesses available to follow and add to your network. If you are gainfully employed, you should follow those individuals and organizations that can provide insights that are relevant to you and your industry–journalists, competitors, trade groups, thought leaders, etc.

The key to running a Twitter account for your business differs a bit. As a brand on Twitter, it is important to be even more engaging with users, and also mindful of all of your brand mentions. Every Twitter user out there should be considered as either a customer or a prospect. The opportunities to respond to customer complaints (brand management) or prospect inquiries (lead generation) on Twitter are extraordinary. But bear in mind the importance of maintaining a human feel to the Twitter account. No one on the social web wants to interact with corporate robots so make sure that you develop a personlity for your brand. Focus on posting quality information rather than massive quantities of untargetted SPAM. PC World provides a more extensive examination of how businesses should be using Twitter here.

Are you doing anything differently for yourself or your company on Twitter? Let us hear it.

What the Heck Is SEO?

If you own a business you probably have a website (if you don’t, get one…fast!). If you have a website, then you have undoubtedly heard the term “SEO”. Well, what exactly is “SEO”? It’s a question I ask people regularly and I am still amazed at the myriad answers that I receive. The simple answer is that it’s an acronym for “Search Engine Optimization”. Most people get the search engine part; it’s the optimization part that usually has them stumped. Regardless of their level of understanding, the typical response is “I’m not really clear on how it works, but I know I should be doing it.” And they’re right! If you’re not optimizing your website for search, you’re missing out thousands of potential business leads!

So what is it? SEO is a unique, and highly effective, approach to internet marketing that aims to improve the quality of leads driven to a company’s website via search engines. More technically, SEO is the strategic and thematic alignment of specific keywords with content and HTML code. The goal is to increase the relevance of keywords within the text copy so that search engines will view it as pertinent and easy to index. Put a bit more simply: it is the process of making a website more attractive to search engines. The more attractive it is, the higher the rank.

seo1As an inbound marketing strategy, SEO takes into consideration two things: the nature of search engine spiders and how they crawl the web, and the way in which a potential consumer will search for services. Research shows that people are inherently drawn to the top five entries on the first page of a search result. The higher the search rank the more credible the source is perceived. Imagine if your company’s website came up first when a potential customer searched for the specific services you provide or the products you sell. Your company would be perceived as the best, most relevant source for whatever it is you sell or provide.

The purpose of any company’s website is to attract online users and business, and numerous studies have shown that the majority of online users find what they are looking for via search engines. This means amazing possibilities for business lead generation! In today’s Web 2.0 world, people want to find information on their own and be engaged by it. They do not want to pick up the phone and listen to a sales call when they can search for the information they want, when they want to search for it. As a business, that means that you want to be front and center whenever a search is performed on your particular services. Let your customers find you on their own – which they happily will – and when you ask them how they heard about your company, don’t be surprised when they say “Google”.

Are you on the right track?

So why would you use social media to market your products?  Is it because it’s what the cool kids are doing? I hope that’s not your rationale.  If that is your reason, then you’re probably not using it to its full potential.

Granted, the cool kids ARE doing it, but that’s not the point.  Social Media Marketing is an incredibly effective tool with a reach that is ultimately beyond being truly quantifiable.  Nevertheless, there are techniques to track many of the results of a Social Media Marketing campaign and use those results to determine ROI.

It’s not always easy, but it is absolutely essential to running a successful campaign.  More to the point, it’s essential to get your client’s CFO to sign off on that campaign.  We all understand the profound value of Social Media Marketing campaigns, but the reason we’re successful is because we know how to communicate that value to the campaign’s beneficiary.

Here is a quick primer on some of the more basic ways to track a Social Media Campaign:

1. Site Traffic: If the goal of your campaign is to increase brand awareness, then benchmarking and measuring spikes in traffic to your website and blog or numbers of followers on Twitter can serve as a rough indication of how a campaign is driving brand impressions.

2. Conversions: Similar to what you might do with an SEO campaign, having your Social Media Campaign tied to specific conversion goals on your site can provide you with very specific success benchmarks in the form of highly-qualified leads.

3. Backlinks: If the goal of your campaign is to build a general following, then you should be measuring increases in backlinks to your Website, blog, wiki or whatever happens to be the epicenter of that following.  They can be easily tracked with Google and give you a great feel for who’s taking you seriously enough to link to you.

There are much more involved techniques that we use, but these represent some simple ideas to start with.  I’d love to hear feedback and suggestions for other basic techniques!

Couch Potato Predictions

As we all turn a new page and start making plans for the coming year, those of us in marketing may want to reconsider this year’s online video strategy.

2008 was a landmark year for online video. Not only were 75% of the U.S. internet audience watching videos online, but the average online video viewer watched nearly four hours of online video per month. Hulu, one of the most popular sites for watching hit TV shows and movies online, launched in March. Now it’s hard for me to even imagine keeping up with my favorite TV shows without it. Tivo? Who needs it anymore? I can watch the latest “The Office” episode right on my laptop, anytime, and with limited commercial interruptions.

I had the opportunity to attend a MITX panel discussion a few weeks ago, entitled “Planning Your Online Video Strategy for 2009”. What inspired me most was the out-of-the-box solutions the panelists suggested. Online videos are much more than just an advertising venue concerned with logo placement and banner ads. Creating an online video is really about publishing, creative story-telling and engaging the viewer. Some of the most memorable videos of 2008 were either user-generated or created under relatively low budgets. Who can forget the chubby guy lip-synching to the “Numa Numa” song (a clip which later got used in a Weezer music video)? Or the “Where the Hell is Matt?” video of a man dancing across the world? And those are just two of hundreds of viral hits.

Dynamic videos, which have been under the radar until recently, will come full blast in 2009. You may have received a link during the presidential elections where the video plays out as if you were one of the candidates. Your name appears throughout the video on billboards, in the various news headlines seamlessly, and even tattoed on the lower back of an old lady.

By customizing videos in this manner, viewers will be more engaged in the story, and given the right technology, may even be able to drive how the story unfolds. To clarify, recall those decision-based storybooks where you flip to different pages depending on what you want the hero/heroine to do? Now picture that same user-driven approach within an interactive video, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what’s to come. No two viewers will experience the video the same. PermissionTV currently has a platform for creating these non-linear videos.

The MITX panel discussion also revolved around strategies for promoting your company’s videos on a blog, through social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) and even through other videos. You really don’t need an uber-professional crew of cameramen and actors to get a video done – use the resources that you have in-house and try to get as many online videos out there as you can. [check out this successful low-budget video by HubSpot: “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing“]

The more creative or funny you can be with the story, the better. I’d also steer clear of creating very obvious self-promotion videos. Online video viewers are very savvy and can smell an ad campaign from a mile away. Interestingly, major corporations like Gatorade, JCPenny and EA Sports, who all launched successful viral videos last year, did so with very minimal branding incorporated. Check out EA Sports’ video response to a glitch caught in their Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 game “Tiger Woods Walks on Water” as well as JCPenny’s “Beware of the Doghouse” video. Both are extremely well done, with little self-promotion – and more importantly – they’re fun to watch while getting the message across.

It’s just a matter of time before every household has an internet-enabled TV set, and once that time comes, you want to be on-board with your own series of cool online videos. So pull out your digital cameras, figure out your strategy – and Action!