Why More Members, Money, and Ads Don’t Always Mean More Success: A B2B Marketer’s Survival Guide

Guest post by Ariel Applbaum.

Historical Lessons

B2B marketing lessons from Facebook and MySpaceThere is an old adage that says “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So the question is–are there things that today’s B2B marketers can learn from history, specifically, the tremendous success of Facebook and the rise, fall and possible resurrection of Myspace?

My answer is certainly–yes! This question is particularly compelling today as we see Facebook set new records in terms of users, market valuation and revenue growth and wait with anticipation to see if Myspace can reinvent itself after conceding its market leadership position in social networking back in 2008. How can the respective histories and behaviors of these two companies inform the best practices for B2B marketers?

Background on the two social media sites

From its founding, Myspace took off like a rocket ship while Facebook had a much slower ascension from launch. The two companies were created six months apart; Myspace was founded in August 2003 and by July 2005 was bought by News Corp for 580 million dollars. In contrast, Facebook was founded in February 2004 and only took in its first outside funding of 12.7 million dollars from Accel Partners in May 2005.

In 2006, Myspace was the most visited U.S. social web site, surpassing Google in site visits. Myspace’s dominance would not last though. In 2008, Facebook surpassed Myspace in number of unique worldwide visitors and one year later claimed that title as well in the U.S. Myspace’s user base decline resulted in a tremendous loss in valuation; in fact, News Corp sold substantially all of its Myspace ownership in May 2011 for a rumored 35 million dollars.

Lessons

The differences in the birth, development, nurturing, growth and monetization of these two companies go a long way in explaining the reversal in their fortunes and the sustainability of their successes.  These differences can and should provide valuable lessons for B2B marketers. These lessons include three main points: market to those of greatest relevance; create an atmosphere conducive to experimentation, new idea generation, & creativity; maintain relevance; and avoid rigid corporate structures.

A bigger user base is not always better

Myspace was created by Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe, two former employees of internet marketing company eUniverse. They had both been users of Friendster, which was initially a social networking service intended to maintain contacts and share online content and media. The Myspace founders saw both the potential of social networks and ways to improve on the Friendster offering and experience.

Myspace jump-started its subscriber base when they held a contest to see which eUniverse employees, who were the initial Myspace users, could sign up the largest number of users to the new Myspace website. This incentivized quantity over quality. Anderson and DeWolfe contacted 20 Million eUniverse users. Because of their campaign, thousands of users signed up for Myspace, and Anderson and DeWolfe began focusing exclusively on growing the social network.

But these users were not necessarily interconnected. Because those who signed up for Myspace did not know one another or had no reason to meet, then there was no ongoing incentive to use the website. What the Myspace founders and eUniverse CEO did not understand was that the most appealing aspect of a social network is that friends can connect or reconnect or share anything from photographs to experiences to news.

The importance of the Network Effect

Facebook, by contrast, started out as a social media outlet for Harvard. While Facebook started out with a far smaller prospective pool of users, specifically only 27,000 students, they all had reason to be interested in one another, thus creating an engaged and devoted user base. Because of the relevance, satisfaction and engagement with Facebook, users recommended it to their friends and other college students, creating a massive network of similarly aged, highly connected people with mutual interests.

This created a virtuous network effect which further increased Facebook’s relevance for its users. The takeaway lesson for marketers is that while it is important to get the word out, unless you are reaching qualified leads, it does you no good. Don’t send emails to everyone in your address book, rather, choose your recipients carefully. Don’t spray and pray.  Choose the right market and create a strong connection and relevance to it; otherwise, you might have a lot of misleading nibbles but no fruitful bites. It is important to segment your data and your customers to better understand and access useful people who will find you useful.

Make customers happy before you worry about money

While Myspace probably thought it hit the jackpot with its 580 million dollar sale to News Corp, the sale might have actually been the seed of its downfall. Startups often focus on quality of product and a strong user base before monetization. While Myspace was still in startup mode when acquired, its high acquisition price and obligation to a public company created immense pressure to hit quarterly targets. It hastened the monetization process, which led to over-advertising and increased focus on making money, as opposed to focus on making the customer happy or the product better.

