My company chose content marketing as its go to market less than a year ago. It has been working exceptionally well; I had my doubts initially, I must admit. The industry we are in, gamification, is busy wth noise and is nearing the "trough of disillusionment" (it is now morphing into something that is more interesting and much better aligned with employee needs, though). I wasn't sure how many live marketing qualified leads can be generated through content marketing.
The short answer is that you can generate quite a lot of marketing qualified leads using content marketing; if you're doubting the use of content marketing for B2B software, don't. The longer answer is more subtle than that. For content marketing to be effective, you need to think quite a lot about distributing your content (traffic doesn't just magically arrive at your site), and to get very savvy about using social media to do so. Yet once you hit your stride and begin generating those social media leads, you must also diversify away from the social channel and add more lead acquisition channels.
Why social media? Trade press is dead.
So-called "trade press" outlets are on a path of gradual (or rapid) decline. For marketing in the early 2000's trade press mattered. Today, to my great sorrow, I must admit they don't matter. When they create referral traffic it's small, in the tens of visits. Conversions are high as a percentage of traffic, but it's not a channel you can bank on for growth. Trade press are nothing compared to their former glory. Similarly, no-one is sitting at the edge of their seat awaiting your press release to "hit the wires." Moreover, those that do exist are perceived as so overly promotional that the content they distribute is hardly read. This does not bode well for your content. Some B2B sectors don't even have a trade press, let alone serious blogs.
That's why you must go social.
A hard look at the facts: what works for social media in the B2B space
We're active on LinkedIn, twitter, Facebook and also quora. The amount of effort we devote to our social media activities is spread evenly among those channels. So what works?
The numbers show that 83% of our social media leads came in through LinkedIn. After LinkedIn, with 8% of all social media leads, was twitter. The rest of the leads were spread across Facebook, slideshare and quora. Interestingly enough, traffic coming in through twitter has high conversion rates (3.5% of leads convert) but getting them to your site through twitter isn't easy - and few of them make that initial conversion into being traffic on your site.
Does this mean we should abort using the other social media channels? I'm not sure... some of the more interesting dialog I've with thought leaders in the space happened on twitter, and some on facebook too. Not a lot, but something that did move the needle for our marketing efforts, and I wouldn't like to write it off. Every one thousand views of our presentations on slideshare gets us a lead ... it also seems to generate direct traffic. But in terms of KPIs I can report to my board and count on in planning my next month? Linkedin only.
Another result of the reliance on LinkedIn is that all the how-tos on how to make your content go viral on facebook or twitter just don't apply. They won't. And even if they do, the value will be minimal. A guest blog post I wrote in a major blog about content marketing got 1,000 tweets - this surely can count as viral in B2B terms. The result? 2 leads.
How you can work with LinkedIn
In 2014, LinkedIn comprised 15% of all traffic to GamEffective's site and was our highest converting channel, at 6% of visits (conversions as we measure them are requests for a demo).
Unlike Slideshare that requires the viral effect for distribution to succeed, LinkedIn distribution requires content and work - post good, meaningful, non-promotional content on a regular basis to LinkedIn GROUPS and you're certain to get distribution with an appropriate audience. This is even more beneficial than having the posts promoted on LinkedIn. It may even be worth your while to invest in a social media management tool.
Now you need to know how to angle your post. For one, "open ended questions" don't work, neither do surveys. Post material you'd like to read too such as:
· "How to" articles
· Questions regarding conventional industry wisdom and explaining your position
· How to calculate ROI
· White papers and eBooks
· Piggybacking on popular LinkedIn posts and adding a new perspective
· Book reviews on subjects that are of interest to the industry
Is Linkedin a growth hack?
But LinkedIn is and cannot be your end-all be-all social media or lead generation strategy. Today, in the first quarter of 2015, LinkedIn traffic had dropped to 11% of all traffic, and is less than 10% of all leads. Is this bad? No - we've grown other lead generation channels, such as paid, partnering and our direct traffic and organic search are becoming stronger.
In fact, I believe that companies need many lead generation channels since traffic sources come and go, and social networks change their rules, and you can't just rely on one trick to make business happen.
Yet, I was still taken aback when someone told me "no wonder your working on LinkedIn groups doesn't generate as many leads as it used to - it's a growth hack, that's all". I've given this much thought. Linkedin is strategic to us, it connects us with people that consider us as thought leaders. But it doesn't generate an endless stream leads; it is also dwarfed by us scaling leads through other channels; it just doesn't grow as fast.
Linkedin is essential - just put it in proportion
My advice to people beginning on the same journey? By all means, start on LinkedIn and do it well. It's a wonderful growth hack. But when you need to generate leads on a larger scale, add more channels into the mix, since it won't hold its own. And never abandon it - you will always find thought leaders and partners you want to engage with on Linkedin.
Last, but not least, don't stop working other channels too, be it media, non-LinkedIn social distribution, PPC, SEO and especially email where call to actions can and do work wonders. Bottom line, don't put all your MQL eggs in one basket, but LinkedIn is your yummy icing on the cake.