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Having worked on the social media strategy of a few accounting firms now, I was recently asked about some tips on how to increase the engagement of a b2b accounting firm’s social media accounts.
For anyone who has worked in B2B social media, you’ll know that it’s a different beast than B2C social media where there is much more engagement and identification with the brand. For B2B accounting firms, the online audience on LinkedIn and Twitter is much more engaged by two factors:
1) Thought Leadership - content which genuinely advances the professional knowledge of the person consuming it
2) Pre-existing Relationships - the individuals that the audience has done business with before at the firm
With this in mind, I’ve put together 6 tips that can help drive engagement for any accounting firm’s social media presence.
1) Reshare Employees’ Posts
Because business relationships are usually handled at a partner level, a great way to increase the visibility of partners and employees is to re-share them from regional and national level accounts. This helps not only highlight these people in front of their colleagues and clients, but it increases the credibility of what they share online.
2) Establish Thought Leadership
When clients and potential clients see your LinkedIn group or Twitter accounts, they are going to judge what’s posted. Keep in mind your audience is people who have a need for accounting services and for them identify you as a trusted source and advisor of accounting knowledge, you should be sharing content that reinforces that position. Whitepapers, relevant industry news and important dates and industry developments all help in this regard.
3) Ask Employees to Follow You
This is something I’ve seen time and time again - the firm creates a social account that represents an industry or business practice and doesn’t let the partners and employees know that they should follow it and share it online. Make sure that everyone in the company knows where to find you and what kind of content you’ll be sharing.
4) Mimic the Best Accounts
It’s sound social media advice for any marketing team in any industry, but it applies just as much to B2B accounting. You don’t get a medal for reinventing the wheel and many social media best practices are easy to observe in the top LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Content type, quality, frequency, engagement style - they’re all here on display for you to see.
5) Follow Clients & Industry Leaders
Audience building is a constant and important task. Make sure that the people you most want to engage with you know that your account exists, is active and worthwhile to follow. Every time you follow an account they get notified that your account exists and will likely check out your account. Don’t be shy!
6) Got Something Important? Ask Employees to Reshare
You don’t have to wait for employees to passively find an important post - go ahead and let them know that you’ve just put something important online that they might want to share with their clients and leads. You’re certainly not doing anyone a disservice by providing important or high quality information that they can share with their own networks.
Building an effective social media presence for a B2B accounting isn’t easy considering the large range of clients and types of work accounting firms do, but it’s very possible and certainly worthwhile to amplify the brand, increase client contact, and reinforce credibility as a thought leader .
If you’re interested in discussing strategy, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to walk you through some real life examples we’ve seen at Elevate, where we help activate employees, clients and fans as brand ambassadors.
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One of our first clients was a hospital. They wanted to find a way to keep their patients more engaged and better informed about their own health. Every family practice doctor had a similar story: patients would come in, mention an article they read in a paper like the New York Times, and ask if it was true.
Health education is one of the most effective ways to keep patients healthy, so the hospital saw an opportunity: what if the clinic could recommend important health news directly to patients via social media? Would they read it? Would doctors participate? And would the hospital support them?
We were brought in to develop a strategy and implement a social media health education program. In this blog post I’m going to explain the principles behind a social media health education strategy, how the strategy works, and how to implement it successfully. These same principles apply to any large service organization that employs highly educated, highly independent professionals (law firms, accounting firms, consulting firms, etc).
What Patients Want: Personal Relationships, Leveraging the News, Creating ROI
We learned some important principles about what patients want when it comes to health news.
- People want health tips from the doctors and nurses they know. Whether it’s a friend or family member or their own doctor or nurse, patients and their families trust them for health advice. “So I saw this on Dr. Oz…” are seven words every health professional has heard before.
- Patients are influential too. Patients also share news and health advice with their friends and family.
- Sharing news is just as good as creating new content. People are as likely to read health news from a major publisher as they are press releases or content created by their doctor’s hospital. Unless it’s important to create new content, you can save time and cost by sharing news articles.
- Email gets the most engagement, followed by Facebook, then Twitter. Patients were most likely to read posts shared via email, but sharing to Facebook was how to reach the most people. The best approach was to combine email + facebook sharing (an example of this can be found here at Elevate)
What Hospitals Need to Know: Doctors are Individuals, Risk Needs to be Managed, and Personal Profiles are Critical
In addition to the principles of what patients wanted, hospitals are large organizations with complex risk profiles. There are some critical considerations for how to make a social media health education program work for them:
- Communications teams need to be the quarterbacks: Communications teams are aware of the risks and need to be at the centre. They need to either train the doctors carefully about brand risks or they need to be involved in selecting content (more on how to do that shortly).
