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Social vs. content: Which wins in B2B marketing?

In the realm of online marketing, business-to-business organizations have numerous options. Various marketing strategies have unique strengths and weaknesses, and it’s ultimately up to each company to find ways to make each channel work. Two overlapping categories – social media and content marketing – are often handled separately because of the objectives businesses have in mind. That said, there are challenges and opportunities presented in both that marketers should remain aware of and help guide their future campaigns.

Challenges in B2B content marketing
Around half of all marketers focused on connecting with other business owners feel their content has reached maturity (1). In other words, a sizable number of B2B marketers believe their blog posts, white papers, infographics and other types of online marketing materials work to respond to buyers’ needs throughout the purchasing lifecycle. However, 87 percent indicate creating content that engages customers remains a significant challenge. Meanwhile, 57 percent of marketers said they focus on developing content to distribute through various channels, including their website, social networks and print sources, on an ongoing basis. Another 45 percent indicated they frequently created content for sales purposes to help buyers better understand a product or service.

What may be one of the biggest roadblocks to creating high-impact B2B content is the number of people that companies regularly dedicate to development. In fact, more than 7 in 10 business-focused marketers said that fewer than half of their team has a strong part to play in designing and making content marketing materials.

What are your primary goals?
In most cases, content functions best as a lead nurturing tool to help move buyers toward making purchasing decisions. It’s important for B2B marketers to emphasize the ways in which their products and services will help customers solve an issue or quell a concern they may have. Seventy-one percent of marketers say that case studies and similar content are frequently used to sway buyers, but very few have actively made it a core part of their campaigns (1).

Meanwhile, customers want to work with a business partner that both understands where the industry is and where it should be headed. This is one of the strongest benefits of a well-structure content marketing strategy. By performing research and creating a white paper that gives buyers a sense of what’s coming next, a company can establish a sense of confidence among potential buyers. However, just 12 percent of marketers cite this as a priority.

At the same time, content marketing often crosses path with social media marketing.

What is a social business?
When most marketing professionals think about a social organization, they picture a business-to-consumer organization. However, B2B companies increasingly see the significant impact of social networks that connect employees with decision-makers in other companies. In fact, 60 percent of business-oriented enterprises strongly agree that social initiatives augment financial and strategic results (2). Social businesses are those that not only connect on social networks but are also using high-level analytics tools to measure data derived from social channels to inform business plans. They monitor both external and internal communications to gain a better understanding of how ideas flow through social media.

One way B2B organizations are leveraging social networks is to use the data found in feedback delivered by customers to manage the way they develop current and future products. Another common practice is to use social sites as forums for collaboration and thought sharing. For instance, LinkedIn has become one of the more successful platforms that business leaders use to raise issues and discuss pressing topics that impact a specific industry.

Yet, the most mature companies go beyond engagement and move toward measurement. While it’s certainly important to foster relationships and initiate interesting conversations, B2B organizations need to be able to accurately measure impressions, shares, responses and other metrics to clearly understand how their social strategy performs.

A movement toward automation?
The solution many companies have sought is automating many of the marketing processes that have traditionally been manual. For example, distributing content through various channels or responding to buyers on social sites can potentially be handled using automation tools. For 45 percent of marketers, the main objective is to increase productivity (3).

Depending on the number of marketing pathways and social sites a business uses, managing content and social media by hand can be a time-intensive task. Another core objective using marketing automation is increasing lead generation and strengthening nurturing. However, 45 percent of marketers haven’t effectively developed a strategy to integrate automation tools. This could help explain why roughly half of all companies outsource part of their automated marketing campaigns. Third-party providers tend to have the staff, budget, tools and expertise make them more efficient at implementing and analyzing this type of strategy.

In all likelihood, B2B organizations will use a combination of social media and content marketing to reach out to buyers. However, each company needs to recognize where its money is best spent using analytics, either in-house or through an outsourced agency. In any worthwhile venture there are challenges, but they’re seldom insurmountable.

1. Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity
2. Moving Beyond Marketing
3. Marketing Automation Benchmark Summary Report

Sheila Kloefkorn

With more than 25 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.