When we hear the term “social media”, many tend to think instinctively of the giants that deliver and dominate the world's everyday online conversations – Facebook, Twitter and now Google+. After all, we make extensive use of these platforms in our personal and our professional lives, both as consumers and publishers.
But, the frontrunner in the B2B social media space isn't any of the sites mentioned above. Instead, it's the rather more serious and business-like LinkedIn. And when you look into its killer demographics, you see why. Steve Rayson's recent slideshare puts LinkedIn's membership at 250 million, 69% of whom are in the higher-income decision-making bracket, and 79% of whom are 35 or older. It's hardly Facebook, is it?
So what, then, are the dos and don'ts of effective B2B content marketing in a social media environment where work is the thing and inexpert youth is largely absent?
LinkedIn as part of your online marketing strategy
When Rayson refers to the LinkedIn as “the preferred B2B social marketing platform”, he's not joking. His figures, although assembled from different sources, present a pretty convincing overall picture - LinkedIn scores:
- Higher than any other social media site when it comes to the percentage of B2B marketers who use it to distribute content (91%)
- Higher than any other social media site in its ability to drive traffic to corporate websites
- Higher than any other social media site (or blog) in its ability to deliver customers
So what is it within LinkedIn that attains such stellar metrics - and how should your business engage with it?
With the number of business people using LinkedIn as a networking tool, it lends itself to a B2B content marketing approach that is based around communities and groups that share similar interests and/or challenges. Two sets of insight on the most and least effective online marketing strategies for LinkedIn have featured in recent posts from Fortune 500 entrepreneur Kevin Daum and Hubspot specialist, Diana Urban. Let’s explore some of the salient points that their combined wisdom proffers:
- Join LinkedIn groups and be active in them – LinkedIn groups represent members' specific interests. If those interests are also your customers' interests, then those groups are where your customers will spend time. So your content should take the form of thoughtful responses to the group discussions, connecting helpfully with your customers' pain points. Start new discussions yourself, if the group rules will allow it. Readers can “like” posts and follow you and your business if they find your content helpful, publicising your contributions further and elevating your profile.
- Be a content curator - Don't be afraid to share great content that you didn't produce (as long as you reference its origins, of course). If you can become a skilled curator of other people's content, you can still be seen as a source of unique value by members of the LinkedIn groups.
- Do “social listening” - and respond – Social listening should be an integral part of any social media strategy. And as we’ve previously mentioned, LinkedIn groups are a forum where you can do precisely this; be part of the conversation on the issues, trends and challenges in your industry or profession. Listen, engage, respond, and inform fellow participants. This is your opportunity to establish your business as an industry expert and a “go-to” resource for partners, colleagues and customers alike.
- Don't self-promote – Whatever content you share or produce, whatever messages you send, they should be based first and foremost around the premise that you share interests with the reader and therefore can provide information that is of value and interest to them. You will quickly lose the interest and trust of LinkedIn connections or fellow group members if all you do is broadcast and sell. If your content doesn't pass this litmus test, don't post it. A link back to some genuinely helpful material on your own site or blog, for example, is fine. An exhortation to hire or buy from you is not.
- Make sure your content gets you found - Content is as essential for getting you found in this online environment as it is in any other. In LinkedIn, your personal profile and your company page are certainly useful in SEO terms, so they should be complete, updated whenever necessary, and optimised with the correct keywords and appropriate anchor text. LinkedIn has some tools to help you with this, and you should definitely read its own top tips on creating effective content for your company page.
LinkedIn and its limitations
Despite LinkedIn's impeccable B2B community credentials, some of its derivative activities rely on processes and procedures that are not altogether credible. Buzzfeed's Scott Bryan, for example, in an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek rant, bemoans both LinkedIn's automated recommendation system (which is something they could do better, I suspect) and the tendency of people to “big themselves up” in their profiles and updates (which is something LinkedIn can do nothing about at all).
Equally, for every vendor, recruitment consultant and distributor that has understood the primacy of involvement and quality content in building an influential presence on LinkedIn, scores haven't. Indeed, LinkedIn experts have confirmed to me that unsolicited sales approaches have caused many users to change their preferences in order to avoid unwelcome overtures - thus screening out many legitimate approaches, too.
But perhaps the biggest challenge to LinkedIn's content marketing effectiveness is the growing "noise" in a number of the Groups created by people who don't heed the best-practice wisdom about not being "spammy." Experienced LinkedIn users will recognise that the enjoyment and effectiveness of some Groups is being hampered by people posting updates that are entirely self-serving and uninteresting.
Content opportunities notwithstanding, then, LinkedIn still poses some challenges - for its own members and for B2B marketers alike. If you are ready though to embrace the social networking benefits of the platform, engage with it in a way that is useful, insightful and informative to your business connections and beyond, then there's a lot to be gained from it as part of your B2B online marketing.
Image Esther Vargas