There is a lot of bad social media marketing in the world, especially in the B2B sector.
In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 93 percent of B2B marketers use social media as the main channel for their content marketing, but only 30 percent say their strategies are effective (and that figure is actually down from 38 percent the previous year).
This means that thousands of brands are regularly — or semi-regularly — sharing content that gets ignored, falls flat, or fails to interest anyone in their audiences. That’s not good content marketing, and that’s not good for content marketing.
Where are brands going wrong? Simply put, they’re failing to engage audiences and communicate with them in an interesting way. In many ways, they’re too worried about being professional to be funny.
We looked at why brands are so timid on social media and how they can successfully step out of their shells to become more personable.
Many marketers err on the side of impersonal in their social media content because they feel it’s not right for their brand — as if professional and personable are mutually exclusive.
“Marketers seem to think that because you’re approaching prospects in a professional capacity your marketing collateral needs to be devoid of personality and humour,” copywriter and content marketer Pete Boyle writes at FunnelEnvy.
“This doesn’t just create dull materials that fail to inspire but makes it difficult to stand out from the other boring marketing materials out there. When everything your prospect reads is similar, they’ll forget where the nugget of wisdom that had some impact came from.”
That’s problematic for brands that want to stand out, but are too nervous to try something edgy, lest they appear unprofessional or go viral for all the wrong reasons.
“For various reasons, being funny feels like a risky strategy,” says Nico Lutkins, Marketing Director at LinkedIn.
“Humor evokes a powerful wave of emotions, catches our attention and influences us in powerful ways. The best B2B marketers know this. They invest time and money in making people laugh on LinkedIn — and they get fantastic results in the process.”
Lutkins has seen brands completely shut down at the thought of posting something funny on the “professional” network — though a few brave souls sometimes nervously ask her if being funny is allowed.
Naturally, there are certainly times when it is important to stick to a serious brand message. After all, B2B buyers are looking to buy something that solves a problem; they’re not buying personality.
Data back this up. According to a poll by G&S Business Communications, consumers prefer CEOs to stay focused on the company instead of using social media for personal expression. Respondents said they overwhelmingly expect a senior business leader’s social media presence to focus on a company’s business activities, not as a platform for sharing personal stories.
However, for every professional CEO that only retweets company press releases, there’s a Richard Branson sharing his bike injuries [warning: slightly gross].
The moral of the story is that there’s always an exception to the rule, and there’s room for humor in almost any industry.
Another issue that many B2B companies struggle with is understanding the value of social media altogether. They see platforms such as Facebook and Instagram as B2C games.
“B2B companies traditionally have a smaller target audience and a higher average price point,” says Blair Broussard, senior vice president at AR|PR. “Most [importantly], however, a B2B’s customer decision funnel is even more influenced by word of mouth and reputation than a B2C company’s.
“If you begin to take social media engagement seriously, it could help you not only gain more customers and build relationships with key industry influencers, but it could also ensure customer loyalty.”
Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications, agrees. The B2B sector relies on the long-term game, she says, which makes social media the perfect channel.
“Even if you love Starburst candies, do you really want to build a relationship with them? Would you follow them on social media for weeks, months, and years before deciding to buy their newly-launched line of candy? Probably not.
“However, if you’re deciding which company to use to manufacture parts for your equipment, wouldn’t you want to know the company’s background?”
The team at TrackMaven analyzed 316 B2B brands in 17 industries across five social networks to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to social media. Their analysis included 508,060 posts and 100 million social interactions. They found that Twitter fell flat what it came to engagement, but Instagram thrived.
“Across industries, B2B brands have an average engagement ratio on Twitter that is below two interactions per post per 1,000 followers. … With the exception of the biotech and financial services industries, B2B brands see the highest average engagement ratios on Instagram.”
Essentially, B2B brands shouldn’t be afraid to enter the typical B2C universe if that’s where their audiences are.
Bojana Dobran, director of content for Four Dots, created an infographic for cross-channel engagement on social media. She found that 47 percent of B2B content creators struggled to produce content that engages. Her theory is that brands are serving the wrong content on different channels, isolating audiences instead of engaging them.
