B2B Social Media Marketing: Is Social Media Marketing Dead?

If you had talked to someone about social media 20 years ago, they would have had no idea what you were talking about. Social media was barely a blip on most people’s radars back then. Now, even with a generational gap between social media users, you would have to live under a rock to not know anything about social media. Just look at the front-page mainstream media stories about risqué Instagram photos or whatever outrageous tweet was just published from the White House… social media can have a major impact.  But is it still useful as a primary tool for B2B marketing?

There is no denying social media is important – when was the last time you turned on the news and there wasn’t a story about a certain someone’s tweets?

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Before we continue, we want to give you a breakdown of our view as an agency. We focus on marketing “hard to describe products to hard to find audiences.” Since we market such complicated products we focus solely on highly targeted (some might say “niche”) B2B marketing efforts. Our view of social media marketing should be taken in that context – this article is not relevant to broad-based consumer or even wide-scale SMB marketing.

A Quick Breakdown: Social Media Platforms and Their Best Uses

When we talk about social media for B2B marketing we usually focus our efforts on the big 3: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Depending on the audience Reddit and/or Hacker News are also important. We understand that there are plenty of other social media platforms out there, and depending on your product certain ones could be amazing, but for our clients, they’re not relevant. Here’s

  • LinkedIn: For us, LinkedIn has become by far the most powerful and influential. It’s geared toward business so you’re not barging into a conversation about the birth of someone’s twins to talk about the ROI on your $100k infrastructure product. The targeting is near-perfect with granular and accurate information about job titles and organizational size. Unfortunately, as a wise man once said, “marketers ruin everything” so we predict that the golden age of LinkedIn actually being a good social media platform is coming to an end soon enough.
  • Facebook: Facebook is better than some other social media platforms, but not by much. The way the Facebook algorithm seems to be set up actually pushes people away from your company updates, which obviously defeats the whole point. The people who will see your post are almost exclusively people who are already highly involved with your posts. This means your employees, your best customers, and your mom. Not a waste of time perhaps, but not new prospects certainly.
  • Twitter: Ok, to be blunt – Twitter is a waste of time for B2B companies. Even though we will discuss later it’s expected that organizations have Twitter accounts, there is a lot of white noise. Twitter has become overrun with bots, so there is very little reason to allocate resources here. When’s the last time you just browsed your feed? How activity did you read? Minutes? Hours? What’s the chance that a post would have gotten your attention?
  • Other websites: We have seen some companies have had success in getting quality leads from participating in forums like Reddit, Quora, and Hacker News. These sites are particularly useful for targeting a more technical audience. You can gain some good exposure by joining into the conversation but remember to participate as non-partisanly as possible. This is not the place to sell.

Some Social Media History

Gaining Traction

Although social media began in the late 90s and early 2000s it really didn’t start ramping up until 2006 and 2009, and that is just for personal use.  It wasn’t until around 2010 that B2B businesses were beginning to understand the value and potential of social media. It was just starting to get included in marketing budgets and more companies were embracing the power and exposure that social media could offer them. Today, B2B social media marketing budgets are the highest they have ever been…but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Social Media Now

b2b social media marketing - social media marketing- historySocial media reached its peak in 2012, and although social media marketing budgets continue to skyrocket, companies may not actually be getting anything out of this increased investment. Social media has always had a focus on sharing content, the issue today is that there just is too much content – both good and bad. Unfortunately, this competition results in companies being forced to spend more to achieve the same results.

The trend of social media connections has shifted. People used to use these platforms to engage and interact with new people, now users just want to increase their engagement with the people and businesses they already know and trust. So, it is getting harder and costing more money to make any type of social media impact or get any visibility.

So the most important question: is social media marketing dead?

The simple answer is – kinda – at least for B2B marketing.

The answer changes based on the type of social media marketing you are utilizing. There are two types:

Organic Posts: Validation Only

This is typically what most people think of when they think of social media marketing. These posts are the equivalent to posting a tweet, status, or update from your own personal accounts. Of course, who sees these updates all depends on how the network’s algorithm works, whether they show them in time order or attempt to show posts that they “think” their users are interested in.

Since there is so much content and so many posts all the time, generating a significant number of leads using purely organic methods is difficult if not impossible for most B2B brands. What’s worse is that there’s no way to filter these inquiries, so the percentage of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) is relatively low compared to other methods.

For most B2B brands, it’s not worth the trouble. The time and money required to get good leads often outweighs the benefits of actually getting those leads. Resources are better spent elsewhere. The exceptions are generally for the minority of brands with a rock-star personality on staff that has their own built-in audience.

Keep in mind that it’s still worth keeping your social media channels updated to support your brand reputation and show activity. Plus, organic posts still provide some (apparently decreasing) SEO value by creating relevant backlinks to your site and blog.

Is social media marketing dead? Yes, at least for organic B2B marketing.

