Uncovered: The link between social selling and ROI

Once upon a time, digital marketing was still a fledgling field – and many were sceptical of the effects it can have and the leads it can produce. Today, however, that has changed – and the majority of modern businesses accept the benefits that a fully inbound approach to marketing, including social selling, can provide. In short – most businesses know that social media marketing works.

Despite this, however, the details of exactly how it works remain unclear to many businesses. Companies struggle to predict the size of leads and the return on investment that a social campaign will generate.

  • How much ROI can a social campaign be expected to produce?
  • What types of social media are most effective?
  • Which platforms provide the highest ROI.

In our latest Insights report, ‘Social Selling and Return on Investment’, we researched and quantified these precise links, using research from the social strategies of over 90 Microsoft Partner Companies. In fact, this research is the first of its kind to measure social selling outcomes specifically within B2B Microsoft Partner Businesses.

What did we measure – and how?

The main objective of our study was to discover the financial link between social selling and ROI. The report conclusively and definitively found that this correlation exists. But as well as this, we looked into a range of other relationships and correlations that allowed us to uncover unprecedented insights into the effect of contemporary social selling strategies.

Using data from over 90 Microsoft Partner Companies, we compared metrics on:

  • Frequency of social posts
  • The platform they were posted on
  • The success of different content types
  • Financial investment in social selling

To unlock our exclusive insights, each of these variables were compared against the average number of leads that Partner businesses achieved.

Our investigation determines the proportion of marketing and social budgets that partners spent in order to achieve a specific quantity of monthly leads. With this information, contemporary digital marketing departments are armed with an exclusive range of insights that will allow them to plan and execute an effective digital marketing campaign.

What we discovered

The main objective of our research was to find a correlation between the amount of money that companies invested into their social campaigns, and the subsequent leads they generated. Without giving away the full findings, here’s a brief look at some of what we discovered.

  • Companies that used social media more frequently achieved the largest size of deals
  • Videos and animations were most often posted by companies with the highest quantity of leads.
  • There was little to no difference in size and amount of leads generated between companies with minimal social presence and those with none whatsoever.

As well as these statistics, the report also features more detailed, quantified insights into the following questions

  • The precise dollar value that high social scorers achieve on average
  • The average number and size of leads generated by companies who posted weekly, monthly, and less than monthly
  • Which types of social content are most effective
  • Which platforms generated most leads
  • The correlation between social selling budget and quantity of leads generated

Armed with this information, marketers have a wealth of valuable information that will allow them to identify every element of an effective social selling campaign.

Insights from the experts

As well as these exclusive insights, the report also features exclusive insights from expert Microsoft Partner marketers right across the ecosystem. In one of these examples, David Lavenda from harmon.ie perfectly encapsulates the gap in research that this report fills:

There’s a gap between the buying and selling cycle. So, while most companies use social media, not everybody sees it as a direct sales tool of its own merit.

-David Lavenda
harmon.ie

As well as this, we discuss a range of independent insights into the types of marketing strategies that work for individual businesses – and how they’ve found success.

For us, it’s about visibility. It’s not necessarily about direct sales, but rather that social selling acts as an influencer.

-Matthias Seidel
Rencore

These practical insights and opinions provide real-world proof to the research, correlations, and statistics that this report uncovers.

Get the report

With ‘Social Selling and Return on Investment’, Microsoft Partner marketers will have access to the most specific and exclusive range of insights into the success of their marketing strategies available.

If you want to find out more, or buy a copy of the report for yourself today, head on over to the Insights Website today. Alternatively, get in touch with the Insights team today to find out more.


Your top 3 social selling best practices

  • How to do social selling successfully
  • Tips on how to maximise your social media presence and conversions

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Social media has evolved to become a key channel for communications in the enterprise. There are now 3.4 billion active social media users – 3.2 billion of which are socially active on mobile, too.

Thanks to these rather staggering numbers, social selling holds huge potential for businesses looking to grow. A quick definition, for those who aren’t familiar with the term:

Social selling is when marketers use social media to interact directly with existing and potential customers, providing value by answering questions and offering thoughtful content to aid individuals and/or businesses through the buying journey.

 – Hubspot

From in-built analytics tools in Twitter and LinkedIn to an array of third-party tools, there are increasingly more ways to track results and measure the value of social selling. But while the tools for internal analysis are there, identifying which metrics are the most important and relevant to your business remains the real challenge.

