In 2019, paid social marketing accounted for more than 13% of global ad spend, or about $84 billion dollars. SMBs are driving this growth, shifting their budgets to take advantage of the huge audiences present on social platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and others.

For B2B marketers, social media ads aren’t just reserved for LinkedIn. Facebook is the leading platform used by B2B marketers globally, with 91% of respondents in a 2020 Statista survey indicating they use the platform, followed by 81% who use LinkedIn.

Source: Statista

Other social platforms that may have started off with a B2C focus, are being widely used by B2B organizations for branding, outreach, lead generation, and to improve customer experience.

Social media has become so integral for society, that we’re essentially using it no matter where we are—at work, school, home and on the go. But is it really an effective channel for generating B2B leads?

The short answer is, yes. To understand why that’s the case, it’s important to take a close look at the modern B2B buying journey.

B2B buyers rely on social media

On average, B2B buyers consume about 13 pieces of content before purchasing a new product or service. Roughly 62% of this content comes directly from the source (e.g., the vendor’s website) versus third party websites like LinkedIn and Facebook. This is according to a January 2020 survey conducted by FocusVision of 243 B2B marketers.

Source: FocusVision

In 2019, Gartner unpacked some specifics that provide helpful guidelines for understanding why social media is so important for modern B2B buyers researching new vendors.

Here are some highlights:

  • B2B buyers are, overwhelmingly, millennials and thus highly skeptical of seller claims and averse to speaking with sales reps.
  • Today’s B2B buyers are not one single person, but rather, they’re made up of diverse teams composed of multiple stakeholders within an organization using multiple platforms and sources to discover information about new vendors.
  • B2B customers are channel-agnostic. That is, when they want information about a product or service, they’re open to receiving it from many different sources including peers, colleagues, vendor websites and social media.

As noted above, social media marketing for B2B isn’t limited to LinkedIn. Buyers are reading conversations and reviews about solutions on multiple platforms and in multiple ways, so creating a B2B social marketing strategy that ensures you have a presence on a variety of platforms is important.

Using paid social ads to generate leads

With over 50% of B2B marketers using social media platforms to research vendors, it is an effective channel for lead generation.

Every top social media platform supports ads, so setting up a campaign isn’t necessarily a challenge for B2B marketers, but successfully generating leads requires a somewhat different approach versus more traditional digital channels like search and programmatic marketing. If done correctly, paid social campaigns are more comparable to inbound versus outbound marketing because they are less intrusive and more content-driven.

Here are five points to consider when using social ads to generate leads.

1. Social ads look like native content

Ads on social platforms are designed to seamlessly integrate a platform’s native environment. This is one of the reasons they work so well. While these ads are labeled as paid advertising or sponsored posts, they tend to look like regular posts. The following ad from SaaS technology company Zuora looks like a native post on LinkedIn’s main feed:

Source: LinkedIn

The big difference from an organic post on LinkedIn is the call-to-action within the ad (e.g., Download) which prompts people to download the eBook. When a user clicks on the Download link, a pre-filled form appears with the user’s information and the book is then sent to the user’s email. Voila, lead generated.

For this ad to work, Zuora had to have a piece of content ready to go. This brings us to our next points.

2. Don’t just post ads, amplify content

Just because you can create a standard ad and post it to a social media platform, doesn’t mean you should, particularly not if you’re a B2B company trying to generate leads. Successful lead generation depends on high quality content.

Remember, buyers are researching solutions on their own prior to reaching out to reps, and they’re looking across multiple platforms and sources (both online and offline). Thus, creating an eBook like the one Zuora used to generate leads is one of the most effective ways B2B marketers can leverage social media ads.

3. Understand your audience

The lead magnet that Zuora used works well with LinkedIn because the platform draws the largest number of professional users online—nearly 700 million professionals use LinkedIn, 80% of whom drive business decisions.

But you can also get great results from what you might consider to be more consumer-focused platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The key is to understand your audience and target your ads accordingly.

You can do this by creating audience segments using your internal sales data and uploading it (or matching it to) audiences within the social media platform. For example, Facebook enables advertisers to create custom and lookalike audiences based on a business’s existing customers or website traffic (e.g., past visitors). Audiences can be further refined by location, interest, demographics, behavior and more.

4. Understand why consumers follow brands

A recent survey by Sprout Social found that 57% of respondents follow brands on social media to learn about new products and services. Additional reasons listed were: staying up to date on company news, learning about promotions and discounts and being entertained.

While some of this may seem more applicable to B2C, it’s information that can absolutely help inform your B2B strategy. Using paid ads to promote a new product (or product feature), service, or discount can help motivate people to visit your website, download content and reach out to you for more information. People are on social media to be entertained. So, entertain them.

5. Match the creative to the platform

One challenge that B2B brands face when advertising on social platforms is that the most successful ads tend to contain one or more visual elements (e.g., images, videos and graphics). It can be difficult to present a B2B product or service visually on platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

This is where a comprehensive content strategy can help. You can plan out visual content such as infographics, videos, and images that complement the specific platform, thus meeting users’ expectations for interesting and unique content, while also focusing on driving users to your website so they can register for the content they’re interested in (e.g., a compelling chart or graph can link to a longer infographic that requires users to register in order to view it).

Grow your following, increase your leads

A bonus of using paid ads on social platforms is that they contribute to the growth of your organic following. Most platforms enable advertisers to link to a website/landing page or to a company profile page within the platform.

Profile pages enable you to provide detailed business information and post content for free, so building your profile’s following is kind of like building an internal email list.

Social media ads work in tandem with organic social posts, enabling companies to form authentic, organic relationships with existing customers and prospects. With B2B buyers increasingly researching new vendors and solutions online, running ads on social media ensures that your business is discoverable and helps keep you in front of your prospects throughout every phase of their buying journey.

Related Articles:

How Social Media Influences B2B Buyers

There is a Right Time to Launch a B2B Paid Search Campaign

How to use Linkedin for B2B lead generation