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SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
A Google search last week on the phrase “content is king” returned 1.2 million results. The “content marketing” graph in Google Trends veered sharply up and to the right beginning last spring. That's only the latest behavioral evidence of what most b2b marketers already know: In a world gone mad with searching and sharing, the best way to find customers is to get them to find you.
Content marketing was the No.1 priority cited by marketers in a recent Econsultancy study, which surveyed more than 1,000 in-house marketers online in October. Optify, which surveyed over 700 members of a b2b technology marketing community on LinkedIn, in October reported that 84% of b2b marketers responding plan to increase their investments in content marketing. Among factors driving the trend:
For all the hype around content marketing, most practitioners are still feeling their way around. More than 90% of marketers and agencies surveyed by Econsultancy last fall said content marketing is becoming more important, but fewer than 40% had a clear content marketing strategy. Challenges in creating good stuff in sufficient quantity are frequently cited as top b2b concerns.
But the promise is too tantalizing to ignore. For businesses that want to be media producers, barriers to entry have been lowered. “the barriers to entry have been obliterated,” wrote Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi on the company's website. PR scion Richard Edelman recently reversed his position on PR's traditional pitch-meister role on his blog, 6 A.M., writing: “There is [now] a vital emerging business to be done in content creation for brands.”
Social media is the primary channel marketers use to publish and promote content. Blogs top most lists of the more useful b2b tools, largely because of their excellent search performance. Content marketing and the changes driven by Panda sparked the first increase in corporate blogging in four years, according to the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth's 2012 study of Inc. magazine's top 500 fastest-growing U.S. companies.
Such short-form tools as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are assuming a more support-and-amplification role thanks to their immediacy and extensive reach. More than 80% of b2b marketers now use at least one social network, according to a Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs study that surveyed more than 1,400 marketers online in August.
That's because reader sharing is a cheap and easy way to spread a message. “Content published on two or three channels had a 24% increase in engagement over content published to a single channel,” wrote CMO Michael Lewis in his book “Stand Out Social Marketing” (McGraw-Hill Cos., October 2012). When more than three channels are used, the number increases to 30%.
With the four big social networks (YouTube rounds out the pack) now firmly established, many marketers are focused on getting more from the social capital they already have. Cisco Systems and Oracle Corp. are the latest tech giants to put thousands of employees through formal social media education programs, and IBM Corp. has trained 1,000 channel partners in a social media “boot camp.” Even nontech firms such as Aon have fielded recent campaigns that relied heavily upon employees to spread the word. The results: Cisco reported that in one campaign last year, employee-driven tweets accounted for 41% of social reach.
Companies are also investigating new uses of social tools in support and recruiting. More than 70% of companies polled in a 2012 Social Media Today survey that drew more than 500 respondents now use social media for customer service, with customer satisfaction and loyalty cited as the main drivers. Satisfied customers spend more, and keyword monitoring can reveal product problems before they become a recall headache.
Social media has also become ubiquitous in recruitment, with more than 90% of U.S. companies regularly seeking talent through social networks, according to a Jobvite survey of more than 1,000 human resources and recruitment professionals in June. LinkedIn, which started as a matchmaking site for job-seekers, has evolved into the top social network for b2b marketers. It crossed the 200 million-member mark in 2012.
While Facebook struggles with its business model, LinkedIn stock has almost doubled in the past year. The network's diversified business has drawn raves from investors, and surveys consistently place it ahead of all others in b2b effectiveness. Last year, it snapped up the underappreciated Slide-Share and overhauled its company pages to make them richer lead-generation vehicles.
“LinkedIn is on a path to replace email as the primary means of business communications in the next several years,” said Jim Cahill, head of social media at Emerson Process Management, which helps industrial companies automate production, processing and distribution. “I see more engagement there than I do in Twitter and Facebook.”
Google+ is the dark horse worth watching. More than half a billion Google accounts are Google+-enabled, although actual use is much lower. Google is courting businesses to set up shop on the network, dangling improved search performance as an enticement. It's also positioned Google+ as an integration point for all it's applications and services.
“Google+ is to Facebook and Twitter what Macintosh is to Windows: Better, but fewer people use it and the pundits prophecy that it will fail,” wrote Guy Kawasaki in his book “What the Plus!” (McGraw-Hill Cos., August 2012).
If he's right, then Google could do worse than follow Apple's lead.