5 Steps to Social Media Leads with Content Marketing

One of my recent posts (“The Top-10 B2B Marketing Trends for 2011”) received a lot of great comments. The number one marketing trend for 2011, according to the 17,000 member B2B technology marketing group on LinkedIn, is the increasing integration of social media with traditional marketing tactics to drive qualified leads. John Cook’s comment to the blog post got straight to the point: "How do you accomplish this”?

Conversion Metrics More Important
This question is being asked more frequently. Now that a majority of B2B marketers have been experimenting with social media for a while, 2011 will be the year social media evolves from the experimental stage into a more mature practice. It will become an established marketing tactic that will be more tightly integrated with traditional tactics such as email, webcasts, live events, mobile marketing, and content marketing. And as social media matures, demands for proving social media ROI will inevitably increase.

A recent eMarketer study confirms that metrics for measuring social media performance are already changing dramatically to reflect this new reality. While site traffic is still the #1 social media metric, according to eMarketer, the #2 spot is now occupied by conversion metrics. To put this in perspective, conversion metrics ranked only #8 a year ago, rising from 32.6% of respondents using this metric in 2010 to 65.7% in 2011 - the most dramatic change for any social media metric in the survey.

Generating Leads with Social Media
Going back to the original question: how do you leverage social media to deliver conversions? How do you go beyond posting interesting and entertaining updates on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and beyond basic tactics like placing social sharing buttons on your B2B website and emails?

Capturing someone’s attention while they are in social media mode can be tough, but there are many great ways for B2B marketers to turn social media interest into qualified leads. One of my favorites is a content-centric approach. Remember that social media is all about conversations, and sharing interesting information with people you trust.

Nobody wants to be sold on social platforms. At the same time B2B buyers are actively seeking guidance and information on how to solve specific problems, how to evaluate available solution options, and to learn about peers’ experiences with a vendor. Filling this need for information with compelling, high-value content, a vendor can not only have successful social conversations with prospects, but also high-quality leads that fill the funnel. How?

Step 1 - Social Content Marketing
One way to generate attention and leads is to create compelling assets that attract your audience and provide a launching pad for further engagement with your organization. This can be an eBook or a great white paper, for example, that showcases your expertise, solves a specific problem, or fills a critical knowledge gap for your audience.

This content is then placed in your most effective social channels (ideally in response to a relevant post or question) in the form of a short, compelling message and a short link pointing directly to the asset.

Step 2 - Set your Content Free
The trick (and I know this is hard for many traditional marketers to adopt) is NOT to hide this premium content asset behind a registration form. But how do I get a prospect's contact information to nurture and further engage them, you ask?

Great question. Sure, you can ask for this information, but only AFTER you delivered value and established credibility with your free eBook (I am using eBook as a placeholder here, you may have other asset types that make more sense for you to share).

Remember your goal is to get your valuable information in front of the right target audience. After your eBook so impressed your prospects, they are now eager to learn more about what you have to say and how you can help them solve their specific problem (if they aren't asking for more, they may not be qualified and ready to engage, or maybe your content isn't all that compelling).

Step 3 - Embed Strong Calls to Action
To help buyers take the next step in their journey from problem to solution (ideally in your direction), you need to embed calls to action into your content piece.  This can be simple links placed within copy pointing to additional relevant content (for example, the sequel to your ebook or companion webcasts, videos, demos, self-diagnosis guides, competitive comparisons, etc).  Or it can be a well designed banner in the sidebar with a compelling call to action.

This call to action then links to a form page people have to complete before gaining access to the next content asset. Or it can link to a "content hub page" (for lack of a better phrase) where you present your most relevant and compelling content assets to the prospect in one view. I am a strong advocate of presenting content in the context of the buyer's role and buying stages. This allows buyers to pick and choose the right asset they are most interested in to continue their buyer’s journey and engage with you digitally. And always make sure to include your contact information (phone, email, etc) in case a buyer is ready to engage directly.

Step 4 - Make Content Assets Easy to Share
Also, make sure that your free content piece itself is easily shareable by prospects. Build social sharing buttons right into your PDF document, in the sidebar for example, to maximize sharing and viral effects. The effects of easy sharing and exposure to a much broader audience, by the way, will more than make up for your "loss" of registrations for the primary, free asset.

Step 5 - Nurture Leads Along the Buyer’s Journey
Follow-up content pieces, such as webcast #2 and #3 in a series of 3 webcasts, require the buyer to complete a lightweight registration form - as they enter your marketing system with lead scoring, routing, and nurturing processes. Ideally you have a marketing automation platform (like Eloqua, Marketo, SilverPop, etc) in place that lets you nurture your new prospects with content tailored to their demographic profile and behavioral patterns, and helps prospects move along the buyers journey with content mapped to each stage. Until the marketing automation system indicates that your lead is qualified and ready for direct sales engagement.

This is only one example of how you can use social media to drive lead generation. What tactics do you use to convert social media interest into leads?

More information

Survey Report “Social Media in B2B Marketing”

The Brave New World of B2B Marketing

How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation

5 Steps to b2B Marketing Success


Jeff Ogden said...

Excellent post and well said, Holger. Social media matched with content marketing is the superb way for B2B companies to engage their target audience. Social media without content is a one sided conversation.

Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
Find New Customers

Holger Schulze said...

That's right Jeff. This approach scales better than purely manual social responses, which of course are still critical. Big fan of your blog, BTW.


Tim Templeton said...

Good post Holger. One modification I'd suggest, though. Case studies and basic data sheets should be freely downloadable, but when you have a more complex thought piece, such as a white paper, or some survey results, I've found that prospects have no problem registering with personal info to get access. These are the types of documents that research companies charge thousands of dollars for, so people don't usually have a problem giving up personal information in return.

Holger Schulze said...

Thanks Tim - The problem is that buyers often don't seek product information until later in the buying process. It is also not the kind of information that people want to share across their social graph, in my experience. I know it goes against the "traditional" marketing paradigm, but it is exactly the best, most expensively produced content you might want to "set free" to engage more prospects and give them something of value first rather than expecting prospects to give you their valuable time and information upfront.

Nick Stamoulis said...

Social media is a great way to promote content to your target audience. I especially agree with Step 2- to set the content free. Many people still think that they need to hide their "secrets", however what will really get you noticed and trusted is by putting your content out there. Once you're viewed as an expert people will be more likely to interact with you.

Holger Schulze said...

Nick - I agree 100 percent. The benefit of free content's broader reach and resulting secondary leads more than outweighs the perceived disadvantage of "lost" primary leads by not putting it behind a form. The content has to be remarkable to be shared, though. And that is exactly the very same content marketers want to utilize as offers for direct lead generation. Wish more people would just experiment with this stuff to see what works instead of falling back into old habits of risk avoidance :)

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