I’m privileged to introduce a week-long series of B2B social media insights with Dr. Ben Hanna, Vice President of Marketing for Business.com, where he oversees brand strategy, online marketing, public relations, social media, direct marketing and events.

Ben is a true online marketing pioneer. Prior to his current position, Ben led the eBay B2B trading platform, driving nearly $3 billion in annual sales. He was also a force behind IronPlanet, a leading online marketplace for construction equipment, and he co-founded a B2B strategic marketing agency specializing in high-tech product and company launches.

I was first introduced to Ben through his blog and was fascinated to read disclosures on his company’s month-by-month progress on its first social media initiative. I highly recommend looking at these reports! They are chock-full of insights and data you will find nowhere else.

So let’s get into Part 1 of my interview!

Ben, I love the detailed statistics and correlations you’re making through your analysis of Twitter successes and failures. I think the Tweet lifespan is a new one for me! It’s still relatively early in the data collection process, but what “a-ha” morsels have you found?

We’re documenting some of these “a-ha” moments in our Twitter for business case studies but here are a couple new ones:

Tweet quality builds followers faster than tweet quantity – When we started using Twitter for business, we wondered about the relevant importance of tweeting only when we had something really interesting to pass along (quality focus) vs. tweeting more frequently to make sure our content was in front of our followers more often (quantity focus) for building a Twitter following. From what we’ve seen, tweet quality is MUCH more important than quantity: the higher the average number of clicks per tweet with a trackable link in a given week, the higher the follower growth (controlling for total number of followers). This said, you have to be in the game – our average tweets/day over this period ranged from 2.9 to 11.0.

The first 3-5 words are critical – At 140 characters max, tweets are like headlines and people scan through them quickly. If you want to catch someone’s eye, think like a headline writer and make sure the main topic keywords or a number/statistic are found in the first 3-5 words. I would also recommend against using the standard retweet style (e.g., “RT @markwschaefer: …” to start the tweet), instead shift attribution to the end of the tweet (e.g., “… via @markwschaefer”).

The average lifespan of a business tweet is four days — If you measure the lifespan of a tweet by the number of days on which it receives at least one click from a Twitter user, then business tweets don’t live very long. On average, our tweets with a clickable link received at least one click on four separate days with a range of one day (not a very popular tweet) to 23 days (home run!).

The optimal time between business tweets – Again looking at the clicks per tweet, the optimal space between business tweets to attract the most clicks is either 31-60 minutes or 2-3 hours. Tightly packed tweets just don’t appear to attract as much attention as tweets with more space between them. I’m not certain what causes the dip in click activity for tweets between 61 and 120 minutes but I suspect it has to do with missing prime Twitter activity time on the East and West coasts (we may look into this in a later post).

The more we find, the more I wonder how well what we find will apply to other business Twitter users and how stable the results will be as Twitter becomes a more mainstream channel for business information. We need a lot more B2B marketers to dig into their social media metrics and share what they’re finding to help move the overall field forward.

You took a very methodical business approach to your planning process. What did think “success” would look like? And after you’ve been in it awhile has your view changed?

“Success” depends on what phase the initiative is in. During this initial phase our focus has been learning about the opportunities for social media as part of our overall marketing mix including things like:

> Can we find certain factors that are consistently related to audience growth and engagement?
> How easy is it to codify and teach these factors to others so we can scale up our initiatives?
> What would it require to scale blogging/micro-blogging to the point where these would have a tangible impact on our business?

The task for us during this first phase isn’t to hit a home run with a particular social media campaign. Instead, its to figure out if and where we should invest additional resources in two social media tactics – blogging and micro-blogging – relative to our other marketing programs. Success will look different in later phases where we’ll set more specific performance goals using the data from our learning phase.

You can read more about our approach in our Business.com social media case study.

Tomorrow: Ben’s essential strategies for establishing your first B2B social media initiative.

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