Among the top challenges that B2B marketers face are building brand awareness, managing customer relations, and making do with limited marketing resources (human and otherwise); 21% B2B marketers also say they have an insufficient audience size on social media.

Using social advocacy could be a powerful way to tackle those challenges.

Fully 70% of B2B buyers use social media for pre-purchase research. Furthermore, social users trust recommendations from friends and family above all other sources, according to Edelman's Trust Barometer. Therefore, for B2B businesses, developing a strong advocacy system on social media could be a powerful way to build brand and drive sales.

So which of your social media connections are potential advocates, and how do you build an advocacy system around them?

1. Employees

Leads generated by social employee advocacy convert seven times more often than other leads. That fact should be particularly pertinent for B2B businesses that have socially active sales teams. When you enable your sales team to build powerful social profiles, they can help you manage customer relations and represent your brand by dealing with prospects on social media.

Moreover, by distributing your marketing communications to your entire workforce and encouraging them to share online, you can increase your reach by as much as hundred-fold (depending on your company size and employees' social influence). There are other benefits of a well-implemented employee advocacy program, as well.

When global software giant Adobe implemented its employee advocacy program, it benefited by an increase in revenue. In fact, one employee went on to generate more revenue for Adobe Photoshop than the company's official Twitter account. (IBM is another great example of successful employee advocacy.)

2. Industry experts and social influencers

About 4 in 5 B2B decision-makers refer to vendor-independent communities at least once a month for business purposes, and use online communities and blogs for purchasing decisions. And for every piece of your content that a decision-maker reads, he or she reads an additional three pieces of content not created by you.

To influence their decisions, it is essential to have clout on external sites and to be recognized by experts in the industry. By developing relationships with experts who are also social influencers, you can make a powerful impact on your brand image and sales via social media. Seek feedback from them on a regular basis; to use Ted Rubin's term, focus on earning a "return on your relationships." Alternatively, some companies also initiate paid contracts with influential experts to be featured on their social media channels.

How some social media management tools are marketed is a good example of B2B influencer marketing. Most top social media tools, such as Hootsuite and Buffer, have strong relationships with social media marketing influencers.

3. Clients and prospects

Most B2B marketers (89%) agree that customer testimonials are among the most effective content marketing tactics, and 88% cite case studies as well. Testimonials have direct impact on brand perception, credibility, and sales.

Happy clients may want to recommend your business; unless you provide them with an easy means to do so, however, they are not likely to do it. Fully 91% of customers want to refer a product/service, but only 11% of sales representatives ask for referrals, according to one study.

Request from your clients that they rate and review your business on Facebook and elsewhere, and share testimonials that you can showcase on your website and social pages. Also, showcasing your work with a client in the form of a case study is a powerful way to woo and convince prospects.

4. Business partners

Businesses partner with service providers for data support, tech support, network management, document tracking, and other functions. Essentially, such partnerships—whether a vendor-supplier relationship, a service integration, or event partnership—constitute a network of people who could advocate for your brand on social media. You can co-create content and promote one another's business on social media.

Your audience types should probably match, and your potential partners should have sizable followings and influence on social media. By exchanging and co-promoting content, each party gains extended reach and the chance to influence a larger audience. You might also co-host an event, create a joint newsletter, or partner to build a social media community around your businesses.

For a co-branding or co-promotional partnership, you could also reach out to not only a complementary business but also a dissimilar business that targets the same audience as yours. A good example is the GoPro and Red Bull Stratos partnership. Felix Baumgartner's stunt embodied the spirit of Red Bull and was captured on a GoPro camera, effectively promoting both brands.

Brand Advocacy Tools

To organize and streamline your brand advocacy effort, you'll need to use advocacy, content, and project management tools.

1. LinkedIn Elevate

LinkedIn Elevate lets you curate relevant content sourced from LinkedIn's Pulse publishing tool, and share that content with employee advocates for them to publish. The tracking metrics available on the Web- and mobile-enabled platform allow you to trace employee activity to your LinkedIn page traffic and conversions.

2. DrumUp employee advocacy platform

DrumUp lets you invite employees and other advocates to share content, curated by you, on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The built-in gamification module helps you encourage advocate activity on social through innovative contests. This Web-, mobile-, and email-enabled platform also gives deep analytics and insights on your advocacy program reach and participating advocates' activity.

3. Influitive

An advocate engagement platform, Influitive encourages your advocates to share content, testimonials, and reviews across the Web and helps you drive more engagement, traffic and revenue for your business. With automatic recognition of key stages in the process, you can organize your content-collection efforts: collection, tracking, and rewarding.

4. InkyBee

An influencer discovery and relationship management platform, InkyBee lets you add and track the activity of your targeted influencers on one platform. Featuring research and discovery tools, it helps you identify the right influencers. It also supports tracking of communication with influencers and keywords related to your campaigns. You can track your campaign mentions, identify potential influencers, and monitor your interactions with them.

5. Klout

An influence tracking and management system, Klout calculates your influence score and provides you with means to increase it. From within the application you can create content aimed at encouraging happy customers or fans to talk about you, and target them to earn and collect that information. To understand the impact of that content, you can benchmark before-and-after scores for efficient tracking.

* * *

Most businesses have untapped networks on social media. When organized well, an outreach program implemented through your brand's network can earn you a better ROI at a lower cost than advertising on most traditional media.

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Four Powerful Groups of B2B Brand Advocates on Social Media, and Five Tools You Can Use

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Jessica Davis is a content strategy specialist with Godot Media, a content marketing firm, where she helps online businesses refine their marketing strategy with the optimum use of content. She also works closely with the Godot copywriting service team.