When it comes to social media, many B2B marketers are skeptical. Sure, they may have taken the “obligatory steps,” and set up accounts to distribute thought leadership, notes TrackMaven’s Ian Walsh; however, the CMO of the digital marketing analytics provider says that many B2B marketers are more so hoping for something “automagical” to happen than actually linking their social media activities back to their bottom line.
“A lot of B2B marketers have some skin in the game of social media,” he says, “but they haven’t really committed all the way.”
Nevertheless, Walsh argues that social media does add value, specifically by providing educational and engaging content to buyers who aren’t quite ready to speak with a salesperson—a significant benefit considering that CEB and Google say the average B2B buyer completes 57% of his purchase process before engaging sales.
“If social media content in itself is educational and engaging, or points back to content that is educational and engaging, then buyers are certainly going to engage with that,” Walsh says. “That’s going to help buyers shape their decision-making process and shape their priorities, so if the content is well done by the B2B company, it’s going to tilt the buyer’s perception of what their needs are in favor of what that supplier has to offer.”
Some B2B marketers already recognize social media’s worth and apply the channel to their overall mix. To help other marketers learn from these leaders, TrackMaven released its “2016 Social Media Impact Report.” Here’s a summary of some of its key findings.
The big picture:
For the report, TrackMaven analyzed a year’s worth of content produced from 316 B2B companies across 17 different sectors on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. It then plotted the 2015 follower growth on an x axis and the engagement ratio—the average number of interactions (e.g. shares, comments) per 1,000 followers—on the y axis. It also created various sized “bubbles” that represent the median audience size for the five social channels combined for each of those B2B sectors.
Based on the analysis, here are some of the key findings:
- Biotech, engineering, and financial services companies are in the lead. The companies in these sectors have both significant audience growth and high content engagement on social media. According to the report, the financial services industry experienced an average follower growth of 81.77% per brand, and biotech organizations have the most engaged followers, with an average ratio of 12.46.
- Machinery manufacturers are experiencing the highest audience growth. Machinery manufacturers see an average follower growth rate of 129.02%, putting it ahead of its B2B peers in this category.
- Software providers generate high follower growth, but low engagement. Although the software sector’s total follower count is up 82%, its customer engagement ratio is at a lowly 2.62.
Walsh considers engagement the “paramount” social metrics because it gives marketers a clearer picture of how well they’re moving the needle. Of course, some companies drive engagement better than others, and some have more success on certain channels. Consider:
- LinkedIn isn’t the end-all-be-all. Despite its popularity in the B2B community, LinkedIn tends to drive low engagement. Even the machine manufacturers that perform the best on LinkedIn only see an engagement ratio of 1.98 interactions per post for every 1,000 followers. Walsh suspects that this is because most people who visit a company’s LinkedIn page either work for that company or are interested in working for that company; they’re not necessarily interested in buying from the company.
“LinkedIn, in many cases, is just a portal to get to other content,” he says “whereas Facebook and Instagram are the places where content can live and people can truly engage with it within the platform itself.”
- Instagram generates more B2B engagement than Twitter. On the surface, Instagram may seem like a channel solely reserved for B2C brands. However, TrackMaven’s data shows that most B2B companies experience their highest engagement ratios via this platform, aside from those in the biotech and financial services sectors. The average engagement ratio on Twitter, contrastingly, is less than two interactions per post per 1,000 followers across all categories, according to the report. Walsh says Twitter is more of a “low-touch, high volume” conversation place. “Don’t expect a high level of engagement on Twitter.”
- Pinterest pays off for financial services companies. Pinterest isn’t just for home décor and recipe ideas. According to the report, Pinterest is the most effective engagement platform for financial services companies, generating an average ratio of 69.92; that’s four times higher than the engagement generate via the runner up, Instagram (17.43). Commercial banking brands are leading the way in this sector, producing an average engagement ratio of 76.44.
Audience size is more of a vanity metric, Wahl says. Still, he says audience size can play a role in engagement because it helps marketers drive reach and impressions.
“Audience size still does matter,” he says, “because if you’re creating content that engages, the more people you have in your audience…the more cumulative engagement you’re going to get.”
Walsh encourages marketers to focus on engagement because if their content is truly engaging, it will go viral and expand their brand’s audience. “The viral engagement content has that mushroom effect,” he explains.
Here are the channels and industries that are driving the most followers in the B2B world today.
- LinkedIn is the leading online watering hole. Although it produces low engagement, LinkedIn garners the largest social media following for all but three B2B sectors.
- Professional service providers are social savants. With a combined following of 2.5 million, professional services providers have the largest social media audience across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. In fact, out of all of the sectors analyzed, professional service providers were one of two to have an average Pinterest following greater than 3,000, and an average LinkedIn audience of 1.2 million.
- Computer hardware companies make friends on Facebook. Professional service providers may have the largest overall social media following, but computer hardware organizations have the edge when it comes to Facebook followers, generating an average of 1.2 million page likes.
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