Musing about Social Media and its lead generation effectiveness


Social Media is a major part of any B2B sales or marketing strategy that we endorse for our clients at My Lead Agency.  It doesn't mean we always enjoy or embrace social media.  Despite the typical verbosity of my blog posts, I don't always have a lot to say.  I'm good with 2-4 character posts ("Yup", "Nope", "OK") rather than 140 characters, and blogging can sometimes be downright painful.  I've got so much to do during the day that social media can sometimes be an afterthought. With that all said, is it effective for lead generation? Well, as it relates to inbound marketing, it's critical however we need to keep perspective; it's still only one tool in our bag of business development weapons. In other words, stay focused on developing a comprehensive and holistic approach to your lead generation efforts; do not get tunnel-vision and believe social media is the answer to all of your sales pipeline woes. Trust me when I say that many companies we work with have been barraged with sage advice preaching that social media will fill their coffers. With that as the inspiration for today's post, I decided to go have another look at the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report and see what the numbers say about this topic.
When asked to indicate the effectiveness of social media for their organization, the answers were as follows:
  • 16% - Very effective
  • 59% - Somewhat effective
  • 25% - Not effective
What's interesting about these numbers is how MarketingSherpa chose to interpret them: "the majority of B2B organizations perceive this as either a very effective or a somewhat effective tactic.". Personally, I see the glass half-empty on this one.  That is, that the majority of B2B organizations perceive this as somewhat effective or not effective at all. And, it should be noted, my "majority" is bigger than MarketingSherpa's "majority" when you add up the numbers. So, that tells you that the experience of most marketers is somewhat still out on the impact of social media.  Of course, many pro-social-media pundits will simply claim that these organizations aren't effectively using social media, nor do they have the expertise or resources to implement it properly; and they would be right in most cases. That said, it's just another affirmation that social media, like any marketing tactic, must be implemented intelligently.
If I drill down further on this topic, MarketingSherpa asks the question "Which of the following social media tactics does your organization currently use? Check all that apply". The answers are intriguing:
  • 87% - Participating on company branded or managed social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 64% - Microblogging on company branded or managed microblogs (Twitter, Jaiku, etc.)
  • 64% - Blogging on company branded or managed blogs
  • 62% - Sharing content on multimedia sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, etc.)
  • 59% - Using social media to improve search engine rankings (SEO)
  • 41% - Social media news releases
  • 33% - Blogger or online influencer relations
  • 30% - Sharing email content with social media sites
  • 21% - Advertising on blogs, social networks or other social media sites
So my takeaway here is that companies engage what requires the least amount of effort, such as Facebook and Twitter.  Everyone can do a small little update here and there.  That's not too time consuming.  However, blogging does take more time and effort, as does content creation and SEO. Influencer relations can take an especially long time, as you need to develop a relationship over time; that will only happen if you have something valuable to say or great content to contribute. MarketingSherpa actually has another chart that details the perceived level of effort required for each of these initiatives, which fundamentally documents our noted assumptions.
Alright, let's bring this blog post home and reference the chart that really means something to those within the organization responsible for revenue: Please rate the following tactics for their level of effectiveness in achieving social media objectives (1 star is the lowest level of effectiveness, 5 stars is the highest level). For brevity, I'm going to add up the percentages for those who answered 4-stars, or 5-stars, into a single percentage, as that percentage reflects a strong perception of the tactic's effectiveness in achieving the organizations's goals for social media.  For our clients, that goal is almost always lead generation.
  • 44% - Blogging on company branded or managed blogs
  • 40% - Using social media to improve search engine ranking (SEO)
  • 34% - Blogger and online influencer relations
  • 30% - Sharing content on multimedia sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, etc.)
  • 30% - Participating on company branded or managed social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 24% - Microblogging on company branded or managed microblogs (Twitter, Jaiku, etc.)
  • 20% - Social media news releases
  • 24% - Sharing email content with social media sites
  • 17% - Advertising on blogs, social networks or other social media sites
So what's my takeaway from this? Organizations are not optimally using social media.  While Twitter and Facebook are good, and often fun, they are not ranking well enough on achieving corporate objectives relative to the investment required.  On the other hand, blogging, SEO, influencer relations, and content creation is more successful at achieving those goals.