“Marketers need to rethink their content strategies in order to engage their target audiences,” she says. “… They need to do some math before starting to produce different forms of content and make sure they understand how the audience uses specific online channels what types of content typically work best on each of them.”
Go where you think your audience is, but don’t be afraid to test new channels and see how they perform.
Humor works — regardless of the industry — because it taps into our sense of humanity.
“Even B2B relationships boil down to individual people,” the team at Quarry writes. “And the best way for a customer to relate to your brand is for it to be ‘human,’ as well. Brands that poke fun at themselves through humor are more relatable, and therefore, more approachable.”
With humor, B2B brands can make people want to get to know them, which can lead to more conversations at conferences and more answered sales calls.
“It’s important to remember that the companies that your business sells to are made up of the individuals who work there,” says Mandy Movahhed of B2B Commerce Platform Handshake. “These individuals are the ones that make the decisions and ultimately determine what the relationship between your firm and theirs will look like.”
This advice goes both ways. It’s your job to make your brand personable and engaging while treating the audiences and people whom you sell to like human beings.
Angie Pascale, head of search & social at Interstellar, found the science behind embracing humor as a brand: “Positive feelings create memories. Research has shown that just 42 percent of positive experiences were forgotten, while 60 percent of negative experiences faded from memory. No one remembers a dull Facebook post or boring YouTube video, but we all remember Kmart’s ‘I Shipped My Pants’ commercials, even if we’d forgotten that Kmart was around.”
This is why humor works as a marketing tactic. “When consumers show up on social media, they want to be entertained — not sold to,” says digital marketing consultant Jordan Kasteler. “When a brand forgets this, they lose the attention of their audience. Engagement plummets, and people ignore their posts.”
Here are four things to keep in mind when you organize a genuine, personable, even funny social campaign.
Go for authentically funny, not “stupid funny,” where your social media profile is flooded with irrelevant cat GIFs. Instead, assign a goal to each piece before your publish it.
“You must have a strategy in place and clearly set objectives of what you want this content to achieve,” says Veronika Baranovska, content marketing specialist at Sendible.com. “Is it brand awareness, or another way how to explain a complicated product or service? Maybe it’s to inspire the new generation to work in your industry or even for your own company.”
Carter Hostelley, CEO of Leadtail, agrees and has seen plenty of peers and clients struggle to achieve social media success because they don’t know what goals to set and how to track them.
“Understand which stage you’re at with social media, and then set your goals accordingly,” Hostelley says. “If you’re just getting (re)started, set goals that are about consistent activity. Next, it’s about building a high-quality audience chock full of prospects and influencers. Then it’s more about engaging your social audience with the right content.”
Your goals should be as much about you and your brand’s growth as the clicks and traffic you’re generating.
While there are certainly best practices to follow in the world of social media, it’s entirely possible that your audience or industry is the exception to the rule. “When is your audience online [and] looking for your content?” asks Jenn Deering Davis, co-founder of Union Metrics.
“It may be that they’re most attentive during the work day. If that’s true, then typical advice like ‘post more in the evenings’ may not help you. The best way to find out what works for your audience is to post during a variety of times and days and find out when you get the most engagement.”
Amy Elderkin, founder of Popcorn, says striking the right cord on social media can come down to the people you hire.
“Writing some funny Tweets seems like an easy job, especially when you see some of the simple copy from big brands, but coming up with content that is topical, onbrand, witty without being controversial and aimed at your audience is not an easy task.
“When choosing the people to build your social media team, it’s important to consider your brand’s voice and choose the right individuals for the job.”
Tamara Weintraub at ReachLocal thinks social media are among the most flexible marketing platforms out there, which is a great opportunity for B2B brands to test what works.
“Because social media is so fluid, you have a lot of opportunities to try new strategies, test tactics, ask for feedback, and be more agile than you can with some other marketing methods. Even if you think you’re just selling boring software, social media can your chance to dedicate some of your most creative minds, time, and budget to your efforts.”
As with all marketing channels, social media requires long-term strategy and planning, and you probably won’t see immediate results in your attempts to be funny. However, if you stick to your goals and stand by your strategy, your tactics could pay off, and your marketing team will get the last laugh.