It’s been a long Friday for Sarah. She’s worked all week to crank out two articles and a video for her B2B software brand. Now that everything is queued up to publish on Monday, she can finally relax. But on the drive home, something keeps nagging at her. Her team’s content seems to be stagnating lately—will this round be more of the same? Is their content marketing strategy the problem, or is her B2B audience just inherently less engaged than she might like? Are they just out of touch?
From social media to user-generated content, there seems to be a bucket of tactics in marketing that B2B brands like to think just can’t work for them as effectively as for B2C. We’re just not that interesting to people. People don’t want to spend their free time on us. We’re best during business hours.
By pulling back from these approaches, however, some B2B brands are not only missing out on great content and publication opportunities—they’re also distancing themselves from the actual needs and interests of their consumers.
First off, let’s get it out there: I’m a huge user-generated content nerd.
The Internet is a wide, wild, weird place, and when I’m managing social accounts, it can be nice to run across something more unique than a bot account, customer service request, or tagged friend in my brand’s feeds. Add to that the possibility that some of these posts lift a small burden off the back of my content team, and it just makes me all around happy.
Sure, some user-generated content can be a bit off-the-wall. Yes, user content might be a bit of a hard fit for your brand at the onset. But even if your user-generated campaigns only return a bit of content for your brand, this can speak volumes about the interests, aesthetics, and behaviors of your most engaged audience members.
These are the two primary goals for user-generated content: drive engagement with minimal production investment, and test or learn something about what interests your audience. B2B brands that think this sort of content can’t work for them usually focus on the engagement goal, and in doing so miss out on the market intelligence opportunity.
Here’s how to fix that.
Image attribution: Jeffrey Betts
Where marketers tend to think of most B2B brands as being challenged in this area, most B2B brands actually fall into a nice formula that opens enormous content opportunities. I like to call it the “B2B to B2C” formula.
Lots of B2Bs offer products or services to companies that then go on to sell their products or services to consumers. In this relationship, if the B2B brand tries to focus on getting content from other companies about themselves, they’re likely going to fall through. However, if your B2B brand encourages its B2C clients to share content about how your product ties into what eventually reaches their customer, you now suddenly have some human interest.
Take, for instance, Adobe. Here we have a software giant that’s ever present in most creative fields. But when you go to their social pages or blog sites, you don’t find them primarily sharing images of people using their software or flaunting new feature releases—they’ve instead dedicated their platforms to promoting user-generated work (their Instagram page is basically one giant re-gram).
The UPS Store is another great example of this approach; they spend most of their time highlighting the cool projects or businesses that their customers create. Sure, I might not care too much about the specific craft or business supplies their customers bought at the store, but I care about what they create—and the UPS Store shows that they care too.
Image attribution: m0851
The two brands we just looked at benefit from operating in a creative space—a sort of “secret ingredient” for B2B content. Not all B2B companies have these creative resources available, while other B2Bs sell directly to other B2Bs that might not have a particularly interesting consumer endpoint.
In these cases, you might need to think a bit more laterally about who will find your company to be valuable, and try to encourage content there.
Internship programs, for instance, are a resource that just about every mid- to enterprise-size company has. What do “visitors” to your company think? Why are they proud to work there? What makes them passionate about your work? Finding ways to encourage your interns or internship partners to reflect on and tell stories about their experiences with your brand not only helps produce content, it also reveals what human elements of your brand outsiders find most engaging. Not to mention that landing the occasional .edu backlink is a godsend for SEO.
At its core, a B2B user-generated content marketing strategy hinges on encouraging people to talk about or share what they find human and engaging about your brand. This isn’t a product marketing strategy; it’s a brand-level exploration of the ideals, experiences, and stories that people think of when they hear your company’s name. Take some time to think of people who are actually affected by your business, and then build your campaign around asking them to share a story, a success, or just a simple picture of how your brand affects their everyday life. You may be surprised by just how much of an effect your dusty B2B brand has on real people.
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Featured image attribution: Sweet Ice Cream Photography