Are B2B marketers wasting their time on social media?

Are B2B marketers wasting their time on social media?

Content marketing and social media appear inextricably linked. The industry talk has been so bound up with the need to develop content that gets liked, shared and retweeted that it's almost inconceivable that the two should be thought of in any way as separate.

But should we really be quite so gung-ho? 

Has social media peaked?

Looking across research that's been dropping into my inbox over the last few months, there appears to be the beginnings of a shift away from social media channels. Not in a wholesale bolt-for-the-door kind of way but more in a rebalancing of priorities.

Partly this comes back to the on-going difficulty of measuring real, tangible results beyond basic clicks. The suspicion is that social media can have a significant effect in deepening engagement and amplifying the reach of your content. The problem is proving it. In the Econsultancy Marketing Budgets Report for 2013, just 17% of respondents rated their ability to measure ROI from social media as 'good'. Compare this to 57% for paid search, 52% for email marketing and 38% from SEO. This put social media marketing joint last on the table.

Of course, the fact that social media is difficult to measure does not mean it isn't having a positive effect. But how much of an effect?

The 2012 B2B Benchmarking Report from Optify sheds some light.

What really drives B2B results?

In their study, Optify saw social media driving 1.9% of traffic to B2B websites and 4.75% of leads. Compare this to organic search – driving 41% of traffic and 26.5% of leads. Or, interestingly, email which drives just 0.8% of traffic but almost double the leads (9%) and which delivers the highest conversion rate 2.89% (vs 1.22% for social media and 1.45% for organic search).

Now, Optify is quick to point out that those companies that actively manage their social media campaigns are doing much better than the average. But the number is comparatively small.

In terms of which social media properties are performing best for B2B marketers, out of the big 3 of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Facebook is driving the most traffic (54%) with Twitter second (32%) and LinkedIn surprisingly third (14%). Interestingly, when it comes to who's driving leads, Twitter totally rules with 82% (leaving Facebook and LinkedIn tying for the scraps at 9% each). This trend continues through to conversion rates with Twitter outperforming both the other two by a factor of around 3.

So what does this all mean for today's B2B content marketers?

While we do not discount social media (most of our content marketing strategies have a social aspect to them), we're not about to bet vast amounts of budget on its effectiveness. Fortunately, in hard costs, social media is relatively cheap. However, it can easily become a time-suck delivering a relatively poor return and restricting the time you can spend on more profitable activities.

Ultimately, the state of play at the moment indicates that B2B content marketing assets should still be primarily focused on driving inbound traffic via search (for long-term success) and be supported by active outbound activity (to hit short-term tactical objectives).