- Total control is not an option: Communications teams can’t control what doctors and employees share to their personal profiles without antagonizing them, so it’s important to make it easier for them to share approved content than to find their own content.
- Doctor and employee presences often drive more traffic than brand presences: Via personal presences on Facebook and Twitter accounts, many individuals have presences that have higher levels of engagement than brand presences (like the hospital’s official presence). It is especially true if you have any doctors who are frequently quoted by the media. Very large health organizations like Mayo Clinic are exceptions.
- Email is the most effective channel: The most effective way to engage employees and doctors to share hospital-approved content is by emailing them content they can retweet or like. An example of this can be seen here. Relying on them to navigate to the hospital’s approved Twitter account to find what they can retweet is significantly less effective and users won’t do it consistently.
The Playbook: How These Principles Turn into a Strategy
Now that we’ve looked at the principles, here’s the best way to actually run a program that maximizes patient education and engagement while minimizing risk.
- Find all of your doctor’s and official hospital Twitter accounts. There are usually a few doctors or departments sharing hospital or health related news. These are great sources for health news to share.
- The communications team should select relevant health news. Working with the doctors to establish criteria, communications professionals should select appropriate news.
- Share it to Twitter and Facebook. Official presences should be managed by a communications professional to control brand risk.
- Email out your best Tweets and Facebook posts to your staff and patients. Your staff were probably working when you were tweeting, or maybe they just missed the update. So email them the most important health news so it’s easy for them to share to their own networks. Here’s how to do that.
- Measure and Repeat. There are two important things to measure: which content is most popular and whose sharing is getting the most engagement. This will will help you identify which topics and sources are working best and who among your staff and patients have the most critical networks. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to thank people for sharing ;-)
So those are the lessons and that’s the strategy. Hospitals and health organizations can use social media as an effective health education channel by using a coordinated strategy that keeps their brands safe, their employees engaged, and their patients healthy.
Do you have any ideas for how hospitals can use social media to educate patients? I’d love to hear them!
Every business leader from a small business owner to a Fortune 500 marketing director has to face the same problem: how do you find great employees? Great startup employees are particularly difficult to find because they need to be creative and independent but they also need to be extremely reliable because you run a small team and everyone’s work is critical. A great startup team member needs to be able to identify the business objectives of a campaign, come up with an idea for the campaign, identify all of the smaller moving parts that need to be organized, and then follow through and execute the campaign. So how do you find a startup employee who has the qualities necessary to succeed?
Everyone has probably read by now that interviews are good at telling you how well a person interviews, but don’t really tell you much about how they’ll perform. We’ve all met very smart people who weren’t stellar at their jobs, so IQ alone won’t tell you how good an employee will. And everyone knows at least one passionate, but ineffective employee, so passion alone won’t cut it. Could it be industry experience? Maybe, but every company has a couple new people with limited experience who are amazing. Experience is extremely valuable, but some people are just great at getting stuff done and can quickly make up for a lack of experience with quick learning and overall effectiveness. So what actually tells you someone is a good employee?
The best indicator of a good employee is that they’re good at their hobbies. Why? Because knowing how to get stuff done is the most important single trait of a successful employee. If you can get good at something you love, you know the underlying process needed to get things done. That same process can be applied to work.
And the best indicator that a employee will be a bad employee is that they aren’t good at their own hobbies. Why? Because if someone can’t get good at the things they love to do personally, how on earth do you think they’re going to get good at anything else? You’re probably wondering why, so I’ll explain.
Before we look at what makes an employee great, we need to think about what makes a great employee. Great employees get stuff done.They find problems to solve and they solve them. They find opportunities and they create wins. They don’t wait until they’re told exactly what to do, they anticipate it. You don’t say, “Get me 1000 followers” and come back to find out they purchased 1000 fake followers. They actually think about the goal and devise a way to achieve. So what makes them special?
Three traits make great employees: Initiative, Thoroughness and Followthrough. These are the traits that make great employees. These are the traits that help someone decide to solve a problem, figure out all the aspects of the problem that needs to be solved, and then put in the time and effort to get it all done.
So how do I define Initiative, Thoroughness and Followthrough? Here we go:
Initiative: Initiative is the get up and go to look at a problem and say, “I’m going to fix that.” It’s the difference between, “I want to cook,” and “I’m going to learn to cook.”
