B2B Social Media Marketing: What's the Real Deal on Effectiveness?

11/03/2017 12:10 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2017

B2B Social Media Marketing Part 1: The Search for Success Stories

There has been a lot of hype about B2B social media marketing. Social media experts have been praising these platforms to the sky while pitching their coaching and consulting services. The advice, which we have all heard, goes something like this:

"Share your content for free through blog posts, videos, and webinars. Engage actively on social media. People will be so blown away by your brilliance that your phone will ring off the hook and you will be flooded with requests for quotes for your service."

Clearly, that approach works for social media coaches and consultants. They have a captive audience of users on every social media platform, individuals and entrepreneurs who have the ability to engage their services. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be very effective for B2C social media marketing. So it is not surprising that consultants who specialize in each platform and pitch their services to individuals, entrepreneurs, and small business are doing well.

What about social media marketing in the B2B space? Is it effective for B2B lead generation and business development where the sales process is complex and multi-tiered?

Reports like the Social CEO report on CEO.com reveal that few decision makers are even on social media. 60% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social presence whatsoever. Those who are on social media, tend to be inactive.

I have definitely experienced great success in securing blogging engagements through social media. In fact, I did not set out to become a professional blogger.

Based on the advice of social media experts, blogging was a strategy for marketing the core services of my companies: executive retreats, team building, keynote speaking, and training. In the process, editors found me. Since 2011, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing for many large portals. All of that business came through blogging and engagement on social media.

Despite the fact that I have put a lot of time and effort into social media marketing and blogging, that is not how my team building and training companies have generated business. It has come through:

  • inquiries after people found my company websites through search engines
  • referrals from business colleagues, clients, friends, and relatives

I have had the pleasure of travelling and working with corporate clients from 18 countries, however, only 2 engagements have come through social media. Despite extensive media coverage, only one client, which ended up being a long term client, found me through an article in a business magazine.

In spite of my active engagement on social media and in the blogosphere, I simply wasn’t getting the results I had expected. I wondered if I was doing something wrong. I am not the only one.

It's not easy to figure this stuff out and a lot of it has to do with the chicken and the egg of the marketing world. Marketers say, "Hire me and I'll show you". Business people say, "Show me and I'll hire you.

I have paid marketing people 7 times for services and received no return on those investments - website stuff, SEO, lead generation, social media marketing, etc.

Dave Etter, Trading System Creation, Business development and investment

Bo Ekkelund a.k.a GrumpyCMO had scathing words to say about social media and B2B marketing:

It was in 2008 that veteran Million Dollar consultant, Alan Weiss, first cautioned professionals attempting to market their services in the B2B space to not buy all they hype in his post:

He was attacked. No one appreciates it when someone points out that the Emperor has no clothes. Almost 10 years later and it turns out that he called it right. A lot of the advice about how to use social media to market B2B services and products has turned out to be incorrect.

In an attempt to answer this question, over the years, I have put out many calls for B2B social media marketing success stories. Despite numerous attempts, I have always come up empty.

I have never been afraid to ask tough questions. So I started digging deeper. “Where’s the beef? Where’s the proof that B2B social media marketing actually works?” In the process, I have ruffled some feathers. That was never my intention. I wrote about this backlash in:

My reason for requesting B2B social media marketing success stories was a sincere desire to learn. I was still convinced that social media could work. If I could find out what was working by gathering success stories, I could also implement these strategies, and share them in blog posts so that we all could benefit.

In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill suggested that the best path to success is to find out what strategies are working for others and learn from them. Yet, when asked to back up their claims that B2B social media marketing is effective, some of the so-called experts have felt that they were being backed into a corner and they have bristled. One recently blocked me on LinkedIn. Another kicked me out of her 2 Facebook groups for starting calm and productive discussions about the effectiveness of Twitter and LinkedIn. There was no conflict. Just a constructive exchange of perspectives in a group in which there had been little engagement. Why are people so threatened? By asking tough questions, admitting what isn’t working, and brainstorming together, it is possible to come up with strategies that work.

I have been a big supporter of social media where I have been active since April, 2004 when I joined LinkedIn. I didn’t do much with it at first. (My involvement in online communities goes back to 1997 when my business was new and the Internet was in its infancy. I cut my teeth as a Geocities community leader. The training I received has stood me in good stead until today.)

In April, 2005, I joined Ryze.com, a business networking site that combines online networking with monthly meetings. Since I had been doing business in Malaysia for over 5 years by then, I joined the Malaysia Muhibbah Network. I introduced myself and posted about a 2 day workshop that I had coming up in Kuala Lumpur in June.

Within 2 months, another seminar company reached out to me:

“Hi Anne,

I came across your website by accident on Ryze, actually more when I was scrolling through the events page. Please have a look at my webpage on Ryze.

Let’s see how we can work together.”

I met with them when I went to Kuala Lumpur. They asked if I could custom design and facilitate what has now become my 3 day Visexecutaries: Seizing Opportunities in our Shifting Corporate Landscape team building simulation. Like TV’s The Apprentice, it engages teams in designing and executing real revenue-generating projects.

Four months after joining Ryze, I was, again, stepping off the plane in Kuala Lumpur to work with a group of executives.

That was my introduction to social media. I have had a total of 18 tours of Asia to date. That was the only one picked up through social media.

After that experience, I was excited and convinced that B2B social media marketing was effective for lead generation and business development. Was it really possible to set aside the grueling work of cold calling and the constant revisions to websites to ensure that they remained in the top 10 of Google.