Paid or Sponsored Posts: For Lead Generation

Paid social media marketing consists of all of the campaigns that you pay for. This may include lead generation cards, sponsored posts to promote your assets, etc. This type of social media marketing allows you to target specific users based on their predetermined interests.

Paid social media marketing can get you a scalable number of marketing qualified leads – but most people initially got into social media for its low-cost benefits. Now that social media has become so popular, organizations often must pay a lot more to get eyes on their ads. So you need to evaluate your paid-social efforts by the same criteria you use for any other paid advertising campaign: cost per MQL or SQL.

Based on our own experience marketing technology security/infrastructure and marketing to physicians and hospital executives – campaigns based on purely organic social marketing are dead. Over the course of six months, we couldn’t track back a single MQL to an organic social media post.

Evaluating Social Media Interactions

Think About Your Own Behavior

There is definitely a distinction in how different generations utilize social media. For example:

I am a classic millennial and I do enjoy my job, but when I go on social media it is very unlikely that I will share something related to work with my friends and family – unless it is a more professional platform like LinkedIn. If I think about my own behavior the last thing I did was probably wish someone a happy birthday, share photos from my weekend, or post a cute baby animal video.

b2b social media marketing - social media marketing - puppy

In contrast, other social media users may only use these platforms for work. Regardless of the platform, these users might use social media to promote their business or share something interesting related to their industry. If you are trying to target this audience, you have to make sure you are sharing content they are interested in.

The last thing you probably shared on social media was some personal photos or a cute video of a baby animal.

User Behavior Impacts What Gets Exposure

With B2B people just don’t share content in the same ways as B2C or personal content. Plus, as social media platforms continue to advance their algorithms you are more likely to see posts that they “think” you are interested in. If you don’t interact with things related to your job on social media, and if you have a separate work computer – those worlds are less likely to cross over. And this goes back to the people you are marketing to, if they aren’t interacting with work-related social posts then they are less likely to see yours.

As a B2B marketer, your product is just too technical, complicated, and expensive for someone to purchase after seeing one social post.

It’s All About Products

Finally, with B2B marketing you have to keep in mind the types of products you are selling. If you are trying to get people to purchase highly technical, complicated, or expensive products, it is likely that purchasing a product of that magnitude will require the agreement or approval of a team. No one is going to see a single social media post for software or other B2B product that costs thousands of dollars and just buy it on the spot. They probably won’t even make an inquiry or download your eBook – even if it is free. You wouldn’t do that for your own expensive purchase, and you definitely wouldn’t make that purchase on a company credit card without some other input.

Bringing It All Together

I am not trying to say that social media is a complete waste of time, it is just important to not set your expectations too high. It is hard to prove the ROI of social media. Existing social networks are making it harder to get useful and accurate data, while emerging social media platforms just aren’t offering this data to begin with. Realistically the number of followers, fans, retweets, shares that you have mean nothing if you can’t equate them to actual purchasing behavior. Without any data to back up your claims of success it is hard to get approval for continuous or increased investment into these channels.

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It is getting increasingly difficult to prove social media ROI as platforms are making it harder and harder to get useful and accurate data.

The Bottom Line

The value of social media should be measured in its contribution to revenue. In our recent research, although presence is important, organic social media is basically useless. Twitter is just a jumble of bots and memes, Facebook is hard to gather metrics, and depending on the market and target audience LinkedIn can be useful – but it performs significantly better when utilizing paid campaigns or off the personal accounts of well-known executives rather than corporate accounts.

Not All Hope is Lost.

There is some value to maintaining social media channels.

  • It is important for businesses to stay active on certain social channels because their customers expect it. But you shouldn’t pour too many resources into it or have high lead generation expectations.
  • Having some presence on social media can help organizations be seen as experts in their field.
  • Social media can help support a strong multi-touchpoint experience. And paid and organic social efforts are overlapping and mutually beneficial.
  • LinkedIn organic posts can be useful when trying to market to specific roles, job titles, or industries (especially sales, marketing, or C-suite executives).
  • Keep in mind your specific product and which channels will work best for you.
  • There is a small SEO benefit to backlinking to your blog from social posts.
  • Use a social media scheduling tool so you can spend an hour or so once a week scheduling posts to ensure that you stay active without constantly interrupting your day.
Other than maintaining brand reputation, don’t put too much effort into Twitter as it is just full of bots and white noise.

Of course, social media is still relatively new (in the grand scheme of technology), so it is constantly changing and evolving. As new platforms emerge it is important to research and see if it can be beneficial to your marketing efforts. It is also likely that current platforms will continue to develop their algorithms and come out with new tools that can help marketers. So although social media marketing may be dead now, it could be revitalized in the future. The key is to figure what platform is next and be there before other marketers ruin it through oversaturation.

Jen Beall

Jen was born and raised in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Davis with a degree in psychology and dramatic arts. She enjoys participating in musical theater and is a trained ballet dancer. She spends her free time exploring San Francisco and trying to pet as many dogs as possible.
Jen Beall

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