Thoroughness: Thoroughness is the willingness and forethought to look at the challenge you’re facing and say, “What are all the things I need to solve to solve this problem?” For cooking, it’s learning how to prep, how to use a knife properly, how to select vegetables and meat at the supermarket, etc, and all the other things you need to learn how to cook well.
Followthrough: Followthrough is having the will to actually follow through with learning
So how do people get initiative, thoroughness and followthrough? I’m not sure exactly, but I suspect the process of learning hobbies like sports, cooking, music and other pursuits is the most common path. I suspect initiative comes from a belief that you have the ability to solve problems, which usually comes from a parent, teacher or mentor encouraging you early on. Thoroughness usually comes from being taught to be thorough, to think critically and from trying to teach yourself things and learning there’s a lot of little things that need to be learned before you know the big thing you want to learn. Followthrough comes from keeping trying until you’ve learned all the little things until you finally know the big thing you set out to learn. All of which is a way too detailed way of saying that people who have initiative, thoroughness and followthrough are good at their hobbies. How do you know? Because that’s how they got good at them.
Have you noticed that many or most of your best employees and colleagues are good at their hobbies? Have you noticed any hobbies in particular that indicate initiative, thoroughness and followthrough? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
With brand advocacy gaining prominence as a priority for CMOs, more and more marketers are being tasked with getting a brand advocate program up and running for their company or division. However as a new concept, it’s not that easy to just ‘set it up.’ The truth is that there aren’t that many blueprints or public examples of successful programs that a marketer can just copy.
The other issue is that there are a number of different way to run brand advocate programs. Are you trying to promote content or are you trying to drive leads? Brand advocates are very powerful in that they represent a trusted voice about your brand online and they have considerable influence on their online connections or people who can see them publicly speaking about a company in search results.
What I wanted to write about though is that regardless of the purpose of your brand advocate program or the results you’re trying to achieve, there are a number of misconceptions that need to be addressed so you can best organize your efforts.
#1 Not all companies have brand advocates
No matter the size, industry, product or service - all companies have brand advocates. A brand advocate is simply someone who is willing and able to advocate and promote your brand online. Every company has a mix of suppliers, customers, fans, and employees who, as long as they’re happy, are willing to endorse you online. One-person shop who hasn’t landed the first customer? You still have family and friends don’t you?
When designing your brand advocate program, make a list of the people who would be willing to help promote you and your content based on the types listed above. It will also help inform the types of programs you can run and how it can be best structured.
#2 We don’t need a brand advocate program
Do you need better marketing? If you’re profitable and you’re product or service is flying off the shelf without any then sure you can move on to the next point. But the reality is that no company would not benefit from better and more effective online exposure.
What a brand advocate program really boils down to is having 3rd parties talk about you online, (hopefully) in a positive manner. Whether it’s sharing your discount coupons, helping you write reviews, or sharing your digital content with their networks, your online presence stands to benefit enormously and usually with a massive ROI considering how much exposure you can drive without buying media.
#3 Brand advocates don’t fit with our marketing strategy
Every digital marketing strategy has similar goals - drive traffic, drive leads, increase awareness and increase engagement. I haven’t run into too many that deviate too far from the playbook. Brand advocates dovetail with just about any marketing strategy because it’s really just an extension of your distribution strategy. Content marketing? Have brand advocates help distribute your content. Drive leads? Have brand advocates drive traffic to your lead capture forms. Need more social media engagement? Send your digital content to brand advocates so it’s easy for them to like on Facebook or retweet on Twitter.
The point is that marketing boils down to content (ads, content, creative, contests, etc.) and distribution (media buying, social media outreach, PR, etc.) Brand advocates are an effective low cost solution that greatly increases distribution without putting you over budget.
Content marketing is hot these days in the marketing world. From the CMO down, marketers understand that building trust with their audience through the form of content that demonstrates expertise is a winning formula. One that looks like it will remain effective as effective in the digital world as it has been in the offline world for as long as marketing has existed.
However given that marketing has shifted online to where the audience is, content marketing can’t simply be seen as just the production of infographics, whitepapers, blogs and podcasts. Great content marketing involves a number of other factors that need to be addressed in addition to the content itself.
Here’s how I break down the qualities of fantastic content marketing:
1. Quality Content
There’s nothing more valuable to a marketer than a great piece of content. It can be used for brand awareness, lead capture, it can be broken down and used as multiple items. But it needs to be very high quality and it needs to be genuinely insightful to your audience. No skimping here. It’s important.
2. Attractive Content Packaging
So you’ve spent weeks putting together an amazing whitepaper/podcast/video… and you’re going to throw it up on a plain website with no calls to action and below-average design? Not a chance. You’re going to make sure it sits on a properly designed webpage that has the clear and relevant call to action for your audience.
