“But I’m from a B2B company. How does all of this apply to us?” I must get a version of this question in almost every content marketing workshop I run. My answer is always the same: “B2B customers are people too.”
On entering the office, we don’t stuff our B2C brains into the desk drawer, replacing them with pin-striped B2B versions allocated to us by HR. If that deathly dull and overly formal white paper would put me to sleep as a B2C reader, it’s not suddenly going to find me more attentive because the clock is somewhere between 9 and 5.
Of course, there are some differences between B2C and B2B marketing – multiple stakeholders for one – but on an individual level, the two have far more in common than not. Social media has broadened the scope of so-called professional conversations, allowing people to discuss topics and share content once confined to the personal realm.
“We talk about so many more things,” says Claire Austin, content marketing evangelist for LinkedIn Australia. “There’s no way my parents would’ve discussed things like mindfulness, the psychological effects of working, or the challenge of going back to work after childbirth. These were just things you just got on with and no one spoke about (in the workplace). Whereas now, these are things that we do need to speak about and we’re happy to speak about them.
“People want to share their experiences. They want to be able to help others – help inform and inspire.”
LinkedIn ranks high as B2B social media platform
LinkedIn has long been seen as the formal pinstripe suit to Facebook’s Hawaiian shirt. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s latest B2B benchmark report for North America, 92% of B2B marketers use social media for content distribution, a rate just below email usage (93%). And LinkedIn commands a massive 97% of B2B marketers who take social media action, almost double the number reported in 2010.
But it has changed a great deal since first launching as a careers-focused networking platform in – wait for it – 2003. (Yes, LinkedIn is older than Twitter, Facebook, and even Myspace. Crikey, most of us probably hadn’t even heard of social media back then.)
LinkedIn may have started as a way to find career opportunities via job listings and networking, but that’s not why people return regularly these days. Today, visitors view content on LinkedIn seven times more often than job listings. It’s not hard to see why. LinkedIn has steadily evolved into a content platform, acquiring and integrating other content services such as news aggregator Pulse, presentation platform SlideShare, and online learning company Lynda.
“Just seeing the amount of work that’s going into developing the platform and, especially since the Microsoft acquisition, the amount of product innovation that’s happening, it’s really, really interesting,” says Austin. “LinkedIn is growing and building that reputation to be that one place for professionals to stay informed, stay connected, and learn.”
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In whose content do we trust?
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer report reveals that 62% of people trust a brand’s social media more than its advertising. And Business Insider’s Digital Trust Report found LinkedIn is far more trusted by users than either Facebook or Twitter.
“LinkedIn is up there as the number one amongst social and is also (comparable) to publications like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes,” says Austin. “That says a lot about how people are using the platform and how they see it. For brands, that’s a massive opportunity.”
But not every person speaking on behalf of a brand is equally trusted, even on LinkedIn. According to the Edelman report, people trust information and advice given to them by an employee of a company significantly more than they do from the CEO. And people trust people who are “like them” even more than company people. It is the individual rather than the faceless brand who carries more authority, particularly if people can relate to them.
Yet Austin believes many brands don’t take full advantage of that authority and trust. “Only 3% of employees share company-relevant content, so there’s still a massive opportunity for marketers to look at their employee base and say, ‘Well why aren’t they sharing? How can we help them? What do they want to be talking about?’” she says. “Direction needs to be given from the company as well. ‘This is for you to be able to build up your personal brand,’ and, ‘Here’s some content to help you do that, and here are some topics you might be interested in sharing.’”
Brands don’t use just for content campaigns
While most B2B marketers are using LinkedIn, some still use it as an occasional strategy when time, budget, and resources allow, or when there is a big campaign or product launch.
“It’s more crucial than ever to be ‘always on.’ Pretty much any B2B buyer (will consume) 10 pieces of content during that purchase process,” says Austin. “So, if you want to be in that consideration set and you want to be part of the 10 pieces of content, you need to be visible at all times. The brands that are flourishing and doing really well – getting the best return on investment and the best performance from their campaigns – are those that have this ‘always-on’ strategy.
“It’s really helping to build trust in their brand and to have that thought leadership and to have focus and to start owning key words or key subjects and being known for certain topics and themes. Then they can layer campaign work on top of that.”
Content leading to conversions
While B2B marketers spend a lot of time publishing and sharing content on LinkedIn to build a following, most eventually want the audience to follow a link to the website or wherever the lead might be captured or conversion might happen.
“It’s about having an equal balance of understanding what they will consume in their (social media) feed and when it’s right to drive them off platform,” says Austin. “Marketers often think too much about one piece of content. This content has to go there, and then they’re going to take this next step and then they’re going to do that, and it’s so linear.”
Austin explains that people typically consume at least three to four pieces of content before clicking to engage with a brand on its platform. She continues, “Expecting people to immediately go and sign up to your newsletter and then download something is quite narrow-minded. This is where we need to get more creative with the content that we’re doing on LinkedIn.
“If you’ve created a white paper and you’re thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to host this on my website and I’m going to drive people there,’ that’s not how people behave. What is in that white paper? How can we use it more effectively? That’s when it becomes about creating content for the platforms. It’s about taking some of the stats out of that, making it into really great creative that sits on the LinkedIn platform.”
Every new piece of related content reinforces the idea in the person’s mind, says Austin; “It’s like seeing an ad for a blockbuster movie. You might see it once and think it looks interesting. You see it again and then the third time you see it and now you really want to go and see that movie.”
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute