Jarrett (Jarrett Rush, director of content marketing): In the last year, we’ve seen businesses like Lush UK and Crossfit announce that they are leaving some social media channels. Some liquor brands are doing the same thing, but they are being a little quieter about it. While the specific reasons vary, each of these companies say they are focusing efforts elsewhere because they are tired of chasing an algorithm.
So, considering social platforms are charging to show your content to the people who’ve chosen to follow your brand and constantly changing the algorithms that serve content to users, is there still value in social media for brands, specifically B2B brands?
Kady (Kady White, digital marketing strategist): I think there is, but it’s pay-to-play now. It’s an advertising strategy and not just a conversational media strategy.
Les (Les Worley, senior content manager): Well, first of all, not all those companies that are in the news actually quit social, they just shifted who is handling it, right? Like Lush UK made quite a splash in the news that they were tired of chasing algorithms. But in the end, it was Lush’s US division that took over their Lush UK’s social management.
Mary Brynn (Mary Brynn Milburn, account coordinator): Social media still holds value for brands anywhere. While the clutter is massive, there is still great opportunity on social to showcase your brand and get creative with how you reach your target audiences.
Vincent (Vincent Slaven, media strategist): I think there’s value, because if you’re looking at algorithms and ROI then you’re looking at only one part of it. Social Media is a great channel for community engagement and building your image. If you do it right, it’s a great addition to your strategy.
Jarrett: Interesting, Kady. How should that shift change how brands look at social media and what benefit they can get from it?
Kady: I think it used to be just about growing your followers, and a lot of people get hung up on follower count rather than focusing on creating engaging content and the community aspect like Vincent mentioned.
Traci (Traci Scott, account director): The reason it costs money to get in front of your audience, is because it is valuable. A lot of established brands are accustomed to the early days of branded social, where all that mattered was having decent content and the right hashtags. Now you have to think of social as an advertising platform, where you need a strategy, and you need to pay for the value the platform provides—sophisticated targeting, ad units that support specific KPI’s and business goals, and the attention of your audience.
Les: I agree that it’s got to be considered advertising. But, being pay-to-play, having the rules change all the time gets even more expensive for companies, because they build up a strategy, pay for it, and then have to revamp it.
Vincent: There’s other things to consider, though. If you’re just using social as an ad platform, then, yes, you have to consider how you must pay to reach specific audiences and what that’s worth. But if you’re using it to put out quality content that engages your followers, they will share and interact with you and that will push your channel to the forefront. I really feel if you’re only looking at it as an ad platform, that’s a bad approach.
Jarrett: Vincent, are the platforms making it harder to build and engage with that community by forcing brands to pay to reach them?
Vincent: In my experience, paying to build a community wasn’t ever as effective as growing it organically by speaking to your followers and giving them content they enjoy and want to share. Paying is a good way to get noticed at key times, or to spike followers when you need it, but without quality content and a purpose then retaining your audience will become a problem.
Les: Jarrett and Vincent, if we consider it is now more a form of advertising than community building, I don’t know if it is harder or just a matter of having to pay as you would for any other form of advertising.
Traci: I think this is a tough time of change for brands. The desire to grow community is a great sentiment, but now, you even need a paid strategy to gain new followers. If you have a legacy community, sure, keep it alive if you can. But if you’re trying to BUILD a new community, set aside some budget for follower acquisition campaigns.
Mary Brynn: You can gain a community, but the issue is how do you retain them? The adage quality over quantity really applies to big brands on social. Targeted content in the form of a few posts will go farther than just general content not targeted to any one group. But, again, the algorithm comes into play here as well because its constantly changing, meaning strategies have to constantly evolve
Kady: Yes, you need both. You need the community and engagement through your content as well as a strategy to get it in front of your target audience that might not follow you.
Jarrett: If change is a constant when it comes to social media, how do businesses—B2B businesses specifically—build a solid social strategy that provides value but also doesn’t become irrelevant the next time the algorithms change?