3. Coordinated Distribution
The point of a content marketing strategy is to build trust, generate awareness and drive traffic / capture leads. Creating the content is obviously the most important step, but if you’re not effectively distributing it, then it’s kind of missing the point. You need to make sure that you’re sharing it on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (and anywhere else applicable.) Also, make sure that you’re letting people know to share it by sending a company wide email or using a tool like Elevate.
4. Tracking & Measurement
It’s very difficult to improve at anything that you’re not tracking. As true as it stands for your sales process or your customer support, it holds just as true for content marketing. What was the type of content that people responded to? Did they prefer podcasts or whitepapers? Could you make the title of the video tighter or the call to action more clear? Make sure to measure what you want to improve.
A key component of any good content marketing strategy is how you can break up and reuse your content. For instance, can you break up your whitepapers into a 5 day email course? Or can you combine your best blog posts to put together a new whitepaper? Did you cover a topic in your email marketing that you might want to make a video of using the same copy? The lesson is not to waste anything!
Content marketing means more than just producing quality content but it doesn’t mean it’s complicated. By keeping in mind these 5 steps you should find it straightforward to achieve your content marketing goals and drive significant online engagement.5
One of the most consistent challenges companies face with content marketing is that they get a lot less engagement than they should for the amount of time and money they’re spending. Why? The Three Horsemen of the No Sharing Apocalypse: Inconvenience, Forgetfulness, and Busyness. If you want more people to share your posts, you’ve got to make it more convenient for people to share, gently remind them you would like them to share your posts, and ask at a time that they’re not already really busy. In this post I’m going to explain how to use email to solve this problem.
Your loyal customers and employees love your brand, love your content, and want to support your company. They have the best intentions to be your advocates and social ambassadors. But on the road to advocacy, the best intentions often get waylaid by Inconvenience, Forgetfulness, and Busyness.
The first step to increasing sharing is to understand what makes it convenient for busy people to remember to share your content:
The Three Principles of Convenient Sharing
- People need to choose what they’re going to share;
- People are most likely to share when they have been prompted with content they can share immediately;
- Sharing needs to work on whatever device they are using at the moment they are prompted.
So how to do you combine these principles with an approach that helps you increase sharing? Well crafted emails. The best marketing medium of the 90s is still the best way to increase engagement with your core audience of customers, fans, and employees.
Why is email an effective approach to improve social media marketing? Here are a few reasons:
- Because your customers, fans and employees are busy at work, so often they missed your posts.
- Because they didn’t check Twitter or Facebook that day.
- Because they weren’t on Twitter at the exact moment you tweeted, so your post was lost in a flood of tweets.
- Because Facebook limits the number of fans who see posts that you haven’t paid to promote.
- Because they don’t spend as much time on social media as you, so email is still their primary online communications medium.
- Because they like you, so a highlight of your best updates is a convenience, not a burden.
- Because sometimes busy people need a gentle reminder.
But email is old! Aren’t there better ways to do this?
Elevate embeds social updates from Twitter and Facebook directly into email. Why did we invent this? Because we literally tried every other option we could imagine and email was the only way we could get consistent increases in employee and customer engagement with social media content for our customers. And trust me, we tried every version of a customer community we could think of before we discovered that fans, customers, and employees find email the most convenient way to engage them. I know what you’re thinking, “But I get tons of emails I absolutely hate!” Yes, there is one caveat to using email: your emails can’t suck. As long as you pass that threshold, email works and your audience will love it.
So how do you make an email that works?
I’ll write a longer post on this soon (join our mailing list at the top right if you want to register), but for now, here’s an overview:
- Give your audience choice: provide a few updates so they can pick one they like.
- Give them the info they need to decide: this includes what the Tweet says, what site the link points to, what the article behind the link is, and ideally a short description of the article.
- Make sharing one-to-two clicks: this means you need to include active links for “Like”, “Retweet” and “Like (for LinkedIn)”. If possible, try to use the same code that Facebook does so the like is registered on your post to improve your Edgerank (and the same for LinkedIn / Twitter). You can do this by copying the “Like” link from the post on your Facebook page / Tweet / LinkedIn update, or by using software that does this for you.
- BONUS: Show them the update: this is tougher and usually requires software, but even more people will share if they can see the actual Tweet or Facebook post they’re sharing. It requires less thinking than seeing a blank update page and having to customize it.
So that is the secret to using email to make sharing more convenient for busy people. How have you used email to get better results for your social marketing?
