Social media for brands: how does a B2B strategy differ from B2C?

The potential benefits of social media marketing can seem endless: increasing brand exposure and traffic, generating leads and developing a loyal base of followers. But with social media now seemingly everywhere and almost 4 billion of us on at least one platform, how do B2B and B2C strategies differ?

Marie-Sophie Dieter - Digital Strategy Analyst

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It has been some time since the best justification for the existence of social media was ‘connecting people’: today 26% of users discover new products on social platforms and 22% use them for work-related networking and research, while almost 50% of Gen Z and millennials believe that social platforms are a better place to research brands than traditional search engines. Although these generations may not always be involved in their companies’ purchasing decisions, it is still hard to ignore that 84% of C-suite executives are using social media in their decision making.

Just being present on a platform isn’t enough though. Creating and maintaining content is time consuming and expensive and without a proper action plan it’s easy to waste your budget.

Social networks and the difference they make.

What differentiates social media from other digital marketing channels is its ability to drive advocacy and relevance thanks to an in-built affinity between a brand and its viewers.

If someone follows a brand on social media, chances are they’re more interested in its content. Expanding this circle a little further, these users’ followers are then more likely to discover the brand as well, be it through amplification or word-of-mouth driven by content. Customer centricity is therefore a crucial success factor: knowing your audience can ensure that a content strategy is more effective and cost-efficient. In fact, when planning a social media campaign, even the obvious differences between B2B and B2C can become marginal. In both scenarios, effective planning comes down to one question: “Who am I talking to and what is my primary objective?”

With B2C customers, they’re unlikely to enter into a huge commitment when purchasing a product from a brand they’ve discovered on social media. This leads to a relatively brief consideration time and short buying cycles.

In the case of B2B, the person viewing an ad or content may not even be the person making the purchasing decision. More likely this will be shifted to a team or even another department. After all, such purchases can be millions in expenditure and require months of discussion. Naturally, this extends the buying cycle many times over and B2B sales generated directly through social media are thus less likely.

Social media strategies

B2B businesses who use social media successfully do so by humanising their brands: building brand awareness, credibility and trust (while educating audiences) are some of the the top goals B2B social media marketers should consider. Put differently,  building an expert identity and thought leadership, in order to be front and centre in the consideration phase, are important objectives for B2B marketers. So, how do brands get there? Let’s consider some examples.

The SEO platform SEMRush understands how demonstrating thought leadership beyond their software increases brand awareness and affinity. SEO analytics can be complicated, so by providing infographics and concise tutorials, SEMRush serves easily digestible information to its customers. Better yet, the format of these education pieces is ideal for sharing among users’ networks, further expanding their reach.

Hubspot, a CRM and marketing platform demonstrates how social media can educate audiences, as well as how expertise adds value. They offer a large portfolio of free resources such as blog posts, guides, and video courses which are constantly pushed through their social channels. In this way, Hubspot demonstrates their status as an industry leader and a valuable potential partner.

Lastly, Adobe has found a clever way to build brand awareness. Instead of talking about their (sometimes very technical) software, their social media channels feature artists working with those apps. In this way, they not only highlight the value of their products in a non-intrusive way but also open the conversation with a larger audience by directly demonstrating the benefits of using them. People therefore follow Adobe not only for their software but also for the artwork, graphics and creativity on display from real-life users.

Which platform(s) to choose?

For 93% of B2B marketers, LinkedIn is the obvious first choice as 80% of its members use the platform in their decision-making processes. Unlike Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, LinkedIn actually provides the space and audience for comprehensive, fact-based posts.

Many B2B marketers may rely on LinkedIn because they believe that other networks aren’t suitable for business audiences. While that may be understandable to senior executives, it can mean missing out on platforms which offer a reach LinkedIn can only dream about. TikTok, Facebook and Instagram offer access to billions of viewers – often consuming content in their ‘down time’ – and for this reason senior managers need to trust their teams to choose the right platforms based on their business strategy. For example, Instagram does not have to feature the same content as LinkedIn: if Instagram is the place where the audience wants to be inspired and intrigued while ‘switching off’, it might be the best platform to focus on raising awareness or displaying a brand’s personality, so that LinkedIn can then be the place to drive consideration and so forth.

Content creation for B2B social media

A successful social media strategy requires a constant stream of content. Naturally, the specific types of content which work well differ for B2C and B2B brands. While B2C audiences may more likely be swayed by emotionally engaging, visually beautiful creatives or clever copy, B2B marketers need to utilise a variety of formats: industry reports, case studies, and how-to-guides are a great way to educate audiences on the brand’s offering without openly pushing for sales. Another option is longer content such as blogs, shared on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. There is a good reason why 89% of B2B businesses have their own blog: blogs help build the idea of industry leadership through expertise or relevant voices speaking on behalf of the business. It’s an effective, cost-efficient way to demonstrate thought leadership which can then be repurposed on other platforms.

For B2B or B2C audiences, a hybrid strategy of paid and organic content may also make good sense. Without paid ads, brands may not gain enough visibility quickly enough, especially on Instagram and Facebook. On the other hand, without an authoritative, engaging and convincing organic brand profile, great paid content will lack the ability to convert interest into consideration. 

How do you measure B2B social media success?

With your target audience analysed, strategic decisions made and content creation in the starting blocks… so far, so good. But how to measure it? Of all social marketers, 65% are at least uncertain about how to measure the ROI of their social activities. That’s a worrying statistic which creates problems for business leaders: who will agree to a large social media budget just because they like a video created by their team? This problem also creates an opportunity: if only 35% of social marketers UNDERSTAND how to measure their campaigns, why not aim to be ahead of the majority and put more time and effort into measurement?   

The well known basic metrics of measurement apply across digital media: impressions, share of voice (SOV) and reach are usually accessible directly from each platform. Additional metrics may require more complicated measurement, specialised skills and a mix of qualitative and quantitative tools. Brand Lift studies can assess the retention for both paid and organic campaigns, while Brand Reputation can be viewed in the form of sentiment scores and benchmarking against direct competitors. For the consideration phase, it becomes crucial to demonstrate competence. A potential indicator of this is video views, especially beyond a certain time of viewing. This shows that time builds consideration because the more time spent viewing, the more effectively the message is absorbed by the viewer. Lastly, to measure conversion, B2B companies need to be more granular than just tracking sign-ups or demo requests. Using performance data to improve targeting while adding re-marketing and nurturing campaigns can help ensure the success and efficiency of social media marketing. 

As Social media has become ubiquitous and platforms evolve to cover an ever-increasing array of products and features, using them for marketing is now standard practice. For B2B brands, this evolution once delivered competitive advantage, but now means not falling behind the market. What should be clear is that while customer centricity is essential to any social media activity, it cannot work in a silo, but rather should always aim to be part of a considered, omni-channel digital marketing strategy.