Due to the pressure to hit numbers and the fear of underperforming, Myspace was not as receptive to innovation or user input. Tinkering with the model, platform, or product would have led the company to new and unknown territory with customers, and Myspace couldn’t run experiments that didn’t predict sufficient user growth or enhanced profits.

In addition to putting pressure on Myspace to perform, News Corp designed a rigid business plan for Myspace, which hindered it from being more focused on enhancing user experience and satisfaction and slowing willingness to adapt and change.

Facebook, on the other hand, kept its ear to the ground, listened to user input and adapted accordingly. In fact, Facebook actively chose not to take the big payout and focused on developing its product. In 2006, Facebook turned down two large offers, the first from Viacom for 750 million dollars and the second from Yahoo at one billion dollars. Facebook has never been boring. If anything, people complain about too many new features and too many updates.

The lesson for marketers is that it is important to maintain flexibility and willingness to adapt and change and remain interesting and relevant. Listen to user input and feedback and don’t be afraid to change what you are doing.  Your business plan can project 300 percent returns over one year, but that doesn’t do you much good if customers and prospects lose interest in your offering. Focus less on making money and more on making your customers happy–money usually follows.

The importance of targeted ads

Myspace was rolling in the dough–earning 800 million dollars in revenue in 2008. If you ever used Myspace back then, you would remember the amount of advertisements on your screen. However, they were more ad than content. The advertising was not interesting, or applicable, and hence would be very annoying.

Facebook, on the other hand, played the advertising game right, as it uses the information it has about you to create relevant and targeted ads.  Facebook targets ads based on your profile, your likes, and information it gets about you from your Facebook friends. Generally, Facebook knows your age, location, education, relationship status, and more; Facebook would not push an ad to 18-25 year old males about the newest and hottest bras from Victoria’s Secret or Estee Lauder make-up, but rather, ads for the newest Michael Jordan sneakers would appear.

Facebook made it a priority to run directed, interesting, and relevant ads in appropriate quantities. Facebook has paid attention to how many ads get pushed to users without annoying them. One Facebook rep was quoted in an Edgerank Checker post in October 2012, saying, “we’re continually optimizing newsfeed to ensure the most relevant experience for our users.”

It is of the utmost importance as a B2B marketer to target the right people in the right quantities. It is not enough to have tons of ads on high traffic websites; you have to reach the right people on the right websites about the right subjects. To be successful, design your ads to be suitable to the people you want to be reading them, and put them in the right places for the right people.

Example of bad MySpace ads

An image of Myspace inbox screen with advertising ranging from a spammy new scientific way to lose weight and free credit reports, to sour candy

Continued success and an attempt to rejuvenate

Facebook went public in May 2012 at a then record valuation of 104 billion dollars. After some minor hiccups at the start, it now trades at a 220 billion dollar valuation. This past quarter alone the company’s revenue grew around 61 percent to nearly 3 billion dollars. The company now has over 1.4 billion users.

In late 2013, Myspace users numbered approximately 36 million–less than half the number of unique users Myspace had at its peak in Late 2008. Necessity, rather than creative destruction, recently forced Myspace to reinvent itself into a social entertainment website when it was jointly purchased from News Corp for $35 million dollars by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake. They have revamped Myspace into a music sharing website which they hope will have value and relevance to producers, artists and even casual listeners.

While the original Myspace had an element of music sharing, the current strategy clearly is a re-visioning of the company. Although too early to deem the strategy successful, the company seems to be headed in the right direction.

Myspace’s story and history illustrates the importance of admitting failure and moving on by learning from past mistakes and being willing to let go of old ideas. Vinod Khosla, a successful and well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has been quoted as saying, “Most entrepreneurs–good entrepreneurs–are just not afraid to fail… the ability to think outside the box is the Silicon Valley mindset.”

For B2B marketers, it is important to remember if a specific campaign, article or eBook does not succeed, or even gets negative feedback, and to learn from that failure or feedback and respond accordingly.

