LinkedIn doesn’t have the cultural cachet of the other social media channels. But when it comes to B2B marketing, LinkedIn rules. If Facebook is My Little Pony, LinkedIn is the workhorse.
It now boasts 467 million members, including 61 million senior-level influencers and 40 million decision-makers, making it a prime opportunity for top-tier thought leadership. Added to that, LinkedIn is the most effective social network for lead generation, according to DemandWave’s 2016 State of B2B Digital Marketing report. And the platform’s sponsored content conversion rates are nearly 2.5 times higher on average than Google AdWords, according to 2016 findings by HubSpot. If you’re looking for a full-funnel B2B content marketing rocket, LinkedIn just might be it.
“LinkedIn is moving from a nice-to-have to a must-have,” says Howard Dover, clinical marketing professor at the Jindal School of Management, University of Texas at Dallas, and creator of a program curriculum on LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is in its prime, and this year is going to see interesting innovation from LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which will allow for CRM [customer relationship management] integration.”
But the real value proposition is the attitude of platform users as they navigate their feeds.
“B2B marketers can get a message to the right person when they’re in the right mindset to be receptive to it,” says Mike Romoff, head of global agency and channel sales at LinkedIn, New York. “It’s about catching people at that right moment. That’s a key differentiator for LinkedIn.”
Execs are power users: They view their home page 1.4 more times than the average LinkedIn user, according to 2016 internal LinkedIn data.
And while executives often don’t manage their social media, instead handing it off to an assistant or PR team, that’s not the case with LinkedIn. Most actively manage their own account, says Dover, which means access. “That’s a rare opportunity to communicate to the leader of the organization you’re trying to target.”
Reaching executives on LinkedIn is de rigueur for B2B brands, 94 percent of which use LinkedIn, according to a 2016 study by the Content Marketing Institute. Now the question becomes how businesses should push social media marketing efforts beyond building a company page.
“Most people and brands are on LinkedIn,” Dover says. “However, the question is how well these groups are actually utilizing the tools LinkedIn provides to be effective at social marketing and selling.”
So miss out no more. Here are the tips that help B2B brands slay on LinkedIn:
“You may say, ‘We’ve got good engagement on LinkedIn, so obviously we’re doing it right,’ but that’s not always the case,” says Jessica Otero, the Atlanta-based assistant vice president of social media at SunTrust Bank and leader of its LinkedIn strategy. “If you’re ultimately looking to get traffic to your website or landing page, then on-platform engagement shouldn’t be your priority metric. Instead, you’d want to look at click-thru rate, then maybe bounce rate and valuable actions people are taking on the landing page once they come from LinkedIn.”
As you establish goals on LinkedIn, don’t shy away from a full-funnel approach. Accelerate your hot targets, but also consider how to secure leads and nurture warm prospects.
Dover advocates for the full funnel, too. “You may be at the bottom of the funnel ready to close, but thought leadership at the top of the funnel is equally as important because you’re solidifying yourself as a valuable contributor to [your] industry’s need for information,” he says. “The content you’re generating is equally as valuable as the services you’re selling.”
Consider brand touch points alongside wherever users are in the funnel, including at the very top. “Leave enough budget for brand building so you can reach people who you ultimately want to collect leads from, so you’re not asking them to take an action the first time they see you,” Dover says.
Those positive experiences throughout the funnel can be make-or-break in building the trust necessary for future purchasing.
“Whether they buy or not, they’ll find the interaction with you valuable,” Dover says. “Most of us are open to having partnerships and communication with people where we’re gaining value—even though we may not purchase their product. Eventually, when we need the product, we’ll turn to the people we trust.”
“You may be at the bottom of the funnel ready to close, but thought leadership at the top of the funnel is equally as important because you’re solidifying yourself as a valuable contributor to [your] industry’s need for information.”
