October 26, 2011
How To

Social Media Marketing: 9 tactics for B2B social channel advertising

SUMMARY: Did you know 81% of U.S. online adults use social media? This fact alone should help convince you that social media is a B2B marketing channel. If your customers and prospects can be found on social media, shouldn't you consider social media advertising?

MarketingSherpa had the chance to discuss social channel advertising with three industry experts. This how-to article offers nine tactics including social advertising testing, using social advertising for lead gen, and why creating a YouTube video might be more effective than advertising on the platform.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter

Social media is a B2B marketing channel. You don't agree with that statement? Here are two pieces of Forrester Research that Jay Baer, author of The Now Revolution, cited in his keynote speech, "Destroying the 7 Myths of B2B Social Media," at MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011:
  • 81% of United States' online adults use social media

  • 86% of business technology buyers engage in some form of social activity for work purposes

Even if your company isn't involved in business technology, it's a pretty safe bet that at least a portion of your target audience engages in social media for some purpose.

One way to reach your customers and uncover new prospects in the social channel is through social media advertising. We had the opportunity to gain insight from three experts with experience in this burgeoning field:
  • Shama Kabani is the CEO of The Marketing Zen Group and author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing

  • Chris Zarski is involved with Interactive Marketing for Camelot Communications, overseeing the company's social media practice

  • Jeff Bander is the Senior Vice President of Client Services of EyeTrackShop, and is responsible for online and social media advertising

Here are nine social media advertising tactics ranging from design elements, to combining social advertising with email marketing, to why it might be a better idea to create a YouTube video than to advertise on the social platform.

Tactic #1. Begin with a goal in mind

Every marketing effort should have an overall objective to work toward, or measure against, and social media advertising is no different.
Here are three high-level objectives:
  • Increase leads

  • Increase visibility across the buying cycle

  • Create conversation and engagement with existing customers

Kabani added, "Just remember that social media advertising should be a part of a much bigger online marketing plan strategy. Nothing does well alone."

She said if you have a social media ad with no content to back it up, or if you are integrating the ad campaign with your email marketing but not responding to the conversations this combination is producing, then, as Kabani put it, "it is all for nothing."

"The first question should be, 'What are we trying to accomplish?' Then, look at what the tools allow us to accomplish rather than saying, 'Well, it is new. It is fun. So, you know, let's play with it.'"

Tactic #2. Remember that design matters

Like pay-per-click advertising, the actual size of the ad and amount of content is likely going to be very limited. Don't allow this limitation to cause you to ignore design elements.

One important design element is almost certainly going to be out of your control -- page placement. If you find you are allowed to choose where your ad appears on a social media site, Bander said the top left area of the page is the best position. He added the middle right area of the page (where Facebook ads are positioned by the way) is the worst performing area according to testing by his company.

Even if you cannot chose where your ad appears on a social media site, Bander did suggest some design practices to possibly improve ad performance:
  • Include an image in the ad -- people notice images quicker than text

  • Place the image on the left side of the ad and the text on the right

  • Avoid "pointy edges" in the ad, use curves and smooth edges

  • Keep the ad simple with no more than three or four key points

  • Use color and fonts to emphasize your main point

Kabani agreed that having an image in the ad was a vital design element, and added that the actual image used can make a major difference in ad performance.

She said in one campaign different images were tested while keeping the rest of the ad exactly the same, and tests resulted in "crazy conversion rate changes."

Tactic #3. Understand that Facebook rules the current social media schoolyard

Social media is a constantly evolving channel. When was the last time you logged into a MySpace account? Does anyone even remember Friendster? And there are a lot of different elements -- geolocation services, microblogging, niche communities and more -- with new things always looming on every horizon.

Even so, the fact remains that Facebook is the number one social media player by orders of magnitude. You might find the audience you seek at other social media platforms, but, at least for now, you will find them at Facebook.

Advertising on Facebook requires a different approach than search engine advertising. Kabani explained, "It is almost like approaching someone at a party versus approaching someone who is at a grocery shop."

When people are searching, you want your ad to appear next to relevant searches. To make your ad stand out on Facebook, you have to grab your audience's attention.

To do this you want to first understand the audience you want to reach. This is important for any marketing effort, but it is especially important for Facebook advertising because the ads can be highly targeted through demographics -- ZIP codes, job titles, employer, interests, "likes," etc. -- so you want to understand which attributes are most important for finding your target audience.

Because your audience is on Facebook for social reasons, and not necessarily to be marketed to, creating a striking ad using elements such as the image, headline and ad text is a way to make your ad stand out.

Tactic #4. Watch your advertising budget on LinkedIn

"I think LinkedIn is interesting from a B2B standpoint, and a great opportunity," said Zarski. "But it is still a little more traditional (in terms of) banner advertisement type deals, and from a cost standpoint, it is a lot pricier."

He did state there is advertising value to be found in being able to really hone in on LinkedIn business and user groups and that LinkedIn offers B2B opportunities. Kabani said she has found LinkedIn advertising most successful for recruiting.