In the end, deals occur because of relationships. One party trusts another to help them resolve a pain they have. Trust is built slowly, often after repeated demonstrations that a vendor has skill, and a track record of success, such that a Buyer's objections, and fear of risk, are mitigated. The vendor becomes credible. As is often the case behind earned trust, word-of-mouth implies credibility. When a trusted advisor refers a vendor to a friend (virtual word-of-mouth), the vendor is perceived as credible and trustworthy.  That's what content does for you.  It puts your knowledge in a consumable format. That content is then shared among friends. If it's deemed valuable, trusted Influencers reference and endorse you. Blogs also convey personality and are a more personal way of referencing and delivering content. Content builds SEO. Content becomes a sales and a marketing tool; it's embedded in your processes with things like lead nurturing or objection handling. And all of these factors generate inbound leads which then results in measurable lead generation success.
So there you have it.  My musing for the day.  Sorry I went a bit long. I did admit initially to being verbose with my blogs. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Social Media, and lead generation, is all about the humor


I hosted a webinar yesterday for our partner OnPath.  The guest panelists were Tim Washer (@timwasher) and Deborah Strickland (@deborahs) ofCisco. It was a fun 29 minute discussion (not counting Q&A) about social media and the lessons that Cisco - the 2010 B2B Twitterer of the Year - has learned. These people were really honest and transparent, and I might add, very funny. I hope we can work together again and I suggest you follow them on Twitter. With that said, the webinar attempted to tackle the following six questions in our relatively tight timeline:
  • How does Cisco use social media and why?
  • Does a higher volume of views, fans, followers, subscribers, translate into more sales?
  • How many people does it take to manage a successful social media strategy?
  • What can a small-medium size company do to get started? Do they need a plan or just jump into it?
  • How do you coordinate the technology of scheduling posts, building lists, and measuring clicks with team collaboration?
  • Should a company consider outsourcing these activities?
Sidebar: If GoToWebinar is listening, you folks really need to work on your conference call technology.  The webinar started 7 minutes late because of major issues and tech support never get to us until after we had resolved the matter. That said, a big shout-out to all of those who patiently waited for the webinar to start.  We didn't lose a single audience member! Thanks!
What Tim and Deborah shared can best be summarized as follows:
  • Use humor to engage: whether it's in your posts, or in your content you create (videos, blogs, etc.), people react better, and engage more, with a touch of humor.
  • Be transparent, be relational: don't just push your posts out there non-stop, rather you should be conversational and honest with your audience. It should be a two-way dialog but not necessarily an ongoing diatribe of your daily existence.
  • Sit back and watch while you're getting started.  You'll soon figure out who is worthy of watching and engaging with compared to who is simply shouting/spamming with no interest in being "social".
  • Use services like Technorati to find cool blogs to follow, and then get active contributing.
  • Look at your competitors and see what they're doing.  There is a good chance that you should be following some of the same people they do.
  • Create a schedule and stick to it.  Consistency is critical.
  • Social Media takes a lot of effort.  Don't let others in your organization make the false assumption otherwise.  Assume at least an hour or two per day.  If you don't have the time, or the additional resources or budget, to make that commitment then consider eliminating something else from your existing marketing mix or daily obligations.
  • Social Media does not necessarily result in a dramatic increase in lead generation activity.  It does, however, positively impact your search engine optimization (SEO), your thought leadership, and your exposure.  It's great to get a handle on what customers are saying about you or your services and products, and it absolutely allows you to respond to any concern they may have.
  • There is lots of technology out there, so use it.  The usual suspects like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite are good, but so are more analytical tools like Radian6 or PostRank.
  • Outsourcing of social media is a challenging thing, as the vendor will never know your business like you do.  That said, it can be safely done in controlled circumstances with sufficient checks and balances.
  • Foremost, what I took away, was a comment that for social media to be successful, you have to have a goal.  Once you start the program, always be measuring against your goals. What was very interesting was the observation that your goal may not be the same as what others in your organization believe the goals should be.  That means you need to get consensus early in the process.
Of course, I'm just hitting the high notes.  The actual webinar is worthy of a quick listen.  The questions submitted by the audience were powerful and the answers were honest.
Thanks to
@onpath for the opportunity to host. 
If you want to hear it yourself, you can
find the recorded version here.