About the author: Ariel Applbaum is a Content Marketing Specialist at Radius, the data company that’s engineering decision science for B2B marketers. Ariel is studying entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. At Radius, he’s focused on building a community of innovative marketers through content partnerships.

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The Complete Guide to Google+ for B2B Marketing [Infographic]

Guest post by Dave Landry.

Google+ seems to be an enigma in the social world, the quiet kid in the corner of the room that most are afraid to interact with. This is particularly so in marketing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, Google+ can be friendly and a resource with amazing results when a respective marketer learns how to utilize it in the right manner.

Google+ is all about visibility, exponentially so when it comes to B2B campaigning. Learning about Circles, Communities, Influencers and Authorship is the first key to G+ B2B domination. You’ll also need to be prepared to:

  • • Keep Up With Your Plus Stream
  • • Share Content Daily
  • • Reach Out to Influencers
  • • Use Google Hangouts
  • • Use Communities
  • • Monitor Follower Growth

Need more details? No sweat! This infographic below will have you on track to G+ B2B marketing success. Good luck!

Guide to article marketing with Google+

Dave Landry Jr.About the author: Dave LJ is a financial expert who also studies and writes about social media’s use in business and marketing efforts. He is very excited to contribute to Webbiquity.

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The Six Most Irrational Social Media Concerns of Brands

Note: the following is an excerpt from the book The Social Employee by Cheryl and Mark Burgess. Reprinted with permission.

The first step toward transitioning to a culture full of empowered social employees is to address some of the most common concerns brands face when considering going social. The following lists the most common concerns surrounding social media, as well as why these shouldn’t be concerns at all.

The Social Employee - book by Cheryl Burgess and Mark Burgess1: Fear

There’s nothing quite like good, old-fashioned fear. Everyone has heard Franklin Roosevelt’s famous Depression-era quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s remarkable how often these words go unheeded. In truth, fear often arises out of lack of knowledge, but brands can’t afford to be ignorant in any era. Fear of social media will likely result in paranoid, overprotective, and ultimately misguided business decisions. Even worse, it will make a band seem out of touch and unwilling to see the writing on the wall.

If brands have anything to fear, it’s not social media, but losing touch with customers. Marketers need to remember that just because something is new and different  doesn’t mean it’s bad, or even dangerous. And in all honesty, social media isn’t even that new anymore. It’s time to face the music. Brands should be aware that “I haven’t done this before” only works as an excuse the first time they use it. Afterwards, they’ll just start to look rigid and stubborn.

2: What If I Do It Wrong?

Many Brands express misgivings as to how they should enter the social media fray. What if the wrong platform is chosen or organizations are not properly structured to accommodate these new technologies? On the surface, this may seem like a legitimate concern. As we’ve already discussed, social media certainly isn’t a static entity. But no technology is. Using the same logic, brands shouldn’t use computers simply because they continue to change as well.

The point is this: just because something is constantly changing doesn’t mean a brand is unable to adapt right along with it. Whether it’s with social media or not, brands can’t avoid risk. All things considered, we believe in the old adage that there’s safety in numbers. Countless brands are struggling with transitions into social business models at this very moment, and they are all learning from each other. It’s better to jump in now and learn through trial and error with everyone else than try to wait it out. If the latter is chosen, the competition will have a clear advantage over the more reticent brands.

3: Social Media Policies Don’t Offer Concrete Metrics or Proven ROI

This May have been true at one point, but as you will see from our success stories in the following chapters, pioneering social businesses do indeed measure investments in social media against real returns. Even the value of contributions from individual social employees can be measured, and tremendous results are being seen. As Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim say in Social Business by Design, unlike the early days of social media, results are not the problem managing the richness and sheer scale of outcomes presents the greater business challenge.”

The social media versus ROI debate has actually become somewhat of a punch line in marketing circles. As much as business culture can have its own memes, the ROI conversation has certainly become one. For our favorite example, we suggest checking out “The Social Media ROI Conversation” on YouTube.