So, you started a social media ambassador program. You are on your way to the content marketing equivalent of the 6th level of heaven with eyes on the 7th. Your ambassadors will be the butterfly wings that start the hurricane of content sharing that will carry you to fame and earned media fortune on the Interwebz. But first, how do you get your ambassadors to actually start sharing?
In this post, I’m going to cover the basics of what makes ambassadors want to share your content and a few tips and tricks on how to get a social ambassador program running.
First off, the basics:
Why do ambassadors share content?
Ambassadors, many of whom are employees, share content because sharing it makes them look good. They want to add value to their connections, demonstrate they’re an expert, and if they’re an employee, show that they’re a team player.
Why do ambassador not share content?
Ambassadors forget to share content if sharing is inconvenient. As anyone who’s ever hit the snooze button knows, there’s a huge gap between action and good intentions. You need to bridge that gap by making sharing content really, really easy.
Secondly, the details:
What kind of content do ambassadors want to share?
For the big three social networks, the content people want to share can differ pretty significantly. Here are some good rules of thumb:
Facebook: Ambassadors are most likely to share content that is funny, interesting, or emotionally relevant. During the Olympics a client of my company’s, PricewaterhouseCoopers, provided funding to many Olympic athletes. News about those athletes makes every employee of the company proud, so sharing it made sense to them. The latest whitepaper on the predictions on the impact of tax changes in the mining sector? Not so much for Facebook. Share great stories about the positive changes your company has on the world and many ambassadors will share them.
Twitter: Although some people have strictly personal or professional profiles on Twitter, most people have a profile that mixes a bit of business with pleasure. Since many Twitter users use Twitter as their main public presence on the Internet, they tend to share content that reflects how they want the world to see them: industry insights as a professional, political news that reflects their personal viewpoints, trending news on issues they’re passionate about, and news about the company they work for are all good fits. Content for Facebook will play well here, but you can also share news about your company and industry insights and thought leadership as long as it’s relevant to that person. For example, don’t share real estate news with someone who works exclusively in the oil industry.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great platform for content sharing and should be a priority for ambassador programs. When we’ve tracked clickthrough rates from our own ambassadors at Elevate we’ve typically seen clickthrough rates in the 1.2% - 2.4% range, so ambassadors and sales teams with large networks can drive a lot of traffic with the right content. Most of what ambassadors want to share on LinkedIn is professional content. News that makes ambassadors look like an expert in their industry or role (marketing tips for a marketing person, research on trends in the industry they work in) and news that makes the company they work for look like it’s a winner (“Acme Corp named Top 25 Best Employee in America”) are both popular choices for sharing.
Now that you know what to share, how do you help your ambassadors share it?
Your ambassadors might already follow you on Twitter or like your company on Facebook, but are they logged on to Twitter when you tweeted? Have they interacted with your page on Facebook recently enough that Edgerank adds your post to their feed on Facebook? These are the hard questions that turn “Going To” into “Forgot To”. If your goal is to kickstart your content marketing to a broader network, you need to make sure you’re not missing out on advocates who want to share, but forget to because they missed the post.
I recommend a different approach: emails. Seriously. Get your best posts together, create targeted lists of your ambassadors so that the content you’re sharing suits each group appropriately, and email your content to them. Include sharing buttons so it’s easy share. Make them mobile optimized so people who receive them on their phones can share when they get them. If you really want the Cadillac of ambassador sharing, ensure you have a tracking program in place so you can tell who’s sharing what, where, and with what size of an audience so you track the earned media value to demonstrate how much money this program is making for your company. This isn’t easy, which is why there are advocate marketing platforms like Elevate and SocialChorus, but it can be done in house if you’re keen enough. And remember, even if you’re just emailing out a list of URLs with your top posts, you’re still making it more convenient for your ambassadors then doing nothing.
Do you have any other ideas for what content advocates like to share? Any thoughts on smart ways to help them share it? I’d love to hear them!
Creating quality B2B content for your audience is hard enough but necessary to execute a successful content marketing strategy. In addition to the difficulty of producing high quality content, there is also the need to produce it frequently enough to engage your audience in multiple areas online.
All of the above activities serve to get enough content to put online. However the goal of B2B content marketing is to put quality content in front your audience. Therefore it’s not always reliable to simply post it to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and hope that your audience tunes in. The best way to get it in front of your audience is to get your content in their social feeds.
And this is where you can rely on help from people who have it in their best interests to help spread your content online. Each of the following types of people listed have a vested interest in helping distribute your B2B content to their audiences — people whom you might not be able to reach otherwise.