Only 32 percent of B2B companies have a documented content strategy, according to a 2016 study by the Content Marketing Institute. That means 68 percent of companies could be missing opportunities—or, worse, appearing out of touch with audience needs.
“A top mistake is companies look at social selling as cold calling, smile-and-dial, just in another platform,” Dover says. “Take the time to develop thought leadership content. Understand the person you’re talking to. Understand you have a relevant contribution to help them with the issues they’re running into. If you’re going to be a good social seller, you have to develop thought leadership in the space you’re trying to sell.”
When it comes to developing content, don’t guess what might be of value to your audience. Let data drive the content strategy, whether it’s from LinkedIn or from third-party sources with insights into your target segments.
“The first step is to understand your audience,” Romoff says. “We can also help marketers understand what kind of content the audiences and segments they care about most actually interact with on the platform. We can take a pixel and put it on the site to understand who’s coming to various parts of the site. Then we can say these are the topics each segment cares most about.”
Once you’ve identified where your company can provide value in a way that sets you apart from the pack, develop content pillars. That doesn’t have to mean developing completely new content, though.
“A lot of B2B companies already have a lot of content—you don’t need to make stuff from scratch,” Romoff says. “What’s content you’ve already invested in that you can get more mileage out of because you know it’s interesting to segments you want to reach? Doing it in a data-driven way makes it repeatable, too.”
If you’re looking to move fast but aren’t sure where to start, one option is to start with LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates. “It’s the easiest way to get into marketing on LinkedIn—and the most effective,” Romoff says. “Look at the content you’ve already put together. It could be articles, white papers or other content that will be of interest to your audience. You as a brand are bringing something helpful to them.”
Even going in armed with data, don’t assume there isn’t room for improvement—or for zeroing in if you uncover a highly engaged group within your audience. Continuously launch tests, analyze performance and identify content optimization opportunities to put what you learn to work.
“We can get campaign results and see what’s really resonating,” Romoff says. “Then we can plug back in and do it over again. Maybe we thought one segment would be interesting, but then maybe we have a subsegment that was actually most interesting, so we can focus on them.”
To put your valuable content to work, develop a targeting strategy that helps you reach key audience segments in each part of the sales funnel. And try tapping into LinkedIn’s capabilities, like targeting custom company lists, for instance.
“One of the key things about LinkedIn for SunTrust is it’s currently one of only two channels where we can target directly to our prospect list because our list is based on company name,” Otero says. “So, it allows us to have more in-depth thought leadership go directly to that target, which helps us achieve our campaign goal of driving landing page traffic.”
LinkedIn’s 2017 road map includes smart targeting opportunities beyond companies, expanding to email contact targeting with Eloqua, Marketo or LiveRamp integration, as well as website re-targeting.
Creating the right strategy for your brand involves two steps. First, identify the broadest possible target while maintaining a reasonable assumption that it carries potential business value.
“When marketers and planners have so much granular data, one of the temptations is to over-target,” Romoff says. “They become overly specific so they say, ‘I know I only want to reach CMOs, so that’s all I want to target.’ The reality is they’re trying to sell a product where, yes, the CMO is the final decision-maker, but there’s a whole committee of people involved in the decisions who are doing the work two to three levels down. They’re doing the research and making the recommendation.”
Once you set your targeting plan in motion to reach the broad spectrum of people involved in decision-making, proceed to step two: Analyze performance and optimize accordingly.
“Understand how to start broad, and then use that data to narrow it down,” Romoff says. “Continually optimize based on insights that come back from the platform.”
You can build the most solid marketing strategy in the world, but if you’re not aligned with sales, your audience will notice the disconnect. SunTrust, for one, actively fosters a strong relationship between the two groups.
“There’s no sense in putting money behind your marketing if your sales team has no idea what’s happening in that environment,” Otero says. “If a relationship manager goes out and says, ‘Long time, no talk,’ but the person just saw content pieces from your company, it seems disjointed. It’s important for the sales team to be very involved in the ongoing strategy, as well as heavily involved in campaign tactics and timelines.”