It’s important to note here, however, that even though brands are finding proven ways to measure the ROI of social endeavors, it is generally agreed that ROI, in some ways, is beside the point. When talking about social business, the discussion refers to building a culture of empowered, engaged social employees who are as confident working collaboratively as they are working independently. Social business then, is a long-term game plan for corporate sustainability, accountability, and transparency. The benefits of social business grow exponentially- and will continue to be felt for generations to come. Thinking simply in terms of ROI is, quite frankly, far too narrow a view when experiencing nothing short of a cultural revolution.

4: Inertia

When thinking of inertia in business terms, think of a brand’s forward movement, or in this case, the lack thereof. It’s far too easy for brands to dismiss global changes in the business world as fads, or as somehow inconsequential to their individual enterprises. Dismissive brands are content doing what they do, and have no desire to go beyond that, despite the many indicators suggesting that perhaps they should.

To a certain extent, there can be no talking sense into brands or executives who stubbornly cling to such a mindset. The truth is that the inertia mentality has been dangerous to businesses long before social media came along. Time and time again, brands have been dragged kicking and screaming into the future. Even though a fierce resistance was initially shown, most have been happy with the results. The most successful brands year in and year out are the ones ready to challenge the status quo. These are the brands that don’t accept the idea that business as usual is god enough. In order to foster a culture of engaged social employees, brands must disavow the dangers of inertia directly in their mission statement-and then make sure they put their money where their mouth is.

5: Lack of Internal Structure

To many of the unindoctrinated, the idea of social businesses sounds like pure anarchy. Without a clear organizational hierarchy, wouldn’t the whole enterprise simply descend into chaos? Let’s put it this way: If a brand lacks leadership, it doesn’t matter how elaborate-or sparse-its internal structure is. Without leadership, brands will lose the confidence of their employees, and if this happens there will be much larger problems to worry about. Social business is not an argument for abandoning a structured approach to organization and collaboration. Instead, its an argument for enriched interaction, stickier connections, and more organic collaboration. In other words, social business is about putting your employees first in order to expose and promote pockets of expertise and skill sets that tend to go unnoticed in traditional command-and-control models.

As the case studies in this book demonstrate, social businesses still maintain clearly defined roles for their employees. However, the difference is that these new social employees have much more freedom to maneuver within these roles, and they are better connected to the enterprise as a whole. To some brands, this approach might reflect the fear of losing control we addressed in Chapter 1. We think it’s more important to focus on the upside of this new approach. Social brands put more trust in their employees than previous business models have allowed the to. The wonderful thing businesses are finding is that employees are almost categorically rewarding them for this newfound trust.

6: Ambiguity

This issue may actually turn out to be the root of all other concerns we previously listed. Sure, everyone has heard the term “social media” as nauseum at this point, but its exact meaning and application remain elusive. Social media in business extends far beyond networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. As the brands in our case studies demonstrate, going social affects every aspect of business, including the way a company structures itself, communicates internally, and communicated externally. the sort of brand engagement the public sees-external social branding-is only the tip of the iceberg. If brands are afraid that the concept  of social business is too big of a pill to swallow, we encourage breaking social initiatives down into more digestible pieces and tackling them one step at a time. No one can go social overnight.

Mark BurgessCheryl BurgessCheryl and Mark Burgess are the principals of Blue Focus Marketing and co-authors of
the best-seller The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work.

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Book Review: Optimize

The old days when SEO meant writing key-stuffed copy and then begging for or buying as many links as possible, from any willing website, are long gone. That’s clearly good for searchers, as search engine results have become more relevant and useful. But it’s also good for marketers, as it forces a focus on understanding buyers and providing them with value rather than manipulative gaming of search algorithms.

Optimize by Lee OddenIn Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, Lee Odden provides the definitive guide to SEO and its extension into social and content marketing for the new, more sophisticated world of search and web presence optimization.

Divided into three sections—Planning (tactics, audience research,  content), Implementation (persona development, keyword research, content optimization, measurement) and Scale—the book provides a comprehensive roadmap for using integrated digital marketing tactics to drive business results.

