Thursday, July 16, 2009

Social Media in B2B Marketing: The Importance of the Periphery

The rising interest in social media in B2B marketing leads to an interesting and challenging question; what is the role of social media in lead scoring? We’ve talked a lot about lead scoring and how to approach it successfully, but the relevance of social media should be addressed. The challenging aspect of leveraging social media in your lead scoring is that you do not control the main sites of social media, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. This makes it impossible to track the Digital Body Language of your buyers on those sites.

However, it is important not to underestimate the periphery – the point at which a person in the realm of social media enters a web property within your web presence.

This point of handoff, the referring URL, has been trackable for a long time, and can be seen in most web analysis tools. Its relevance in understanding your buyer’s digital body language though, needs to be fully understood. The referring URL shows you exactly where a person came from when they came to your site. Importantly, it includes valuable information on the context of why they ended up on your web site. There are three key aspects to look at in understanding the context of their visit:

- What site they came from
- What other information can be gleaned from the URL
- Where they landed

The first of these is the easiest. Understanding whether they came in to your site from Google, LinkedIn, a community support portal, an industry Blog, or Twitter can give you some context as to why they are on your site and what they are looking for. For example if they are visiting your site from an industry blog, the themes of that site will likely relate to the interest of the visitor. For example, blogs focusing on advances in mathematical modeling, insurance in the pharmaceutical industry, or employment opportunities in the Dallas area may all refer visitors to an insurance company’s site, but with very different contexts for their visit.

With certain sites the more relevant information is contained within other aspects of the URL. Search is the best example of this, as the exact phrase that was used is presented in the query string of the referring URL. Knowing the search query can give you very relevant and actionable insight into where in their buying process a visitor is, as we saw with Sourcefire’s use of query strings to understand buying cycle stage.

The third important piece of information to be gleaned from the periphery is the page to which the visitor was referred. If this page is not the main home page this destination URL can provide extremely valuable insights into what the context of the link was. If, for example, the visitor followed a link to your site shared on Twitter that led to a deeply technical specifications page, that is more likely to be a technical buyer who followed a link from Twitter to a case study.

Understanding what this periphery can tell us about why the visitor found something interesting in the realm of social media, and has chosen to visit our site is key in guiding our communication with them from that point forward. As we score them as a lead, or begin to nurture them over time, this insight is extremely valuable in understanding them as a buyer.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Tim Wilson said...

Another thought-provoking post! As you indicated, it's virtually impossible to automate user-level analysis/scoring based your prospects' activities on social media sites (although wasn't there a study at some university that used publicly available data from several social media sites and could nail down a *lot* of detail about a specific person? Unfortunately...I can't remember more there). So, while there is a lot going on at "the periphery," you're only reasonably going to be able to use it for lead scoring when the peripheral activity results in a click through to your site.

I could see using basic web analytics to figure top referring content and top referring keywords, assessing them, and then baking them into your lead scoring. That, I think, is an innovative concept -- much of the SEO, referrals, and landing page work that gets done is more content/content flow/path-to-conversion oriented, which gets into the long tail and other fun stuff. But, actually factoring in referring pages, referring sites, and referring keywords into lead scoring -- cool idea!

Steven Woods said...

You've got me intrigued... I hadn't heard of the study on understanding social media profile data. Interesting stuff, but a very tough problem to solve. If you recall the study, I'd love to hear more.