Effective tips for b-to-b social media plans

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Most b-to-b marketers continue to be challenged with finding the very best direct and digital marketing strategy — one that is effective and appeals to the right constituents within organizations — while not breaking the bank on the marketing budget. Lead generation is a major component of this, and marketers are continually looking for an edge, whether pursuing new data sources or branching out to channels such as social media for the most targeted information about their customers. Our Plug-ins columnists this month address best practices for the complicated business of marketing to the business community, including how to start a social media program — a Twitter account, a Facebook presence, a LinkedIn group or a blog plan — as part of b-to-b marketing strategy; the best methods for choosing email lists; and guidelines for taking advantage of the precision of audience targeting tools within display advertising and combining that with other mediums for maximum results.

Chris Chariton
VP of supplier marketing and marketing services, GlobalSpec

When social media first hit, it was viewed as nothing short of revolutionary. Proponents of the channel proclaimed it would displace traditional marketing with a more genuine buyer-seller dynamic. As it turns out, and despite its widening popularity, social media has not replaced traditional marketing by any means. This is particularly true in the b-to-b world. Instead, social media is more of an enhancement to a brand's overall marketing activities than a separate entity. 


The following are five tips for starting a social media program that will help marketers build a stronger relationship between customers and the brand. The beauty is that nearly all of it can be accomplished for little or no additional budget, except for the investment of time.


  1. First ask, "Why?" When the cry goes up that "we must have a social media plan," try to find out what's behind it. Understand the motivation behind the message. Be sure you can rationalize the foray into social with solid reasoning. Without those answers, you're a ship on the ocean without a compass.


  2. Then ask, "Who?" Do your best to discover the percentage of your customers using social media. For example, in a GlobalSpec survey of engineers and industrial professionals, only 15% of respondents indicated that they have a Twitter account, and more than half of respondents indicated that they are "not at all likely" to sign up for Twitter in the future. 


    Those figures don't exactly scream "we need to be in social media today." Knowing how much of your audience can actually be reached at work via social media will help guide your efforts and budget.


  3. Listen. Before you jump in and start talking, listen instead. There are a variety of free and low-cost social media monitoring tools that can help you find out where the conversations relevant to your business are happening. 


    Open a Twitter account and run searches on key terms, beginning with your organization's name. Read industry blogs including the comments. Set up relevant Google alerts. You'll be much more prepared to jump into the conversation when the time is right. 


  4. Take baby steps. Once you've completed the listening phase, it's time to start talking. Comment on the blogs of others. Join an existing community and offer good advice to its members. Start following key people on Twitter and retweeting their posts. Hopefully they will follow you back and start building your network. 


    Post your own Tweets pointing to or commenting on industry articles and information, making sure to include your most important keywords to make it easy for new users to find and follow you. In short, start putting your organization's name out there in the social media world and start building its reputation.


  5. Establish your outposts. Once you have a feel for what's being said, and what you can add to the conversation, it's time to get active. Launch a LinkedIn group that relates to your industry. Create your Facebook page or a blog with a unique point of view. 


    If there is a gap, create a community. The more relevant content you deliver and the more you engage with your customers, the better so cial media will work for you. 


Craig Conard
President, Sudden Impact Marketing

You can only go to the well so many times. Even the greatest campaign for the best product, with the most attractive offer and creative collateral, will fall flat if you're not reaching high quality, new business prospects. If you're seeing a decrease in response and an increase in opt-outs, your lists are probably oversaturated. You know you need fresh ammunition. What should you do?


  1. 
Identify suitable brokers. Find brokers who manage files that match your desired target audience in terms of company size, industry, geography, desired type of contact, job title, function and purchasing authority of influence. Obtain counts from your identified brokers to determine if their counts support the mass volume your b-to-b marketing program requires. Match rental options, including email, direct mail and phone, to your go-to-market strategy. Determine how the brokers' lists are collected.


  2. Test their lists. Tell the list manager upfront that you intend to run competitive tests before agreeing to a long-term purchase agreement. Agree to terms, and then select three lists that match your criteria. Provide the broker with a list of the types of people you do not want in your target audience.


  3. Measure results. Evaluate your email data using the key metrics of open rates, hard and soft bounces, opt-in rates and leads. Based on two-call attempts to each record, evaluate your phone data. Remember that even respondents who aren't interested are valuable. If your list does contain the right people, you may just need to reach them in a different way or with a different business offer.


  4. Select your vendor. Once you've aggregated the data, you'll have a solid foundation for making your selection. Monitor your ongoing response rates to gauge how effectively the list company invests in continuously cleaning its files. If you see diminishing returns from your list purchase, I recommend 
repeating tests and your selection process annually.

Russell Glass
CEO, Bizo

If only you had a crystal ball that showed you where your target audience was traveling online, and what it already knew about your company, products and brand. The availability of precise business audience targeting tools makes that crystal ball unnecessary. Here are five tips to help marketers use these tools as they seek to engage their target audiences. 


  1. Before you launch your display campaign, know who is on your website. It's important to know who is already engaged with your website content. With tools available today, you can aim higher than simply increasing site traffic. Make sure the business demographic profile of your site visitors fits your target audience. 


  2. Craft your message carefully. Make your message relevant. Be sure your ad creative and landing pages resonate with the stakeholders you're looking to educate and influence. Is it enough to message to "executives," or would it speak more loudly if your creative was geared towards executives in a specific industry or job function? 


  3. 
Stay in front of prospects, even after they leave your website. Use ad retargeting to guarantee that your message stays top of mind as you drive target prospects into and through your marketing funnel. Marketers now have the ability to retarget multiple display ads based on the behaviors of website visitors. 


  4. Combine display with search. The interplay 
between display and search is quite powerful. When run in conjunction with search campaigns, display advertising has been proven to increase the number of branded searches. Beyond search, display can create lift across your entire mix, helping you get a greater return from investments in paid search.


  5. 
Choose your campaign metrics wisely. Measuring to the click is easy, but it is also where too many display campaigns go off track. Your campaigns should be geared towards driving your target audience to take desired actions, and should be optimized to meet conversion goals.
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