Integrating teams doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. Explore a monthly meeting for aligning on plans, or send an internal newsletter outlining marketing plan details for awareness and integration opportunities.
“We make sure we let teammates know which materials people receive and when, which lets them know they need to follow up with them about those materials,” Otero says. “That helps them have a more valuable conversation.”
To further integrate in a way that drives business value, lean on your sales team to drive a portion of your targeting strategy. “We don’t just come up with lists of prospects in a silo and decide these are the companies we think might work out and then go target them on LinkedIn,” Otero says. “We look at it from a business perspective. We see if this is a viable company that we’d want to do business with, and we speak to relationship managers to see who’s on their hot lists. The resulting list then becomes the companies we target so we can get them further down the funnel and drive meaningful conversations.”
Social is pay to play—and LinkedIn is no exception.
“You have to budget for paid media,” Otero says. “At the end of the day, you can have the best content and targeting strategy, but if you don’t have sufficient paid budget to put that plan into action, you won’t accomplish what you set out to do.”
But it’s going to take more than throwing money at the platform. Stay dialed in to which efforts consistently drive performance and invest more in those initiatives—as long as the investment aligns with your overall objectives. Building campaigns that optimize in real time or establishing flex funds to spend retroactively helps you stay agile and generate the most bang for your buck.
Prioritizing a paid media strategy doesn’t mean organic work should fall to the wayside. A thorough company page is essential—consider it a home base that your audience will visit to size you up after seeing your thought leadership content in their feed.
“We see people coming in and spending time on putting together marketing campaigns, but they haven’t necessarily invested in the organic side of the business,” Romoff says. “If you’re going to spend money, you want to make sure that money’s working. You want it to work on top of organic efforts.”
“You can have the best content and targeting strategy, but if you don’t have sufficient paid budget to put that plan into action, you won’t accomplish what you set out to do.”
When it comes time to amplify your content, consider tapping into an opportunity that’s all around you: your employees.
“You may be posting content, but then you’ll have employees amplifying that through their own networks through liking it, sharing it, distributing it to people on LinkedIn—at no cost,” Romoff says.
By recruiting employees to amplify your message, you do more than bolster your company’s thought leadership cred. You promote your employees, and especially your sales team, as thought leaders on the platform.
A first step to activating employees on the platform is to equip them with the right materials for supporting your brand and sharing content. Develop best practice guides outlining key opportunities and step-by-step guides for how employees can beef up their LinkedIn profile, engage and even prospect.
You’ve heard it before: You need to have a solid measurement plan. So if you can’t measure your efforts on LinkedIn, don’t launch until you can.
“Excellent reporting and analytics are so important,” Otero says. “Our goal is getting people to a landing page so they have more awareness about what we have to offer so relationship managers can have meaningful conversations. So for us, we’re continuously tracking site traffic and optimizing our strategy.”
Think beyond social platform metrics, too. Develop a plan for tracking LinkedIn’s role in driving your target further down the funnel to your owned properties—implement a conversion tracker on your site, for instance.
“Whatever gives you more information about what your targets do after they leave LinkedIn is really important,” Otero says. “Track all the way from when people see content on the LinkedIn page to which actions they took on your website or landing page. That’s where you will be able to show the biggest ROI, especially if your sales cycle is long.”
A thorough measurement plan will also allow you to show that all-important ROI.
“If you don’t really know your goals and how to translate those goals into KPIs and a comprehensive reporting strategy, you’re not going to be able to show success,” Otero says. “You won’t be able to show your executive leaders what you’re able to accomplish on LinkedIn in a meaningful way.”
“It’s important to not only set up a strategy but also to be OK with something not working,” she says. “Re-evaluate it, rework your strategy and test. Test for months—not just weeks. If it doesn’t work, try something else.
“You have to be OK with failing to be able to actually win on the platform. So, do the testing. Take the chance.”