Drew Hawkins has become one of the most consistent contributors in the {grow} community. He recently commented that he could relate to the research on the explosive growth of social media in small businesses because he was witnessing it first hand. I invited him to share his inspiring success story …

When I started at Hinda Incentives in 2009, we had very little digital marketing efforts outside of a website and a Google AdWords account. Since that time, we’ve established a presence on multiple social marketing channels and positioned ourselves as an industry leader in the social space. Within that time frame, we were listed on the Inc. magazine list of the Fastest Growing Companies, Crain’s Chicago Fast Fifty roster, and are among the finalists for a B2B Twitterer of the Year award. Our social media growth has paralleled the rapid financial growth of our company.

How did we get to where we are today and what are the results?

Setting Our Own Table

One of the overused phrases in social media marketing is “joining the conversation.” Hinda is an established player in the incentive and recognition industry. Our first research objective was to pinpoint where our audience was hanging out and what was being said about incentives. To our disappointment, there wasn’t much of a conversation about the subject outside of a couple of key influencers.

Many see this as a roadblock to social media, but we saw this as an opportunity. Since we couldn’t get invited to the conversation table about recognition programs, we set our own table. After building online relationships with a couple of those key influencers through blog commenting and Twitter conversations, we began to build our own community around the strategies of recognition and loyalty programs — with Hinda’s name attached to the dialogue.

B2B Social Media…Where to Engage?

Our social strategy boiled down to one goal: Drive traffic to our website — our largest source of lead generation.  If organic search and an AdWords account were creating opportunities, we figured social media would amplify that traffic.  Our theory was, if people liked what we had to say in our social outlets, they would be more likely to visit our website.

B2B social media is still uncharted territory, so we narrowed our “voice options” down to a few select channels. Our emphasis went toward content development for our blog. We generated traffic to our blog using Twitter and LinkedIn, and some relevant, B2B-friendly networks. Our blog showcased our expertise while Twitter and LinkedIn helped “humanize” our company brand. All of those channels would provide direct links to our home site, improve Search Engine Optimization, and enable our community to learn more about us.

The Results

  • Our Twitter community of targeted customers has grown steadily (doubling in six months), as has our LinkedIn following.  Our conversations on Twitter established relationships for significant sales leads while the lead quality generated from the new social website traffic has measurably improved over the last year.
  • Our blog traffic took off quickly and we already receive 1,000 visits a month with subscribers from at least 30 different customers.  In this short time our social presence has increased that valuable traffic to our website by about 15 percent. This has been powerful — just in the last week we received a few hundred thousand dollars in sales opportunities through this advantage.
  • The blog has proven to be a valuable piece of social media real estate. We don’t just regurgitate the same concepts over and over. Our posts tie recognition and loyalty programs to hot topics such as social gaming, consumer electronic trends and pop culture.
  • Our blog also served as a crucial PR tool last year when a major competitor pulled out of our industry. Many in our industry turned to what we said in our blog to learn our official position on the situation, and this was picked up and quoted by other blogs, reinforcing our position as the voice of authority in our industry.
  • We still have a long way to go, but already LinkedIn and our blog have become the number 2 and 3 sources of web traffic to our site, after organic search.  With this initial success we have earned the right to grow our social marketing efforts. When our website overhaul is completed in a month, we look to boost sales leads further by making our site even more “social.”

Lessons Learned

Social Takes Time: Unless you are a well-known brand, establishing a social presence takes time. We’ve been working for over a year and a half on our efforts and are just now reaping the benefits. There was a time when our posts and tweets were met by cricket chirps – as if nobody was listening. The key for us was to keep digging in and build an audience. When our competitors finally got to the social scene, we already had a big lead.

Quality Over Quantity: We knew from the beginning that we weren’t aiming to be a company with two million followers. While audience size is important, we seek a small yet engaged audience. So far that strategy is paying off.  Our audience is actively referring clients to us, spreading our brand message and even making a point to seek us out at trade shows to meet with us in person. We’ve learned that there’s more to social media than just having a ton of followers. It’s converting to meaningful relationships that counts.

Plan Before You Act: Flying by the seat of your pants in social media isn’t strategy – it’s luck. Before starting anything, you should research who you need to target, where they hang out online and what they talk about. We wouldn’t be where we are today without steady planning and analysis.

We’ve had a lot of fun in the digital space and are constantly learning ways to improve.  We never settle. Good digital marketing, or any marketing, is a constant learning and re-evaluation process.

I hope this has been interesting for you. What are your key take-aways from what we’ve done so far?  How can we improve?

Drew Hawkins is a Marketing Coordinator for Hinda Incentives. You can find him through his personal blog (Brain Wads) or @drewhawkins on Twitter. You can connect with Hinda as well through their blog, YouTube channel or Twitter.

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