Prevailing wisdom holds that Twitter is a valuable social media channel for B2B content marketing. Twitter reports that 288,000 CEOs and 366,000 startup founders are on Twitter. The Content Marketing Institute reports that 87% of B2B marketers use Twitter to distribute content. These types of statistics provide strong support for why Twitter is commonly thought of as an attractive channel for content marketing efforts.
On the other hand, CEO.com reports that 60% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all, only 7% have a Twitter account, and only 5% are active on Twitter. Marketing Land reports that less than one-third of the world’s top CMOs have active Twitter accounts.
Do Exec’s Read Twitter for Content?
Going one level deeper, it is clear that some executives on Twitter primarily use it to distribute company-related information, rather than for gathering insights from thought leaders. Take Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. INSEAD listed him as the most influential CEO on Twitter. While he has 6.6 million followers, he only follows 60 people and organizations. As shown in the bar chart, only 7% of those he follows offer business thought leadership. The rest emphasize political and social issues (e.g., HumanRightsCampaign), and others are there to reflect personal interests (e.g., Auburn Football).
CEOs like Tim Cook do not use Twitter to find thought leadership content. They primarily use it to influence others, such as employees and customers. They are engaged in a one-way relationship with Twitter: they want to distribute content, not find it.
How About Indirect Access to the C-Suite through Twitter?
If we assume it is tough to directly access the C-suite of major corporations through Twitter, does that make Twitter a useless marketing channel for B2B content? Maybe not if tweets reach the C-suite indirectly through employees who are one or two levels down from the C-suite.
Here again, we struggled to find a sizable number of corporate targets on Twitter. For example, we searched Twitter for people working in the Fortune 20 by entering the a company name into the “Search Twitter” function and clicking on the “People” tab. We only found 218 employee names. That is an average of 11 personal Twitter accounts per Fortune 20 company. CVS Health had the most names (37) and we could not find a single employee of AmerisourceBergen on Twitter.
We also conducted a Twitter search of “VP Marketing” and “Marketing Director.” This produced 88 and 94 personal Twitter accounts, respectively. A review of the hits showed that, at best, 20% of them were for individuals working at Fortune 500 companies.
So, it seems that few employees of the Fortune 20 are willing to state who they work for in their Twitter profile.
What about Twitter Influencers?
Considerable attention is placed on Twitter “influencers.” See, for example, the recent Forbes article: “The World’s Most Influential CMOs.” Such articles ignore a fundamental question: Who, exactly, do these top influencers actually influence? Yes, the 50 CMOs have large numbers of Twitter followers: the mean is 4,660. But, if the leaders in the most important US corporations are poorly represented on Twitter, or primarily use Twitter to distribute rather than gather content, then what is the point of being an influencer on Twitter?
A B2C content marketing strategy might be well-served by scattergun broadcasts on Twitter. But B2B marketing often emphasizes reaching the C-suites of specific companies. Based on the numbers just reviewed, the use of Twitter as a B2B content marketing channel is not a simple, straightforward proposition. A healthy amount of planning is in order.
One way to build a viable B2B content marketing strategy for Twitter is to utilize the personas concept. Twitter users can be described by personas or sets of attitudes and behavior patterns. From there an associated set of B2B content marketing tactics can be crafted for each persona. An example is provided using seven Twitter personas:
- The “executive distributor” tweets weekly or so about themselves, their company, or social/political views supported by their company. Retweets political or social tweets, and uses “like” freely. May have small amount of staff assistance for their Twitter posts.
- They seldom retweet thought leadership content or show advocacy for any particular company.
- Example: Tim Cook of Apple: 430 tweets; 60 follows; 66,800 followers, 857 likes).
If their business approach or social/political views align with your company, then follow them on Twitter to imply “brilliant minds think alike.” Don’t bother trying to get them to follow you; it is counter to their persona.