Kady: For B2B, I think it’s important to think about what social channels make the most sense for your business goals, rather than just creating a bunch of social profiles because you think that’s what you should do.
Les: I think that is a multi-part question, Jarrett. First, choose your social channel wisely. Are your customers and prospects really watching your posts on Facebook? Or is a more professional platform like LinkedIn more their speed?
Jarrett: So, none of the platforms are table stakes?
Kady: For B2B it really depends on the company. If you have a really strong corporate culture and identity, things like Instagram may be really great. But if not then it may not help you get to your business goals.
Les: As for changing algorithms, the only way to protect yourself—if you can call it that—is to be consistent and not try to game the system. That is, don’t swing so hard to appease a new algorithm that when it changes, your entire strategy comes to a halt.
Vincent: Kady is totally right. First you need to evaluate each social platform you’re considering and see if your audience is even there. No point in making great content and spending money if they people seeing it aren’t who buy your product. Then it’s about utilizing the unique features of each platform to the best possible way to engage.
That means using YouTube for how-to videos or flashy product shows like unboxing videos. Twitter for quick updates that lead to larger content elsewhere, etc.
Vincent: If I follow a brand on social, it’s usually because I like their voice and the content they’re presenting. Even if it’s meant to sell stuff to me, if it’s done in a fun way I’ll keep engaging. If a brand I follow looks like they’re just rehashing ads and not trying (and it’s easy to tell who’s guilty of this) then I will unfollow instantly. I really expect brands to add to my social media feed in the same way that my friends I follow add to it. I want to be informed and entertained.
Traci: You can have a great social post that’s engaging and resonates with your audience, but the hard truth is your audience is much less likely to see it if you don’t throw a few bucks behind it for paid amplification
Les: Right, Traci. If you are a busy B2B buyer, and you don’t have hours to spend on social every day, you may simply miss seeing a post that would otherwise have captured your attention with some other form of advertising. Of course, that means the company needs to post more and more often, right? (edited)
Jarrett: If businesses are using social media as a way to build community around their brand, what are some viable ways that businesses can supplement that capability of social media platforms?
Kady: Get them into an email nurturing campaign—STAT. Coming from social, an email campaign is really where B2B can shine if they do it right.
Traci: But you need to re-engage them once they leave. They might spend some time on your site, but if they don’t convert, be ready to retarget on social.
Vincent: I agree with Kady. Use social to start getting noticed and then draw people to a place where you can control the community engagement better and not have to worry about algorithms, a place like your web site or getting them to sign up to an email list.
Les: The goal of social, then, shouldn’t be the be-all online community for a B2B company, but the doorway that leads to their own online community.
Vincent: Remember the old days of forums on a product’s site? That was a great example.
Les: Yes, indeed. Site forums are a great example. They aren’t or shouldn’t be dead, though they need to be modernized.
Mary Brynn: Retargeting is extremely valuable, but how do you navigate the line of too much retargeting? When is it overkill?
Les: Yes, social can keep reminding existing followers of the great content on the company’s website—people do need reminders. But I think once they find value in the company’s own online community, the become loyal to it.
Jarrett: Any last thoughts from anyone?
Traci: Social’s not going anywhere. More than ever, it’s important to have a thoughtful strategy and great content! Think about what your goals first, then build a program based on that
Les: B2B brands just have to decide which social channels make sense for them, but form a strategy that doesn’t marry them totally to their social community. They need to form a community of their own that they can control, independent of a social platform’s algorithms.
Kady: Great way to wrap it up, Traci! Agreed, it’s valuable for B2B, but you have to be strategic and mindful, or you’ll just be tweeting into the ether. Use it as a tool to get people to your platform, whether that’s your website, blog, email, etc.
Vincent: Make it part of your marketing/communications campaign and make sure it makes sense. It should complement other things you’re doing, not replace or be the only thing you’re doing.