Case study: Fast-growing B2B expands social media exposure

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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  • Congratulations, Drew, you’re doing it right. This is a very realistic and practical outlook on how to apply a content marketing strategy that a lot of us can relate to. Not everyone is Pepsi who can just see what people are already saying about us. Not everyone has an industry where it’s obvious who the conversationalists are. Sometimes you have to build from scratch. And you guys did. And you did it well.

    I love your takeaways at the end of this post, as they are age old lessons: patience is a virtue, focus on quality, look before you leap.

    Smart, practical advice that everyone doing web marketing should read.

  • Appreciate that Andrew! I think a roadblock a lot of people face is the lack of “talk” about a brand that may be out there. If there isn’t talk about you, it’s a huge opportunity to start a buzz about your brand. It just takes a LOT of patience. We’ve still got a long way to go ourselves.

  • High Five!!

  • Thank you!

  • Right, exactly! I’ve seen in happen a bunch of times. “But there’s nothing to respond to!” Sure, people might be talking about you, but they might be talking about things you know about or have valuable expertise on. Start there and work your way up, it’s a long haul, but there’s a good destination.

    Really enjoyed this post, Drew. I’m going to have to follow your work from here on out now.

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  • Huh? You write, “Our social strategy boiled down to one goal: Drive traffic to our website,” yet 4 of your 5 Results bullets tout your blog. I’m not certain, but it looks to me as though your blog is not even accessible from your website.

    I’d expect to see a Lesson Learned like, “We underestimated the value of a blog in magnetizing traffic.”

  • Congrats on the success/honors Drew, and thanks for the post. If you’re up for it, I’d like to hear more about how you engaged on LinkedIn. Was it another outlet to post or did you join and contribute to forums, etc?

    Thanks again!

  • Social media can be a great tool for businesses that go about using it correctly. It’s important to have a strategy in place and to stick with it. Like you mentioned, establishing a social presence takes time. Be patient and you should begin to see results if your campaign was implemented correctly.

  • Right now that’s actually an issue being addressed on our home website. As I indicate in the article, we are doing a major website overhaul this month that makes our home site more social and brings our efforts full circle. It’s in the final stages of production as we speak.

  • Exactly. The time issue is key. Once our home website sees its overhaul here soon, we should be able to see even better results.

  • We did post links there but tried to contribute to discussion boards too. LinkedIn Answers (though it does have potential to be spammy at times) is a very underrated resource. We also contributed to discussions within industry-related groups. I tried to give non-salesy advice there as best I could. People would not only associate that advice with me personally but also with the company I represent on LinkedIn (Hinda).

    One great resource LinkedIn provides is the new LinkedIn share button. Being B2B, I put that out there in addition to a Tweet button. We’ve actually seen just as many, if not more, shares through the LinkedIn app as Twitter. Our target audience generally uses LinkedIn more than Twitter so it’s not surprising that it’s worked out that way.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  • Nice effort Drew. Your synopsis gives all of us hope that what we are doing in the “social media world” is all worth it.

    I knew anyway … but I still had to give you props.

  • Appreciate it Clay. Slow and steady wins the race 🙂

  • Hi Drew – thank you for sharing your insights here on Mark’s blog.

    One word: Engage.

    Whether blogging, Twitter , Facebook, or any social platform for that matter, engage or die.

    Rather, engage or never even be noticed — ever.

    There is nothing social about silence, spam or one-way messages.

    Cheers for this post Drew : )

  • Superb case study Drew, very “real world” and practical.

    Couple of questions on the Twitter part, if you have the time:
    1. how did you persuade other stakeholders to hang in there through the cricket chirps in the first few months? Did you see any other signs of progress in that time which indicated that your Twitter strategy was the right one? Just interested because it’s an issue we face for most of our SME clients
    2. were your target customers already active on Twitter, or did you have to pull that community with you in the same way as building the linkedin group?

  • Exactly. Social platforms shouldn’t be news streams, they should be conversations. Engaging is the key! Thanks Mark!

  • Fair enough Kate:

    1. My stakeholders hung in there because I told them beforehand what that progress would look like. I gave them an evaluation of the social landscape in our industry and outlined what our expected growth would look like. Though you can’t be dead on with those things, my predictions were lining up well, which helped my case quite a bit. Our Twitter strategy seemed to be the right one because we did experiment a bit with other platforms but seemed to find the most conversation happening on Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is a powerful platform that is a go-to for a lot of places but it isn’t a one-size-fits all yet. It’s something we have but may dive into deeper if we find a greater need there. Not a priority as of now for us.

    2. Regarding targets, we had to pull people in for the most part. We started diving into social B2B before it really caught on. It was frustrating at first but it’s paying dividends now. My main idea on Twitter was really leveraging the search function. Twitter searches are an easy and underrated way to find conversations around your topic of interest.

    Glad you liked the practicality! We aren’t all Starbucks and Coca-Colas with millions of followers, hopefully our concentrated audience will continue to pay off long term. Thanks for commenting!

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  • Excellent article drew (and Mark). Love the idea of “setting your own table”.

    Social Media has so rapidly become the thing to do, with so many experts and “gurus”, that for a small business wanting to dip their toe in the water, the strategies are confusing, and often over beginners heads.

    This case study brings “how to” it back into focus with clear goals, actions and simply monitored payback. i.e. We got more traffic to our web site, the results are visable in the stats and on our bottom line.

    And, quality over quantity. That just can’t be emphasised enough if my book.

  • Couldn’t agree more with your last line. The quality over quantity is often misjudged by social campaigns. At the end of the day, you have to be doing something that is driving business and driving leads. Because of the nature of Hinda’s business, we have to educate people on what it is we actually do. We use social to entice and the website (more so when the overhaul goes live soon) to help close the gap. Social media doesn’t have to be near as complicated as some make it out to be.

    Appreciate the comment!

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