8 Smart Steps for B2B Social Media Marketing

an interview with
Kirsten Watson Vice President of Marketing, Kinaxis

While most B2B marketers are scratching the surface, Kirsten Watson and her team at Kinaxis, a Supply Chain Management solutions provider based in Ottawa, are digging deep into the rich veins of social media and finding gold. And while my metaphor may be tired, the 2009 versus 2008 results are anything but:

  • 2.7 times increase in website traffic
  • 3.2 times increase in conversion
  • 5.3 times increase in blog traffic
  • 6.0 times increase in registration of community members

How Kinaxis did all this and more is both instructive and inspiring especially given the extraordinary humility with which Watson shared her story. After I reassured her that Kinaxis was way ahead of the pack, Watson noted, “When you’re in the trenches, head down at the desk, you always feel like you’re playing catch up.” From my perspective, the only catching up to do here is for my readers, who I hope will see this as the definitive case for B2B social media marketing.

1. Innovation Rolls Down Hill

Perhaps the theme I hear most often is the importance of the CEO in inspiring marketing innovation.  Well guess what?  It’s true for our Canadian neighbors too. “It started in late 2007, when our CEO Doug Colbeth came to us,” noted Watson, adding, “He is the visionary type and was noticing all the social media stuff on the rise and wanted to know if there was an opportunity there for us.”  Thinking that social media was mainly Facebook and not seeing a fit, Watson and her team started reading all they could including Groundswell, the seminal book that according to Watson, “Sets the stage for what all the social media stuff really means.”

2. Experts are Worth the Investment

Knowing what you don’t know is tough and knowing when to pay for outside expertise is even tougher.  Noted Watson on the decision to spend $70,000 with Forrester on research, “Our company isn’t big enough, so we needed outside help and engaged Forrester to help us understand our audience.”  Added Watson, “if we don’t understand the audience we’re trying to reach, how in the world could we build an infrastructure to engage them?”  Forrester’s recommendation to build a community was unexpected but the data was quite strong. Offered Watson, “So we executed on all of their recommendations, the biggest being the community.”

3. Patience is Rewarded Especially When it Comes to Blogging

“Our blog is a huge part of our social media strategy but that’s been going on since 2005,” noted Watson, who added “We were banging our heads against the wall, questioning if it was worth the investment of time.”  That is no longer the case, noted Watson, “Our blog today is one of the industry’s leading blogs; we get a lot of leadership points off our blog because we’re quite careful about the quality of the content.”  This sensitivity to their readers provided a strong foundation for their newer social media activities, added Watson, “We’re never trying to be over-promotional and we’re always talking about real issues.”

4.  SEO is More than a Side Benefit of Social Media

“The biggest thing for us has been about finding ‘religion’ in SEO,” noted Watson when explaining her top lessons learned.  “Start with really understanding the keywords that are important to your marketplace and then build your campaign in as integrated way as possible,” she added.  Kinaxis has an editorial calendar based on key industry topics, writes a monthly whitepaper and then extends that content to Slideshare (PowerPoint presentations), YouTube (videos of the author), blogs, LinkedIn groups and newsletters. Offered Watson, “We understand things like keyword density, interlinking, back-linking,” thus helping to turn social media content into gold.

5. Building Community Means Letting the People Speak

In July 2009, Kinaxis launched a community for supply chain management enthusiasts with a hope and a prayer.  The hope was that they would get a few hundred members and a prayer that it would attract new customers as well as their current.  One year later, the community now has over 2760 members, 75% of whom are not current Kinaxis customers.  Watson advised avoiding any kind of corporate messaging in the community, “When you understand the social media revolution; it’s owned by the people and not us. “ She added, “You have to be open, be honest, encompass all ideas and let people communicate how they like.”

6. Holy Hockey Player Batman; Even Supply Chain Experts are People Too

All too often, B2B marketing efforts are restrained by a deadly seriousness that simply ignores the humanity of the target.  Not so for Kinaxis.  Comedy content has been a long-standing component of their web efforts and it became an important part of the community when it launched. “Comedy has been a great draw, since at the end of the day, it gets back to the whole notion that people are people,” she chuckled. “Our business world and personal world do intersect,” noted Watson. “I don’t think there’s anything but good things that come from a company showing its personality and that it has a sense of humor,” concluded Watson.

7. Keep it Fresh by Taking Calculated Risks

In early 2010, Kinaxis opened its blog up to outside bloggers, a calculated risk that has already paid off.  5 leading industry experts are now posting content along with 18 Kinaxis employees, helping to drive site traffic and improve organic search performance.  “These bloggers can even go on and post a contrary view to the way we see things which adds more credibility to the blog,” noted Watson, who also added, “None of our posts are preapproved—it’s all or nothing.”  Understanding the need for experimentation, Watson acknowledged, “We don’t expect to get it right every time and there’s still so much learning to do,” revealing the refreshing humility I mentioned upfront.

8.  Track Everything and Revel in the Love of Your Sales Force

Though measurement is still considered a work in progress, how Kinaxis monitors its social media progress is first rate.  Noted Watson, “We’re tracking all of the traditional stuff like keyword searches, website hits and conversions but its hard to track what created what.”  Taking things a step further, Kinaxis uses a scoring system to monitor qualified leads against a number of criteria including industry, revenue range and title.   She added that leads, “Hit a threshold value of points that then tells us this is a market qualified lead; they’re all tracked by SalesForce, so we can look back and see where our best qualified leads came from,” thus generating the on-going love and appreciation of the Kinaxis sales force.

Final note: While Kinaxis is far from a household name, if you are in the Supply Chain Management business there is a pretty good chance you’ve heard of them, laughed with them or even given them a piece of your mind. And if you haven’t, they just added a “community manager” to increase the odds that you will soon and that this fast-growing privately-held Canadian company will continue to lead the way in social media marketing.

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