- They sign on to Twitter every week or so, post very few tweets, have several hundred people or organizations they follow, and occasionally “like” a tweet. Probably do not have assistance with their Twitter account; they do it themselves.
- Example: many CIO and CFOs demonstrate this persona.
- If the “executive gatherer” is in your target set of companies, functional areas, and job titles, you want them to read your tweets.
Direct Twitter ads at them and who they follow. Track whether they start to follow you on Twitter, click through to your blog, etc.
- Is active and sophisticated on Twitter. Posts every day or even multiple times a day. Has a staff working on his or her Twitter feed every day. Covers company-specific events, social issues, general management business concepts and industry issues.
- Seldom retweets thought leadership content or shows advocacy for any particular company. Prefers to retweet rather than “like.”
- Example: Paul Polman, CEO Unilever: 3,097 tweets; 167 follows; 38,500 followers; 107 likes.
Follow them to learn what the key issues are in the industry. Try to engage by joining the conversation – provide useful information.
- The “news influencer” posts daily or more often, has many followers, and follows many people. The most prominent ones have someone working full time to manage their Twitter account.
- They focus on retweeting news or tweet quotes from others. Posts usually relate to their area of expertise. They usually add a simple comment to introduce a retweet, or package a quote with graphics to create a tweet.
- About 10% of their posts are about their professional activities (e.g., talks at conferences) and may occasionally include original, thought leadership content. They often retweet the same original content, such as on a monthly cycle, until they create something new.
- Example: Alan See, CMO Temps: 35,400 tweets; 51,500 follows; 90,400 followers; 346 likes.
If their expertise aligns with your offering, follow them and retweet them. Otherwise, just follow them and learn from their tactics.
“Thought Leader” Influencer
- Their posts feature innovation and insight. They use retweets often, and introduce them with a pithy, insightful, or clever comment. Tweets of original content may be only 10% of total but link to carefully written pieces in respected publications.
- They post several times a week, and emphasize quality over quantity.
- Examples: John Hagel, Jonah Berger.
If their expertise aligns with your offering, follow them and retweet them. If they do not follow you, advertise to them through the people they follow. If their interests do not align with yours, follow them and learn from their tactics.
Internal C-Suite Influencer
- One or two levels down from the C-Suite. Part of their “internal equity” is keeping the C-suite apprised of the latest thinking that relates to their function or industry.
If this influencer is in your target set of companies, functional areas, and job titles: you want them to read your tweets. Find out who they follow on Twitter and advertise on these Twitter streams. Track whether they start to follow you on Twitter, click through to your blog, etc.
Mixed Agenda Professional
- Three of four levels down from the C-Suite. Visits Twitter often. Follows people who are professionally aligned by function or industry, but also follows people or organizations reflecting a wide variety of interests and topics.
- Occasionally will retweet professional material up the chain.
Find these individuals who match your target set of companies, functional areas, and job titles. Find out who they follow on Twitter and advertise on these Twitter streams. Track whether they start to follow you on Twitter, click through to your blog, etc.
In many respects, the use of Twitter as a B2B content marketing channel is still in its early stages. This channel is readily suited to B2C broadcast marketing campaigns because of its enormous audience base. Although it takes much more care and planning to make Twitter productive and cost effective for B2B content marketing efforts, our experience is that it can be done, and personas can be a very effective tool for creating and organizing a tailored set of tactics.
Given the complexities and challenges surrounding Twitter, it is probably wise to use a multi-channel approach for B2B content marketing. For example, a combination of email, direct mail, and Twitter would probably be far more effective than Twitter alone. The three channels can complement one another. Targets identified through one channel can be added to other channels, tests can be run for each channel and compared (e.g., cost per impression, response rates, cost per response), and multiple channel exposure is often more effective than mono-channel efforts.
Frank Grillo is the CMO of Harte Hanks. He is a passionate advocate for bringing the human back into marketing by better understanding and facilitating customer journeys.
Mark Blessington is President of Mark Blessington Inc., a sales and marketing consulting firm.