She also agreed that LinkedIn ads had to be carefully monitored to keep costs under control. Kabani mentioned she believes a very large percentage of LinkedIn users can also be found on Facebook.

"There is a lot of overlap between the sites, so if you target your ads correctly (on Facebook), you can still go after the same people," she said.

Tactic #5. Use social media advertising for lead generation

"Social media advertising marketing overall is excellent for lead capture," said Kabani.

She said you can use targeted advertising to drive traffic to lead gen landing pages, such as a white paper created for CMOs. It is even possible to double up on leveraging the social channel by creating a tab on your Facebook page that includes lead capture information and advertise to drive traffic to that particular tab to collect new leads.

Zarski added an example from one of his clients that found using social media advertising to drive traffic to a landing page resulted in a higher conversion of lead generation than attempting to capture the lead on the social media platform.

The takeaway was social media advertising is an effective lead gen tool, but it is a good idea to test and find out where your audience is more likely to convert and use your ads to send traffic to the higher converting platform (see Tactic #7 for more on testing).

Tactic #6. Combine social media advertising with email marketing

The most obvious way to combine social media advertising with email marketing efforts was just covered in the previous tactic -- use the channel for lead capture and expand that effort to gain opt-ins for the email program.

Both Zarski and Kabani agreed that combining the social channel and email involves more than just social media advertising. Kabani said you should include social sharing buttons in your email sends to make it very easy for recipients to spread your message among their social network.

Zarski added the social channel allows for "instant feedback and interaction" with your email audience.
Provide your email recipients any easy way to socially share your messages, and then be sure to monitor different social platforms to keep the conversation flowing.

Kabani explained, "I think it is a matter of giving your customer base and your prospective customers plenty of options in how to communicate with you, even if you are using one medium to get the message out there and multiple mediums to respond and get that instant feedback."

Tactic #7. Test your social media advertising

Testing should be a part of any marketing effort, but testing on the social channel can be a challenge. For example, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct A/B split testing on your Facebook page. Testing ad campaigns is a different story.

On Facebook you can create multiple campaigns changing one ad variable between the different efforts. The level of control over everything from ad targeting to design coupled with relatively low cost for the campaigns, as compared to PPC and banner ads, offers an opportunity to try out a lot of variable to find out what works best.

To illustrate the low cost of social media advertising, Kabani said, "I know a company right now that is getting a click for two cents a click. That's astounding."

Zarski said the fundamental principles of testing still apply:
  • Make sure you have control variables

  • Keep your creative and messaging experience consistent across test versions

  • Make sure you have statistically significant results with a confidence level you are comfortable with

In the test mentioned in Tactic #5, Zarski said lead capture and registration was an essential element for engaging with his client’s content, so the test involved an A/B split using a social media ad to drive traffic to an in-platform tab and to an external landing page for lead capture. The result of this test was conversion was much higher -- over 900% -- on the external landing page.

Once the test produced these results, the ad campaign shifted to only send traffic to the external landing page for lead gen.

Kabani added a checklist of variables you might want to test on social media sites:
  • Different headlines

  • Different images

  • Time of day to run the ad

  • Geographic regions and countries

She continued, "And you can start with very small budgets. We have tested campaigns for as little as $50 a week."

Tactic #8. Creating YouTube content may be more effective than advertising on the platform

Kabani pointed out one issue with advertising on YouTube is a lack of oversight. There's not as much administrative control and protection on YouTube as there is on, say, Facebook or Twitter. This means activity isn't as closely monitored, and you don't have much recourse if someone is using software to continually play a video or engaging in automated clicks.

Kabani stated, "There is more room for click fraud with YouTube."

She suggested a better option is to create a video yourself and post it to the site. You can even add clickable text to the video that leads to your website, social media properties or a landing page.

Tactic #9. Capitalize on trends with Twitter

Kabani explained advertising options on Twitter are limited to three:
  • Promoted trends

  • Promoted accounts

  • Promoted tweets

You can promote a trend to have it show up as a sponsored topic in the trending topic list, and promoted accounts are recommended to Twitter users an account to follow. Promoted tweets will actually show up in Twitter users' timelines.

Kabani said Twitter can be a tricky place -- it is easy to appear too commercial because Twitter users tend to see the platform as more open and honest and might not be as open to an advertising message. From a B2B standpoint, the platform is a good way to build relationships and drive traffic.

"My sense is that you would do better spending your budget on actually engaging on Twitter organically versus ads," Kabani concluded.

She added, "Tactics that work best there is tweeting really solid content and getting some main influencers to retweet. That sort of growth on Twitter is going to be a lot more powerful than any type of advertising."

Zarski stated he thinks Twitter advertising is a great place to capitalize on real-time trends.

If something is happening in your industry, or if a competitor stumbles, spending money on Twitter advertising is one way to immediately get a message out there more broadly than just Tweeting to your followers.

Both Zarski and Kabani agreed an effective B2B tactic on Twitter is customer engagement and using the platform to create relationships with your customers.

Useful links related to this article

EyeTrackShop ad placement test results
The Marketing Zen Group

Camelot Communications


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