I became more and active on LinkedIn as it grew. A lot of LinkedIn coaches and consultants were advocating content marketing and active involvement in groups. I took that advice to heart and started blogging in 2008. I joined Twitter that year and traffic to my blogs exploded.

I participated actively in LinkedIn groups and Twitter chats I used content to start discussions and I responded to others in LinkedIn Groups and through the Q&A module, which has been discontinued.

I eventually managed 24 LinkedIn groups and recruited and trained a leadership team to manage the largest one. That group grew from 4,000 to 340,000+ members in just over 8 years. It evolved from one group to a community of 18 groups.

Unfortunately, despite all of this activity and engagement, I was unable to replicate my initial results with Ryze for any of the core services offered by my companies: executive retreats, team building, and keynote speaking.

I wasn’t sure why. So I started putting out calls for social media success stories.

Recently, after seeing more hype about B2B social media marketing and getting a few people upset when they were unable to back up their claims, I recently put out yet another call for success stories. (I am like a dog with a bone when I am determined to get to the bottom of something.) It has taken almost 7 years but here were some of their responses.

“The kind of business you describe is what I get from shoe leather marketing, not social media.

Shoe leather marketing means hitting those streets and getting in front of people. If I don't have appointments, I find events to attend every week. I join the right kinds of organizations that give me lots of events to attend with the right kinds of attendee.

I'm working on a proposal right now for a bank that wants to incorporate video as a part of their marketing going forward. That came through meeting someone via my chamber of commerce. I'm in talks with other corporate clients (not individuals) for corporate headshots and marketing videos that began with me meeting someone in person through targeted networking. For me, social media is one way to reach one audience (individuals). Shoe leather is a different way to reach a different audience (corporate). I invest far more heavily in shoe leather marketing because I get a much better return on it. But I do have to maintain an active presence on social media to reinforce the shoe leather marketing I do.”

Lenzy Ruffin, Corporate & Personal branding photos and videos, Event Photography, Headshots

Lenzy also adds a very unique spin by incorporating personalized videos:

“One of the things I've done a couple of times with people I've met in person is send them a personal video to follow up.”

Here is an example of what he sent me after a discussion in one of the status updates I posted on LinkedIn:

Some professionals who operate in the B2B space have experienced great success by incorporating LinkedIn into a targeted traditional B2B marketing strategy.

“…virtually all of the consulting business I’ve generated from online contacts has come via LinkedIn. I have never made a sale "on LinkedIn". But I can tell you that over the years, the total value of the consulting and writing gigs that could be directly attributed to an initial query or contact on LinkedIn is well into six figures.”

Phil Friedman, Marine Industry Consulting, Writing and Editing

LinkedIn and other social media plays a part in starting the conversation, but you need to combine other media both online and offline if you are going to be successful in converting them into clients.

Just to put a little context out there, I signed up 47 clients into consulting agreements worth between $25,000 per year and $200,000 per year inside an 18 month period by combining LinkedIn with direct mail and telephone.

“It's hard for me to give a specific dollar amount, but my guess is that I could attribute $75k-$100k in business (in the last 24 months) as a result of social. Either using social to initiate a relationship by asking someone to be a guest on our podcast, or by using social to nurture relationships and establish trust with our guests after they've been on our show.”

James Carbary, Personal Branding for Busy Executives, Co-Host of B2B Growth on Apple Podcasts, Huffington Post Contributor

So success stories are finally starting to trickle in. In fact, there was so much information that it requires a 2 part blog post.

What specific strategies do these entrepreneurs using to generate leads and business using social media?

Not one of these individuals has achieved these results by following the content marketing strategy advice of so-called social media experts. In fact, the most successful, like Dennis Brown who has generated $20 million for his logistics company through strategic use of LinkedIn, have relied on traditional, tried and true B2B marketing as the cornerstones of their strategy.

“Post and hope is not an effective marketing strategy.”

Dennis Brown, LinkedIn Consulting

This is Dennis’ story.

In part 2 we will delve into the strategy that Dennis and others have used to fuel their success.

Here is the bottom line.

“Don't believe the hype...it's started by people who want to sell their useless and ineffective strategies and fueled people who are scared of rejection and selling. I'm yet to find a sustainable content strategy which can come close to getting the results that a simple targeted outbound marketing campaign can achieve.

Phil Friedman summed it up beautifully.

“.… posting content, however great, and waiting for the “phone” to ring with calls from people who want to hire you — is just as dumb as believing if you build a great product, the world will beat a path to your door.

So-called “content marketing” cannot do anything other than raise your visibility in the marketplace so that when you make a contact, the chance is higher that your target will recognize you and be more open to further discussion.

Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll dig deeper and identify the specific strategies behind these success stories.

If you have a B2B Social Media Marketing success story to share, there is still time to post it on LinkedIn.

Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA, @executiveoasis is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based management consulting firm specializing in executive retreats, team building, and keynote speaking.
She has recently updated and significantly expanded Marketing Your Training & Development Business: Changing Strategies for a Changing Market, a MEGA ISSUE & e-book. Based on lessons learned in the school of hard knocks, Anne pulls no punches and offers no-nonsense advice that cuts through the usual hype and platitudes. While it is targeted to training and development businesses, all independent consultants, consulting firms and small businesses operating in the B2B space will benefit from the strategies.
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