Great companies are made up of great people. More often than not, these people have the best interests of the company at heart, since an increase in the company’s market position or sales directly conveys status and opportunity on the employees.
In addition, although it’s not part of their job description, it’s not a big favor to ask them to help share company content. As long as you’re producing high-quality content that makes them proud of the company they work for and reflects a professional status onto them, they will be happy to share it with their friends, family, and professional networks. Don’t forget that when someone is sharing content online, they are leveraging the credibility of the publishing source and that being given a sense of purpose is a primary motivators of employees.
By giving employees great content to share online, you’re not only increasing the brand awareness of the company, but you’re helping the employees build their own brands online, as well.
Good content marketers are always aware of who maintains blogs dedicated to their industry. These blogs are not only a great source of ideas for what topics and kinds of content you might produce yourself, but it’s also a list of people who are very likely to be interested in re-sharing your content.
Anyone who maintains a publishing presence online and has an audience who regularly reads them is under constant pressure to share quality content, whether original or curated. Bloggers who are thought leaders in their area always want to be aware of any quality content that will be of value to their audience. If your company has the means, you could follow the influencer model put in place by IBM, although it’s very possible to put in place an effective strategy without an increase in budget.
By providing industry bloggers with your content, you’re giving them high quality material to share with their audience, which will help reinforce their thought leader status.
Your clients (as long as they’re happy with your business) are natural spokespeople on behalf of your brand and can be extremely valuable in your B2B content marketing efforts. Similar to employees, it’s in their best interests to share your best content albeit for different reasons. And developing client advocacy is one of the leading priorities for CMOs globally.
If a customer has bought your product or service, it’s reassuring to them and their colleagues to know that you’re producing quality content that demonstrates that you have expertise in your field. It’s natural for clients to want to reshare your content with their networks and peers, as this also conveys professional status upon them and their decision to make a purchase based on your expertise.
By providing clients with your content, you’re reinforcing their belief in your product or service and helping to bolster their own status among peers and colleagues.
Creating quality B2B content is difficult enough without the added complexity of effective distribution. Make it easy for employees, industry bloggers and clients to share your work with their online networks so you can maximize your distribution and brand awareness with each piece of quality content you produce. Whether you use email lists or specialized influencer marketing tools, make sure these three turbochargers know when you’re putting high-quality content online, and make it easy for them to share it.
Register to attend Content Marketing World 2013 for access to thought leaders, influencers, and other turbochargers for your B2B content marketing efforts.
McKinsey, the world’s most recognized consulting firm, recently published a report suggesting that there is over $1 Trillion dollars of gains ready to be unlocked by companies that integrate social business software (read McKinsey’s report here).
The social media industry, from software companies like Elevate and Hootsuite, to consultants and speakers like Brian Solis and Maggie Fox, has preached the benefits of social media for much of the last decade, but companies still struggle to incorporate the most social part of their business into their marketing strategy: employee relationships with customers, prospects, recruits and influencers. Despite all of the statistical, anecdotal and empirical evidence for the influence of social media on customers, why do marketing teams struggle with engaging their employees as part of their social marketing strategy?
Joe LePla, founder of Parker LePla, a leading West coast brand strategy consultancy and co-author of “Create a Brand That Inspires,” alongside Wolfgang Giehl, the SVP of Corporate Brand Marketing for DHL, shared his insight with me in a recent conversation. Joe pointed out that:
- Brands traditionally controlled communication with customers via advertising and marketing;
- As social media emerged, two way relationships with specific social media managers controlling brand accounts became a popular approach to engage customers who wanted deeper conversations with the brand;
- Today, however, customers can access your brand via personal relationships with contacts inside your company;
- Customers often choose these contacts because of their personal relationships, not because of their position, expertise or marketing authority.
Think about it this way: do you know a friend who works for Bank of America? She’s likely your point of reference for your opinion of BofA.
The walls that separated your employees from your brand don’twork; your customers are inside the gates, speaking to your employees, building relationships and creating opinions of your brand based on those relationships.
So how do you manage your brand when marketing no longer controls who speaks to your customer? Prepare your employees.
Selecting eager employees to work as brand ambassadors or customer advocates is a great approach to building deeper relationships with customers and influencing the public discussion about your brand. Today, however, companies need to recognize that the customer selects who they want to speak to, rather than who the company is offering. All employees need to be engaged with their brand, understand the core values of their brand and know the value proposition of their products. Each employee is your brand ambassador to their 150, 300 or 1000 contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
How have you helped engage your employees to manage your brand with customers?
