A social media marketing strategy for B2B involves to a high extend to provision of thought leadership for the specific market or audience.
But let’s look at some B2B definitions first:

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  • Thought Leadership: “exploiting a company’s unique position in its market to generate valuable insight and advice on issues your customers and prospects care most about
  • Brand Awareness: “measures consumers’ knowledge of a brand’s existence. At the aggregate (brand) level, it refers to the proportion of consumers who know of the brand”.

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B2B Sales Cycles and Thought Leadership

thought-leadership brand awarenessB2B sales cycles are by nature longer and more complex. As customers move through the funnel there are 4 phases: awareness, interest, desire, action. All of these phases can be support and optimised by social media marketing. For brand (or awareness) building and thought leadership B2B companies need to help buyers research early in the sales cycle (awareness and interest), demonstrating that they are trusted advisers who understand the prospect’s problems. By using thought leadership to engage prospects early, one can build awareness and increase chances to get on the radar screens of the people who matter (including editors, analysts, investors and prospects, buyers). In social media thought leadership can be seen as a preliminary stage of brand building and is earned by constant and active social media content contribution and sharing of visions.

Thought Leadership, Brand Awareness and Inbound Marketing

How can Social Media or Inbound Marketing help to bring a company’s visions (or its products or services offerings) to the attention of consumers? The answer is “’content marketing” (marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases). Here B2B marketers use the sharing of content as a means of persuading decision-makers to turn their once-proprietary informational assets into available to selected audiences (the selections would be a result of social media monitoring where one can determine where the communications take place, the key discussion points and the most influential participants).

Generate Brand Awareness

How it works? -go to where your prospects hang out online and have an active and engaging presence there. Of course, and this is preached on a daily basis in social media circles, create valuable content. Without delivering value to your audience you jeopardise your marketing activities by turning into a marketer attempting to sell another “high ROI” “cost-efficient” business tool and you will get in return the inevitable “so what”? And content is by no means publishing a slick press release once a month but can be a simple video (I like the “plain English” ones) showing the benefits of your product or interviewing the key stakeholders (staff or existing customers) can become an invaluable resource to any visitor in awareness or interest phase of the sales funnel. Also remember not to tweet about what you had for lunch.

Content Dissemination

The next important step in creating consumers’ knowledge of your brand existence is disseminate the content through all possible social media platforms / channels. There are many mechanisms to do so: each has its benefits and efforts required:

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Source: Marketing Sherpa

Get a B2B Blog?

So, your social media marketing agency normally tells you to “get a blog”? Obviously a classic inbound marketing tool, however a good way to find out what works best for your industry/purposes you might want to try Foresters’ social technographics profiling tool. Combined with the results of the social media monitoring you’ll get a pretty clear pictures which platforms to use to gain the most of your social media efforts.

As a rule of thumb atomized, distributed content on different platforms work much better than siloed, “big” content like white papers. And if your content is good and valuable as well as properly disseminated you will be found.

Become a B2B Social Media Thought Leader

How do you position yourself as Thought Leader? Social media is about people, not logos. That’s why the most powerful form of social capital is personal, not corporate. Hence this democratisation of content allows every tiny start-up to become thought leader or a rock star in its particular area. Bearing in mind the definition “…to generate valuable insight and advice on issues your customers and prospects care most about” its clear that one of the big benefits of social media in B2B is the ability to establish and foster expertise within a given industry or niche. The same tools and services that social marketers use to generate awareness are also available to anyone with wisdom and vision to share. As eMarketer points out, establishing and conveying thought leadership is a valid and promising opportunity in social media.

However to become a thought leader in social media you have to be on. At the end of the day content is king and you earn the business and relationships you deserve.  Obviously as a marekter you want to sell your stuff so the temptation is there to become overly promotional in your inbound marketing activities. My advice would be find a meaningful mixture of: promotional – educational – informational and entertaining content. Use an independent tone of voice, support the content/story with data and articles and make use of existing customers or influential third parties. It’s that easy…

Another interesting approach I found is one coming from the socialmediatoday blog. I agree on what they say about the four P’s of marketing: Product / Price / Placement / Promotion are made for B2C and don’t really work for online B2B marketing.

Instead the 4 C’s of B2B Marketing are:

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  • Content – the creation of a steady stream of engaging content
  • Connection – connecting with the audience you wish to attract
  • Communication – communicating with them in an ongoing conversation
  • Conversion – and then converting them at the illusive moment of need

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“Since B2B Marketing is arguably more of a marathon than a sprint in marketing – you need to always have your 4 C’s engine going – creating the best content, finding the connecting with your target audience, sustaining the communications pattern until they are ready to convert – this way you have a fighting chance at making all your marketing efforts count toward one goal – Sales!”

B2B Social Media Marketing agency

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Update: there was a good B2B Social Media Inforgraphic published by the Mashable blog. See at the right:

Two last words: Don’t forget the huge positive Social SEO impact your brand building efforts and social media activities can have – resulting in highly targeted traffic back to your site/blog and don’t forget the social media management part especially to measure you results!

Thanks for reading this article and your comments.