Can Facebook really generate leads for B2B companies? For many that try to attract and engage fans through the networking site, there is something fundamentally awkward about the attempt.
Indeed, Facebook "can be a lonely place for B2B marketers," says Joe Chernov, vice president of content marketing for Eloqua, a marketing technology company in Vienna, Va. "It's definitely not as natural a fit in B2B as it is for a consumer brand." B2B companies, he adds, "need to work a little harder, get a little more creative."
B2B marketers are increasingly looking to Facebook as a content distribution and engagement channel. In 2011, 70 percent of B2B marketers used Facebook to share content with their networks, a 30 percent increase over the previous year, according to a study by MarketingProfs in partnership with the Content Marketing Institute.
Here's the key to B2B success on Facebook: Embrace the idea of it as a rich network that allows you to connect with prospects and customers--in other words, actual people. Even though your business is catering to other businesses--you might sell HVAC units to commercial real estate builders, or you might e-mail marketing services to nonprofits--there is still one person (or perhaps, a series of people) who will ultimately make the purchase. Recalibrate your thinking. Even in B2B, the goal is to reach and engage with flesh-and-blood individuals.
At the same time, Facebook is a busy place. It has a larger population than any country in the world, except China and India. According to Facebook, its citizens are highly active, visiting the site an average of 40 times per month for an average of 23 minutes per visit. What that means for the B2B marketer is that business updates are competing with potentially far more compelling stuff (photos, party invites and what does that hot guy from high school look like now, anyway?)
Nonetheless, Facebook can work quite well for many B2B companies. Here are five ways to use it to increase engagement and generate leads. One important note: For any of this, your company must have a business page, not just an individual profile. (For guidance, see Facebook.com/business.)
1. Get the "like" before the love. It's critical to get your potential leads to "like" your page before you can engage with them further. In all likelihood, less than 1 percent of your Facebook fans will ever return to your business page. Rather, they'll engage with your content through their news feeds. Your Facebook page will lay the groundwork for building awareness and establishing trust; plus, it will offer a regular platform for sharing content, promoting sales and rewarding fans with special deals. Incorporate sign-up forms, calls to action and links to your website that support lead gen.
In The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, Linked-In, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More, Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen cite software developer Brainshark as a company that does an effective job attracting "likes." Brainshark's Facebook page features four key items: a can't-miss orange arrow, an embedded video overview, a link to sign up for a free account and an invitation to test its cloud-based software.
2. Integrate leads with likes. ClearRisk, a risk-management company in St. John's, Newfoundland, does this well. It offers a free, information-rich e-book in exchange for contact info. Once visitors like ClearRisk's page, they are directed to an embedded sign-up for the company's book, Insurance Premiums Are Killing My Business, which is delivered via e-mail.
Regularly share content like e-books, white papers and webinars within your Facebook content stream. Remind your fans of the usefulness and effectiveness of your content by offering solid links and snippets via posts that emphasize the material itself vs. sales-driven "Sign up now!" directives.
Social media marketing company Involver packs its Facebook presence with goodness that communicates the brand's value: videos, a PDF with a collection of Facebook success stories, client logos and more. And its newsletter sign-up is in an obvious spot.
3. Create a contest or sweepstakes. This is a great way to attract fans, assuming you pick your prize carefully. What kind of sweepstakes might work for a B2B company, when its business appeals to a finite, specific audience? That was the question Eloqua asked itself, leading to the launch of a joint program with Empire Avenue, a virtual stock exchange. Those who "liked" Eloqua were entered into a drawing for virtual currency on the gaming site.
Eloqua's Chernov says the sweepstakes attracted lots of fans--but more important, it attracted the right kind of fans. "We had very little churn following the end of the sweepstakes, so that's a really good sign that we pulled from the right community," he says.
A word of caution: Before you launch any Facebook contest or sweepstakes, read the fine print of Facebook's promotion guidelines. Promotions must be administered as a separate page--either on a "canvas page" or as an app on a page tab. You cannot collect entries, conduct a drawing or notify winners through your main Facebook wall (more details here: Facebook.com/promotions_guidelines.php).
4. Understand the algorithm. Facebook buries boring content, using an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine what appears in news feeds. So it's key to update your Facebook presence with content that ignites interaction and increases your visibility. What works best? Updates that are rooted in utility and creativity, including something personal or fun tossed up now and again. Make sure you're putting out relevant, compelling, charming stuff that matches the interests of the people you're targeting.
- Ask open-ended questions to invite interaction.
- Create updates that offer real value, as opposed to spewing sales messages.
- Post at different times of day, and tailor to various outlets. (Don't auto-post or cross-post the same content to multiple platforms.)
- Limit volume: No more than one or two posts a day.
EdgeRank gives more weight to videos and photos than to text-only status updates, so tell your story visually. And don't forget weekends: That's the time to reach fans who aren't online much during the workweek.
5. Think outside Facebook. Embedding widgets and plug-ins into your business's website can be a significant way to increase engagement. Integrate Facebook sharing icons into your landing page and in e-mails your company sends to allow your customers to easily share your offers with their friends, thereby augmenting your visibility.