Among the specific pieces of wisdom Lee shares in the book are:

  • • Search is a moving target. “Search results have evolved from 10 blue links to situationally dependent mixed-media results that vary according to your geographic location, web history, social influence and social ratings…at any given time, there are from 50 to 200 different versions of Google’s core algorithm in the wild,  so the notion of optimizing for a consistently predictable direct cause and effect is long gone.”
  • • You need to know where you are before you can know where you’re going. “Audits are a key part of search engine optimization, allowing marketers to access the current state of the website in ways that identify any conflicts or inefficiencies for search engines.” Audits also help establish baselines—the starting points from which progress can be measured.
  • • Five different types of SEO audits are vital for establishing baselines: keyword research, content audit (“a website must be the best resource for a topic, and content optimization takes inventory of all content and digital assets that could be a potential entry point vis search and recommends SEO copywriting tactics to showcase those pages as most relevant”), technical SEO audit (making sure the site is easy for search engines to crawl), link footprint and social SEO audit.
  • • PR is now a vital component of SEO. “The public relations function within a company often produces nearly as much content as marketing in the form of a corporate newsroom with media coverage, press releases, images, video, case studies, white papers, and other resources…Each of those assets is an opportunity for journalists to discover the brand story through search engines or social referrals…Companies that optimize and socialize their press releases give new life and extended reach to their news by making it easy for bloggers and end consumers to find and share press release content.”
  • • Content isn’t just the job of marketing and PR. It’s also crucial to optimize content produced by customer service (FAQ’s, common how-to guides), HR, and subject matter experts in field consulting, engineering and sales for search. Marketing may have to scrub and polish some of this content for public consumption, but it’s vital to tap expertise across the organization.
  • • Your online competitors aren’t always your real-life competitors. “In the search and social media marketing world, the competition isn’t always who you think. Companies need to understand that online competition isn’t just made up of companies competing for market share in the business world, but also information and content published from a variety of sources that compete for search engine and social media users’ attention.” It’s not unusual for university websites, government agency sites, and reference sites like Wikipedia to “compete” with a company in search.
  • • Monitor search results to spot new opportunities. “A trending story may cause news or blog results to appear high on the page, which might prompt you to comment on a high-ranking story or reach out to a journalist or blogger to offer your point of view…When you notice that the search engine tends to favor certain media, such as video, for one of your target keyword phrases, it may prompt you to focus on video content and optimization for a particular target keyword phrase.”
  • • It’s vital for a business to “be seen” in different places. “48% of consumers are led to make a purchase through a combination of search and social media influences.”
  • • Search visibility isn’t important only for prospective customers. “95% of journalists use search engines…89% of journalists use blogs and 65% use social networks for story research.”
  • • Develop content for your prospects, not for search engines. “Write down some of the high-level characteristics of your best customers. What motivates them? What do they care about?” I would add “what keeps them awake at night?” and “what will compel them to take action” to this list. The answers to those questions will be crucial in developing your content strategy.
  • • Make fact-based, data-driven decisions. “Keyword research tools are designed to override the false assumptions often provided by the two most flawed tools that you can access—your gut and your brain.” It isn’t that you aren’t smart, but rather the words used inside of your company and those that your prospective customers use to describe the same product or service are often very different.
  • • Think about blog post topics from a variety of angles to keep it interesting. “Typical categories for an editorial calendar can include breaking headlines, industry news, ongoing series, feature stories, in-depth product or service reports,  polls, special promotions, events, tips, lists…the important thing is to be relevant: to your customers, your brand, and to search engines and social communities.”
  • You don’t have to do it all yourself; content curation is as important as creation. “Pure creation is demanding. Pure automation doesn’t engage. Curating content can provide the best of both.”

And there’s much more, including several useful lists such as analytics tools, “20 different content types” and “sources of news to curate.”

Even in books I really find valuable, I usually find at least a few points of contention, or things the author just plain got wrong. But even though I wore out a red pen highlighting passages in this book, I didn’t find a single point where I think Lee missed the mark.

