Why social listening guides the marketing strategy for a media management platform
The irony of most b-to-b social media efforts? There is nothing social about messaging delivered in a steady cadence in the hope a prospective customer will click to get even more marketing materials. Social posts are thus optimized for clicks, even though that occurs less than 1% of the time. While marketing is supposed to contribute to brand growth, is ignoring 99% of your fans the smartest way to get there?
“I think the biggest mistake is that b-to-b marketers see social as just another distribution channel,” says Jamie Gilpin, chief marketing officer of Sprout Social, a social media management platform, who sees another option. Gilpin suggests using social to humanize your brand, “to connect with your buyers, with your customers, in a more meaningful way.” Taking her own advice, Gilpin used social listening to help guide Sprout’s marketing approach throughout 2020, suppressing the urge to promote product in favor of content that helped customers get through the pandemic professionally and emotionally.
Does listening pay dividends? "More than 80% of our new business acquisition actually comes from marketing,” says Gilpin. And Sprout Social’s stock nearly tripled in 2020.
How should brands be using social?
Social is your channel to be a human. Social is your channel to be truly authentic and connect with your buyers, with your customers, in a more meaningful way. How can we really—and I don't mean this in an opportunistic way—but really leverage this as brands and as companies to create more meaningful connections and relationships with our customers than we ever have before, at scale? This is the opportunity with social, that scale point. Our salespeople obviously are creating great relationships, but do we have to depend on a great salesperson to have great relationships with our customers? Or can we build that as a marketing function?
How does social media fit into Sprout Social’s overall marketing mix?
From a customer experience perspective, social has to be part of every single touch point of our customer's journey. From an awareness perspective—I can talk about this because it is public knowledge—more than 80% of our new business acquisition actually comes from marketing. The majority of that comes from a highly efficient inbound engine. I know we talk about this a lot in b-to-b ... content, how that fuels different needs and different organic impressions from a need perspective across personas, but social is a really critical part of that. Social is far more than publishing these days. It is an engagement piece.
What can b-to-b marketers learn from b-to-c social media marketing?
Take a page from the b-to-c playbook. For b-to-c, a big percentage of their marketing budget is spent on research and focus groups and really understanding their buyer at a very intimate level. We can do that now, without the millions of dollars or very high expenditures, through listening. We've got to listen to our audience and that becomes also a mission-critical part of our strategy that dictates everything else. What we hear from our audience on listening dictates our campaigns, what topics our content is going to revolve around. Do that pre-testing of those campaign ideas, which is actually what we do across all of our big campaigns that we're going to invest in.
What social media insights should a CMO focus on?
Social has so much data. To that point, it's up to the CMO and a strong social media leader to glean the insights of that data that are most relevant to your brand. I'll talk about the key insights and how we use them, but most importantly, whether it's cultural trends that you're seeing, whether its audience needs that you're seeing, you will be called out to the carpet if you are inauthentic in what you're talking about. If you are just latching on to the latest keywords of the biggest themes or brand keywords that you're starting to see and listening to, and not have either, one, a real value connection as a company to that thing that you're talking about or, two, something that your product does, you need to have that connection.
How have you used social listening to help inform the content that you've created?
About a week after March 13th, our social media leader, who is phenomenal, came to me and said, "I pulled a listening report post-COVID, and I just want to share with you, one, what topics they're interested in; two, what things they are getting really frustrated with in terms of what we're talking about; and three, I have very specific recommendations for what we should be pausing from a campaign perspective, from a publishing perspective, and where we can start to invest our content resources to provide real value back to our audience.”
That was data from social that we then took to inform our website, inform how we're talking about Sprout, how we are supporting our audience during these incredibly crazy times. And all of that, we are, candidly, doing better. The audience can hear it in our earnings reports from the last few quarters, but we are doing better from a lead generation, top-of-funnel, traffic perspective than we ever have. I think that just shows the power of this data, the power of these insights.
How did these insights help to inform your campaign?
As a social media manager, you want to have answers, you want to respond quickly, but when you don't know when your doors are opening, when you don't know what the protocols are because the companies are still trying to figure it out, it was highly, highly stressful. What they did not want to hear from us was how to publish more content or how to do more with social. They did not want to hear that from us and that was very clear.
A lot of our content came from managing your mental health, how to talk to your boss about taking some time off—what does that even look like in a remote world? The content shifted to managing social media during a crisis, not crisis management, which is a nuance there that was really important. Sharing best practices, getting our customers on webinars to talk about how they're managing through it. That's really where we started to pivot and part of that was a big reason for how we've been able to build awareness, but most importantly, that we were able to show our audience that we heard them, that we empathize, and that we're here to support.
Why is social so important for b-to-b brands?
Even though a CMO or a VP of Marketing—depending on the size of the contract—is the signer, they're not the user of the product. When we talk about, especially in b-to-b, going deep and wide into our accounts and creating that trust and, more importantly, advocacy across the organization, social is such a critical way to do that. If I think about that big takeaway, yes, C-levels are there. Perhaps you don't see them necessarily interacting. They are viewing, but most importantly, their employees, your users, are absolutely on social. That ability to connect with them in the channels in which they are already connecting is critical.
What are some of the biggest social mistakes b-to-b marketers are making right now?
I think the biggest mistake is that b-to-b marketers see social as just another distribution channel. It's like, "Oh, we're going to launch this campaign. Oh yeah, we should create a couple of posts for social." That is really undervaluing the potential and the power that social can have for your overall strategy, so that's number one. Two, I would say, b-to-b companies make the mistake of not seeing social as a way to connect and be human with your audience.
That authenticity—that's also a big buzz word at Sprout—but being authentic, being empathetic, that is the channel that you get to do that in. Become a human and take that part of the brand to an important level with your audience. Then the other is not properly staffing. Once you start to leverage social and realize its potential for your marketing strategy, you will start to get more followers, you will start to get more engagement.
There's tremendous pressure on CMOs to drive revenue. Where does social media fit in as a revenue driver?
For us, it is all parts of our funnel. From an awareness perspective, it's a huge distribution channel for our content. You mentioned SEO before—TikTok taking over your own domain—social is stronger than domains. That's probably a key learning here, so the way that it plays into and supports our organic is extremely important.
From a consideration point a little bit further down in the funnel, they're going to social to ask their networks: "Hey, do you use Sprout? What do you think?" They're going to the communities where they live and asking questions as well. That networking piece all the way from awareness through consideration, social really is a key part of all of that. And then as I've talked about, and I will get off that soapbox, but the listening and really the power of the analytics and insights to inform all of that.