Employee advocates are important not just because they are a strong measure of a brand’s strength and trustworthiness, but also because they help a brand amplify their owned media reach and generate earned media. This blog post explains some of the motivations that drive employees and partners to advocate for a company by sharing their social content.
In late 2012 I published a short blog post called the “The Science of Social Business: What Motivates Employees to Participate,” looking at how Dan Pink’s “Drive” applied to motivating employees to participate in social media programs. That post generated a lot of great discussions, including one in particular with Steve Woods, Co-Founder and CTO of Eloqua, the leading marketing automation and demand generation platform that sold to Oracle for ~$850 million in late 2012. In addition to being a hugely successful founder and marketing technology executive, Steve is also the author of “Digital Body Language”, an Amazon best seller explaining how customers use the internet to learn about your company and decide what to buy.
Over coffee, Steve shared some of his insights on what really motivates employees and partners to share content.
Employees share because it helps them do three things:
- Develop their personal brand;
- Demonstrate that they’re a team player;
- Feel like they’re supporting a company they love.
Employees at partner organizations such as resellers, customers and suppliers will also support a brand for those same reasons, but also because re-sharing helps them to:
- Leverage the credibility of your brand;
- Encourage your brand to retweet them or their brand (if they’re the community manager).
A more detailed explanation how each of these motivations works and how brands can harness these motivations more effectively is below:
1) Develop their personal brand
People share content that helps them build their own personal brand by demonstrating their knowledge and passions, helping family, friends, and professional contacts in their network, and showing they’re affiliated with causes and organizations they believe. Companies can help employees develop their personal brand by giving them content that is helpful to their networks (special offers, unique insight) or which supports a cause the company believes in.
2) Demonstrating that they’re a team player
This is pretty straightforward: many employees want to show their commitment to their company publicly. Companies can encourage employees to do this by making it easy to share content and showing them that other colleagues have also publicly supported the brand.
3) Feel like they’re supporting a company they love
Like the old saying goes, ‘tis better to give than to receive’, sometimes sharing is just about helping and feeling good about it. Companies can encourage employees to support by their company by regularly thanking them when they support the company sharing.
4) Leverage the credibility of your brand
Many partner organizations are keen to demonstrate an association with your brand. Companies can encourage partners to do this by making an email distribution list and sharing their best social content via email to community managers at partner organizations. If you really want to supercharge this, make it easy for employees at partner companies to sign up to mailing list.
5) Encourage your brand to retweet them or their brand
This is the easiest of them all to understand: people love to get retweeted by major brands. One element of them retweeting your brand is the hope that you might retweet them. Companies can encourage partners to share their content by recognizing them publicly with @mentions and retweets. To make this easier, try to create a leaderboard that tracks your advocates so you can easily find them and thank them.
Companies that recognize employee and partner motivations to act like advocates and more effectively engage them to drive their social marketing and earned media initiatives. If you’re interested in regular thought leadership on this topic, don’t forget to check out the Elevate blog.
Are there any other motivations you can think of? Do you have more ideas on how to effectively align your business objectives with your advocates motivations? I’d love to hear about them.
2013 seems to be the year where B2B marketing departments will fully embrace content marketing as their highest priority marketing initiative. These 24 stats about the state of content marketing should make it clear that if you’re not thinking about content marketing… you might want to start.
The reason for all the commotion? Because a the end of the day, a client needs to be able to trust you - and providing high quality content that demonstrates your expertise in your space is the best way to earn that trust.
I’ll leave what kind of content you need to produce and how frequently you need to produce it to a different discussion - for now we’ll stick to your b2b brand ambassador program, why employees should absolutely be on the brand ambassador shortlist, and how this will help amplify your content marketing efforts.
Your employees are fantastic for brand ambassador programs because:
1. Their interests are aligned.
Employees do well when their company does well. Annual bonuses, bragging rights, feeling of job security, etc.
2. They understand what you do.
They intuitively understand the content you’re producing and know what to share why, and how to explain it.
3. They’re connected with your target audience.
Employees know your customers. They also know other employees, potential customers, suppliers, and resellers. Chances are they’re connected to them online and when they reshare your content, it will be seen by the right people.
4. You have their email addresses.
How are you going to let your brand ambassadors know that they need to share something NOW? You email them. Or you set up tools like Elevate to make sure they know. But you can only do that if you have their email.
5. You know them personally.
You just invested $20k in your latest content marketing effort and you want to make sure your brand ambassadors understand why you want them to reshare your content. With your employees you can simply walk down the hall and talk to them.