The only thing I would add is an over-arching framework to fit all of this into. “SEO, social media and content marketing” is descriptive, but a mouthful. Add PR and online advertising to the mix, and it gets really awkward without that model. Optimize fundamentally provides an excellent how-to primer for utilizing the web presence optimization framework. As Lee notes:

“If a company doesn’t see the bigger-picture synergy of how to break social media, content, and SEO efforts out of departmental silos and approach Internet marketing and public relations holistically, how can they grow and remain competitive?…Integrating social media marketing and engagement with search, content marketing, email, and other types of online marketing tactics can results in substantial benefits.” But “For many companies, it can be very difficult and complex to implement a holistic content marketing and search optimization program.”

Web presence optimization strategy provides the structure for implementing such a program, and Optimize is a great place to start in learning how to do it.

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Maximize Your Online Visibility: The Web Presence Optimization (WPO) Framework

Recent research makes clear that, for high-value consumer purchases as well as b2b procurement, being as “findable” as possible online is critical to winning the business.

Of course that means it’s imperative to produce relevant, compelling, optimized content for your company’s website and blog, but online visibility goes beyond that. It also requires an active presence and network of relationships in social media, coverage in industry press, and carefully targeted online advertising to be where your prospective buyers are looking, when they are looking.

Optimizing online visibility then requires the coordination of public relations (PR), content development, social networking, SEO, digital advertising and marketing communications efforts. Without coordination, the efforts of these different individuals or groups are like the blind men and the elephant; none of the experts are wrong, but none get the big picture either.

We refer to this maximization of online visibility as web presence optimization (WPO): the combination of PR, content, SEO, SEM, marcom and social media efforts to make a company as ubiquitous as possible, with relevant content, everywhere online that prospective customers are looking when they are searching for what the company offers.

As a practical matter, the WPO process includes:

Research: a number of questions need to be answered before a tactical WPO plan can be roughed out, such as: where are your prospective customers congregating online? (e.g., are they more likely to use Facebook or a specialized discussion forum? What online publications do they read? What groups do they belong to?) What topics are they most interested in exploring or discussing? How are your competitors approaching the market?

Execution: this includes multiple avenues of content creation, distribution and follow-up. For example, a news release may be written, search-optimized and then distributed through wire service like Marketwire or PRWeb. But it may also be sent to specific journalists and bloggers, who need to be followed up with, shared socially, and have any questions or comments responded to.

Measurement: What was the result—how much online visibility was achieved with a particular piece of content? How much website traffic did it drive? How many conversions? How does this compare to other activities? Lessons learned and intelligence gleaned from these metrics feed back into the execution phase, driving and refining additional projects.

(This is the essence of the web presence optimization strategy and approach we’ve been using at KC Associates for the past year. We research a client’s current competitive and digital landscape, develop a WPO and content strategy, execute, measure and refine.)

The WPO framework has evolved over the past 34 months from the spaghetti-ish original WPO model to the refined definition of web presence optimization a year ago to today’s streamlined version focused on the five broad areas of presence:

The Web Presence Optimization Framework

Content strategy is developed based on market interests, competitor moves and company or product differentiation then shared through one (or more often a combination) of channels. Content creation, optimization, distribution and sharing results in five types of measurable online presence:

Press Presence (news release pickups, news articles, product reviews, publication-sponsored directories, etc.)

Social Presence (tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates, social bookmarks, videos on YouTube, presentations on SlideShare, etc.)

Website Presence (content published on a company’s own website, blog or microsite which ranks highly and attracts organic search traffic)

Industry Presence (trade association articles, association membership lists or directories, trade show exhibitor lists, industry analyst coverage, etc.)

Paid Presence (search engine ads, banner ads on trade or publication sites, social network ads)

To learn more about the WPO framework, check out this free whitepaper.

The coordination of the various specialties—PR, social, SEO, SEM, content marketing—depends upon having a clear, unified view of actionable metrics. This single,  comprehensive (but not overwhelming) view of results keeps a team in alignment about next steps, what to do more of, what to drop, and what to do differently.

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