Why Facebook Might Not Be Best for Your B2B Company

Joe Stych
Joe Stych / Published July 24, 2014

Ever since Facebook launched fan pages, social-savvy brands have been exploiting them as free access to a super-engaged audience. Whether it's link-bait headlines or the race to write the most hilarious newsworthy meme, the Facebook News Feed has become a renewable resource of potential customers for marketing departments worldwide.

But lately it seems like Facebook’s free lifeline to its users is falling short of expectations. It’s less clearer than ever that brands are getting real reach and engagement for the effort they put in. And for businesses with few resources to spare, that’s a problem.

In fact, some companies are not even deeming Facebook worthy of their marketing man-hours. Gregory Ciotti, a marketing strategist at Help Scout who focuses on bringing organic traffic to his site via public relations, SEO and writing efforts, shut down his company's Facebook page after just a month of poor reach and dismal engagement numbers.

Gregory Ciotti

“In a nutshell, our stance of Facebook is that it doesn't offer enough of a return for a B2B company like ours to warrant the time spent,” says Ciotti. “It isn't all that great for customer service, and frankly, it's better to funnel people to a single channel when you have a small team.”

With a crew of 11 and growing, Help Scout’s business centers on providing companies with a streamlined customer service platform that gives teams useful metrics, collaboration tools, and a more personal customer experience stripped of the “do not responds” and case numbers of traditional help desk software. Help Scout empowers other businesses to make customers happy, so those other businesses (not individuals) are core to their acquisition strategy.

Simply put: Facebook’s average user and Help Scout’s target customer don’t exactly match up.

“Help Scout is not in an industry that has enough social currency to pull people away from vacation photos and babies—in other words, people don't go on Facebook to get educated on customer service,” Ciotti says. “Are you really going to struggle with that ‘free fall’ of reach and spend time on a platform that doesn't even have your ideal audience to begin with?”

The Age of Organic Reach on Facebook is Over

When Ciotti says “free fall,” he means the plunging from an airplane (sans parachute) kind. There’s some convincing evidence to suggest that organic reach on Facebook is nosediving, and that Facebook purposely shut off the propeller. According to a study conducted by Social@Ogilvy, the average Facebook post last October was getting to 12.05% of a page’s fans—that number plummeted to 6.15% in February 2014.

Social@Ogilvy chart
Analysis of 100+ Facebook Brand Pages around the world with more than 48 million total fans conducted by Social@Ogilvy in Febraury 2014.

Things aren’t any better for big-name fan pages: organic reach has dropped from 4.04% to 2.11% for pages with 500,000-plus likes in the same timespan.

Eventually, the author of Social@Ogilvy's study expects organic reach to hit zero, warning that “specific decisions will need to be made with regard to content planning, paid support for social media activities, audience targeting and much more.” Tech gossip and news blog Valleywag even has an anonymous source at Facebook who says that the company is in the process of slashing organic reach to 1%. In other words: Facebook is cutting off the complimentary marketing.

If you've spent time and money building your Facebook fan base, you might feel swindled—and envious that Help Scout chose a different path.

Surprisingly, Facebook isn’t denying the decline. They acknowledge that overall reach is falling, and that the best way to combat drooping numbers is a pricey injection of post promotion.

That’s all fine for Pepsi or McDonalds, but for a smaller company like Help Scout? Don’t count on big spends, or big returns.

B2B Companies are Flailing for Engagement

Even if users see your post, are they interacting with it? The point of having sky-high reach numbers is increasing your likes, comments, and click through rate, right?

Well, for many B2B companies, the engagement numbers are disappointedly low. Ciotti points to the Kissmetrics Facebook page, where they’ve accumulated over 15,000 fans. But their recent posts tell a different story: 5 likes on a July 22 post sharing a new blog post of theirs and 2 likes for a July 21 post promoting a redesign of one of their iOS apps.

"(Facebook) doesn't offer enough of a return for a B2B company like ours to warrant the time spent." - Gregory Ciotti, Help Scout

They aren’t the only ones with dismal numbers: 15 likes on a post is a good day for newsletter juggernaut MailChimp (their page with 90,000-plus likes mostly answers customer questions), and HubSpot is lucky to get 0.0002% of their 665,000-plus fans to interact with a link.

Beyond organic reach deficiencies and engagement issues, Facebook faces problems with fake fans and profiles, too. Scientist and television personality Derek Muller in February published a YouTube video, "Facebook Fraud", in which he argues that the 80,000 fake or spammy likes on his Veritasium Facebook page—which grade out at bleak 1% engagement—are actually hurting his ability to market efficiently. Because Facebook only distributes posts to a fraction of a page’s fans, if 75% of Muller’s likes are fake, there’s an even slimmer chance that his content reaches engaged viewers.

In all, unless you’re flush with cash, it’s impossible to know if your posts are reaching eager consumers, or if you’re screaming into the News Feed void.

Where Should B2B Marketers Focus their Efforts?

The way Ciotti sees it, Facebook provides a sparse return on his efforts, and the pipeline to users is out of his control. Instead, his strategy with Help Scout is to direct people to a single channel so that he can focus on conversion there, rather than spreading himself across any and every social network.

