When it comes to social media and B2B marketing, it’s no longer a case of asking “Is it worthwhile?” Social platforms have proved to be an effective B2B marketing channels time and time again.

As recently as this year, Elliot Schimel, CEO of Mission Control Marketing, partnered with Researchscape to survey executives and found that 83 percent of executives use social media in their decision making, and 92 percent of that segment said social media influenced a purchasing decision within the last year.

The question to ask, then, is how B2B marketers should use social media in the years ahead. That’s the question we’ll answer here today by focusing on four things customers will expect from B2B brands on social media next year and beyond.

Chatbots on Facebook and Other Platforms

Maruti Techlabs don’t beat around the bush when they say that AI in B2B sales and marketing will transform the way buyers interact with brands.

For one thing, AI-powered chatbots can be used as a 24/7 customer service assistant on social channels to answer any and all questions. But more than this, AI can also be used to collect data gathered through these channels, thereby enabling B2B marketing teams to develop curated content or offers.

It will eventually get to the point where chatbots are the first point of contact for a prospective customer. In fact, digital marketing strategist Ross Simmonds believes chatbots can be used at almost every stage of the B2B sales journey. This will include:

  • Lead qualification. Bots are already being used to gain insights into potential buyers.
  • Scheduling meetings. Bots can integrate with calendars to schedule meetings automatically.
  • Lead nurturing. Once you have access to someone’s Facebook Messenger inbox, you can get in touch with them instantly.

Simmonds goes as far as to say chatbots have the potential to be bigger than email automation. And best of all, every B2B company can get started with chatbots today. That’s why Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream, calls them one of the best emerging B2B marketing opportunities.


Embedded AR and VR Experiences

The opportunity for B2B firms to benefit from growing augmented reality and virtual reality technology is huge. And as the products become more mainstream, customers are going to be expecting to see B2B companies integrating the technology into their feeds.

As Sheila Kloefkorn points out, all of the major social networks are already investing in some form of AR or VR technology. Snapchat and Instagram have already implemented AR in the form of face filters — and major B2C brands are already using those to promote their products. Mitch Mathern, marketing account manager at Schubert B2B, points to Ikea and their Place app as one of the companies leading the charge, and makes clear that there will be plenty of opportunities for B2B companies, too.

Given that AR is almost always camera-based and that smartphone use continues to increase, augmented reality will likely become both easier for B2B brands to implement and more popular for consumers. Bob Dearsley, CEO of the B2B Marketing Lab, lists several ways that B2B companies can benefit from the technology:

  • Product placement. Companies can preview what new equipment will look like in their office before purchasing and without leaving a social media app.
  • Virtual tours. Customers no longer have to visit your office or facility if they want to inspect your product. AR and VR makes this possible from a social platform.
  • Virtual meetings. Cross-country or cross-globe business meetings can become instantly easier rather than relying on Slack and other messaging apps.

As augmented reality in social media content and in ads become more commonplace, customers will start to expect it rather than see it as a novelty.

Influencer Marketing

B2C companies lean heavily on social influencers to promote their products. But the same can’t be said of B2B companies … yet.

According to Brian Solis, author of the Altimeter Group’s Influencer 2.0 report, only 4 percent of B2B marketers have any kind of influencer marketing programs. Meanwhile, half of B2C firms have one. Almost half of B2Bs admit they are still in the experimental stage.

Richard Wong, VP of marketing at #paid, points to research that suggests the vast majority (87 percent) of B2B buyers give more credence to content created by industry influencers. There’s clearly a demand for this kind of content but, as Wong points out, the tools available to marketers are almost exclusively positioned for consumer-facing companies and not other industries.

This may all change, however, as a new wave of B2B influencers comes to the fore. Kristina Libby, a professor at the University of Florida, that while there aren’t many “cool” social influencers of the B2C-mold to promote B2B products, there are hundreds of thousands of who will become influencers in the future. That means the impact of influencer marketing in the B2B space is only going to grow in the years ahead.

What’s more, a generation of marketers who have grown up with B2C influencer marketing are taking leadership positions in companies around the world. Content marketing consultant Kate Talbot argues that having a whole generation of influencer marketing-native professionals take over leadership roles will naturally introduce the practice to the B2B realm.


Better Targeted Ads

At the start of this year, Facebook announced changes to its algorithm in a bid to focus on “more meaningful interactions.”

This led to plummeting engagement rates on any non-promoted posts from B2C and B2B pages. In essence, this was Facebook all but officially announcing they were becoming a pay-to-play platform. And for some marketers, this was a good move. Katie Newport, head of creative at Blue State Digital, explains how she sees this as an opportunity for publishers to think harder about how they target her, serving her only ads that she finds useful.

Enter programmatic ad buying.

Programmatic ad buying isn’t anything new. Nor is it that new with regard to social media. Even back in 2016, Adobe’s Monica Lay was reporting that half of all display advertising would be purchased programmatically in 2017, and a third of all display advertising would be represented by Facebook.

Ben Plomion, CMO at GumGum, points out that Facebook’s RTB exchange, FBX, is already used by huge media companies like Buzzfeed to promote content to users based on intent signals that they reveal while browsing the site.

Programmatic advertising will be much more important for B2B marketers in the years ahead as customers respond to a Facebook with more targeted ads and fewer organic promotional posts. The need to serve the right ads to the right people becomes crucial.

Shiho Hashimoto, marketing director at Insight Analysis, agrees. Not only do the majority of B2B marketers rank social media as a low-cost lead generation source, she says, but as programmatic datasets grow, more social advertising will naturally become hyper-personalized in the future.

Two years from now, it won’t be surprising for B2B companies to be carrying out Buzzfeed levels of social programmatic ad buying — and benefitting massively as a result.

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Casey Meehan