6. They represent your brand.
Employees work for a company. The way that I see it is that employees ARE the company. They represent the company better than the brand itself and when people have positive interactions with an employee it makes a massive different in how that person feels about the company.
7. They care.
Employees (the good ones at least) care about where they work. They care about their colleagues and they care about their customers. These employees are the ones that you want resharing company content online and representing the brand - because it’s an extension of themselves.
If you’re looking to setup a brand ambassador program or if you already have one running, make sure that you’ve included employees as part of it. Otherwise you’re going to miss out on the people who represent your brand best.
The gist of the topic is that there is no single media strategy to guarantee optimum results so marketers instead need to incorporate all three - owned, paid and earned into their strategies. Marketers are very familiar with the first two. Owned are the properties that they have control over - their websites, Facebook brand pages, LinkedIn Company pages, etc. Paid are what you can buy online which is normally controlled by the media buying budget. This includes advertisements, banner ads, sponsored posts, etc.
Both paid and owned media are effective in their own right, especially now with the sophistication of online targeting. However they still can’t take the place of earned media because of the contextual difference. We’ve all spent enough time online now to understand the concept of banner blindness and how people are getting better at tuning out advertisements. The issue is that the brand exposure is paid and owned media is that the context is understood by the consumer - they know they’re being sold something. This certainly isn’t always a bad thing as digital marketers want their customers to understand the goods and services they can buy and getting those placements in front of the right audience through targeting is very effective. But earned media is the missing piece of this puzzle.
Earned media refers to the media exposure generated by other people talking about you online. Unfortunately for digital marketers, this isn’t something you can buy since it this means that people are talking of the brand on their own accord - and most important, in their own newsfeeds. This is an incredibly important component of earned media for a number of reasons:
So earned media isn’t just generating additional media exposure, but in fact amplifying the effectiveness of paid and owned media in addition to extending the reach of the brand.
The big question for digital marketers is ‘How are you going to generate earned media?’
Fortunately, every company has a number of people that know the company well, are happy to help share the best company content, and have online networks that trust their opinions. Although every employee who shares company content is participating in employee brand advocacy, marketers can easily compile a list of regular employees who they can ask to help share company content with their networks. They can also add to this list ‘friends of the family’ or any clients, suppliers or partners that could also help in order to maximize the distribution of company content.
What’s important for digital marketers is that in order to escape the notion that these employees are simply blindly sharing out content, the employees and advocates need to be reassured that they should only be sharing what they want to share and that they should share as often or as infrequently as they would like. In order to generate genuine earned media, this should be as honest of a transaction as possible.
Earned media is valuable and just because a marketer can’t buy it, doesn’t mean that they have to leave it to luck.
With mobile traffic now representing about 13% of all internet traffic, it’s clear that mobile is well positioned to sit beside desktops as the way the world interacts online in the near future. This obviously has had and will continue to cause a number of changes in the online world. Some major trends already are the move to responsive web design, and the battle between HTML5 and apps to take full advantage of smartphones.
But for us in the B2B content marketing world, this movement to mobile brings up a major issue: since there is so little advertising space on mobile sites, how can you reach your audience on their mobile device?
When a user logs into Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter on a mobile app, they are presented with the most valuable thing they can see - their newsfeed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave too much room for ad space given that the screens are so small.
There are two ways to view this issue:
- app makers and mobile sites need to get more creative about advertising space
- content marketers need to focus on how to get content into newsfeeds
Content marketers need to understand that getting their content into newsfeeds has far greater benefit than simply just being more visible. In fact, the movement towards mobile presents one of the most exciting opportunities in B2B content marketing in a long time: the opportunity to generate earned media.
Earned media is a term that originated in the PR world that refers to the media exposure gained by people talking about you (as opposed to paid or owned media.) It’s since been taken on in social media circles as it makes a ton of sense to refer to people talking about a brand online.
The major opportunity this presents to content marketers is that they have the opportunity to massively increase their ROI on their media investments by becoming smarter about how to generate earned media. That’s not to say that paid and owned media do not have a place in the content marketer playbook - they absolutely do. The best content marketers will be the ones who solve the mobile issue and generate massive amounts of earned media in doing so.
Content marketers can control a portion of their earned media and it extends beyond producing quality content. Obviously, producing great content that people naturally want to share is priority number one. People tend to share content online because it conveys status on them. For instance, people involved with digital marketing tend to share the content related to digital marketing that they believe is of the highest quality so that people will reflect on themselves.
Just a note to let you know that my latest post on content marketing distribution is online. The topic is ‘3 B2B Content Distribution Turbochargers You Should Activate.’ Please reshare!