“For people looking to follow along with content, we promote email almost exclusively,” he says. “Since that's all there is, that's what people sign up for—why have a dozen channels to follow along when you can just promote the best one?”

Help Scout email promotion
At the end of every blog post, Help Scout encourages readers to subscribe to the blog via email.

Ciotti says that Help Scout’s weekly newsletter has more than 60,000 subscribers, and 6-8% click-through rates—compare that to sub-0.5% click-through rates on social networks like Twitter or Facebook, and Help Scout’s marketing focus on building the newsletter list makes perfect sense.

“When you don't have a bunch of random social outposts, there is only one way to subscribe to get more content: email,” Ciotti says. “More people join, more people enjoy it, and you can focus on the golden rule of B2B content marketing: it's more important to be practically useful than to be practically everywhere.”

"Focus on the golden rule of B2B content marketing: it's more important to be practically useful than to be practically everywhere." - Gregory Ciotti, Help Scout

So the newsletter has been huge for Help Scout (they even published a free ebook on acquiring customers via email campaign). But how can you decide which avenues to focus on?

The Help Scout team used the Pareto principle to zero in on and fortify their strongest marketing platform—email—leaving the others by the wayside.

When choosing a cornerstone social network, Kissmetrics suggests analyzing where your audience spends their time. But remember: because of reach issues and fake accounts, followers don’t necessarily equal audience. Make sure you also consider where your target audience is actively engaging with content—that could be Pinterest, Quora or Reddit.

For Help Scout, Ciotti discovered that LinkedIn provided a highly engaged professional audience. “I have over 250,000 views on LinkedIn with 3,000 followers,” Ciotti says of his personal profile, “and the type of people that follow me are almost all professionals and executives.”

Facebook Wants Businesses to Succeed

Everything considered, experimentation is key. Ciotti discovered that LinkedIn provided crazy conversion numbers because it tapped into a professional audience, and although Facebook falters for many B2B companies, it might work for your marketing strategy.

Facebook has made is very clear that they love small businesses—this year, they’re hosting a cross-country bootcamp series called Facebook Fit, focused on strengthening small business through social. The sponsors? Three B2B companies that fortify small businesses: Square, LegalZoom, and Intuit.

Facebook Fit

And while Facebook doesn’t have any expressed best-practices for B2B social marketing on their platform (we asked, but didn’t hear back), companies like Intel get incredible reach—nearly 300,000 likes on a single post—while Salesforce uses Facebook to snag quality leads.

Facebook has even devoted a blog and a Facebook page to summarizing social marketing strategies for businesses. So maybe it isn’t impossible to for B2B companies to win on Facebook (Social Media Examiner certainly doesn’t think so).

Duh: News Dominates the News Feed

If you’re just driving visits to your website, Facebook can still be a great source of free page views. After diving into the data, NewsWhip showed that the most-shared publishers in June were all content-focused brands: The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Fox News topped the list. In fact, they say that interactions on news-focused content increased by about 22.7% from January 2014 to April 2014 to a whopping 482.8 million total interactions.

But the business strategy is drastically different for a B2B company than, say, TechCrunch, where revenue rests heavily on snatching up pageviews. Ciotti says that Help Scout measures wins by a different metric.

“TechCrunch does not care about helping you change your day-to-day. They want punchy headlines and millions of pageviews,” he says. “Help Scout succeeds when we help potential customers succeed.” Customer success means a stronger, longer-lasting relationship—for Help Scout, customer success via education always trumps pageviews.

Facebook as an Ad Network

So, should growing brands even use Facebook?

“I still think so; for consumer topics and pages that focus on personal interests and hobbies, Facebook can be huge,” Ciotti says. “And besides Pinterest, it's still a king among visual platforms, so if you're an e-commerce company selling DIY dresses or something else that's visually appealing and consumer focused, you still need Facebook.”

He also argues that Facebook can play a role in an acquisition strategy for B2B companies—just not for free. “Facebook ads are probably some of the best social advertising available, especially if you're using them as lead generation,” he says.

"Facebook ads are probably some of the best social advertising available, especially if you're using them as lead generation." - Gregory Ciotti, Help Scout

Remember: Facebook is both a social network and an ad network, and sometimes it’s easy to forget (or ignore) just how much they know about their users.

Facebook is working hard to give marketers robust tools for targeting specific subsets of users, like the ability to only show ads to users who haven’t visited your site in a while, or to those who have visited specific pages on your site. When ads are crafted well, they can produce huge conversion rates on the “real” chunk of Facebook’s 1-billion users.

Conclusion

Based on Help Scout’s experiences and Facebook’s profit-driven growing pains, the social network may not be the best use of manpower for small B2B ventures. But the important things are meeting your target consumers on their platform of choice, and closely monitoring your engagement metrics to make sure your marketing dollars are spent wisely.

What's your experience either employing a Facebook page in your marketing efforts or following a B2B company on Facebook? Please share in the comments below.

Photo courtesy NEXT Berlin

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