You may have a large Twitter following, and see good engagement on posts, but is this translating into website traffic or sales enquiries? And should you even expect as much from a platform like Twitter? It’s nuances like these that make it difficult to identify the return on investment of social selling. And that’s what our upcoming insights paper looks to uncover.

Visit our Insights page to get our social selling report

In this post, we provide three social selling best practices you can follow to net real return on investment with social media.

3 social selling best practices

Every year Fifty Five and Five attend Microsoft Inspire to help Microsoft partners improve their marketing efforts. While at the event in 2018, we interviewed some of our clients and other Microsoft partners to better understand the importance of social selling and how each partner approaches it in their organization.

From that, we've been able to collate some best practice advice and techniques when it comes to social selling, so that you can follow and look to implement in your own marketing now and in the future.

1. Know your audience. Know your content. Make a plan

Like all facets of marketing, the best results come from planning your approach. When it comes to social selling, best practice is adapting your company message, brand image, and content distribution to the world of social media.

When it comes to the content you publish on social media, brevity is key. Among the crowds of individuals on social media platforms, everyone is fighting for attention. As people have less and less time to read content and engage with it, those who can capture people’s attention—be it through written words, video, images, animation, etc.—stand the best chance.

Alongside the content itself is the way you broadcast it. We spoke to Kristin Treat, Head of Corporate Communications at Nintex, about the company’s content approach on social media. She explained how they set out an editorial calendar, the same way they do for blog content, for the content they’ll publish on social media channels. This calendar is set for each quarter of the fiscal year, divided out week-by-week. To break it down:

  • Monday: left intentionally open, when news breaks
  • Tuesday: product focus – new tech, new capabilities, features, functions
  • Wednesday: thought leadership, position ourselves as a leader in process automation
  • Thursday: customer-focus, highlight the success companies are having with our tech
  • Friday: just launched, Q&A series. Interview internally, in the industry, partners, customers. People like that easily-digestible content.

This kind of structure is vital to broadcasting content routinely and to a high standard on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Although Kristin notes not keeping it so rigid that you can’t adapt to things like topical news stories or new product releases.

We also asked Kristin how they measure marketing success at Nintex: 

We measure everything! We have quarterly targets for unique page views of our blog and our website, and we’ve got a set number of leads we need to meet on a quarterly basis on our social channels. And when we run paid campaigns they obviously have their own metrics we track.

2. Lead with LinkedIn

Social platforms and their audiences are always changing. Twitter was the first social platform to be adopted by businesses, but LinkedIn has made considerable ground in recent years. Twitter remains the perfect platform for publicising company events, webinars, and the more personable side of your business and its employees. LinkedIn, however, was designed with enterprise in mind, which makes it a much more effective platform for starting conversations with potential buyers.

We spoke with Sarah Pavlik, Vice President of Marketing at pavliks.com, on the differences between LinkedIn and Twitter in terms of social selling success:

We get a lot more valuable engagement out of LinkedIn. We base that on a variety of different metrics. We’ve found that unbranded content performs better than branded – as soon as we put ‘pavliks.com’ in the visuals, it doesn’t perform as well as standard content information. I think when people see a brand’s on content it feels advertising, rather than educational, which is what we’re aiming for.

On Twitter, we deem success as whenever people will share information to their own followers. That’s showing they think it’s interesting and are helping us boost our own reach. We track our followers, but they can be fickle. It’s something we keep aware of, but we know that it will fluctuate. That’s fine because we know that conversions into actual website traffic is more important.

We also asked Matthias Seidel, Head of Marketing at Rencore, on his thoughts about paid advertising on LinkedIn:

I would recommend directing paid marketing campaigns towards LinkedIn, particularly with lead-generation forms. We used auto-generation lead forms through LinkedIn so if someone sees our content and wants to investigate, the form is already filled out with their information. This works 100% better than any campaign we’ve tried.

3. Integrate your social selling

Your blog, website, or social media channels… which is the most effective lead generation tool? Rather than picking a favourite, you use all three in combination with each other. Your blog is a great tool for introducing customers to your company, its offerings, and value to them. And your social channels are the best tool for sending your blog content out to as wide and dedicated an audience as possible. If you find success in these two areas, you’ll see an increase in site traffic, which is the best place to convert leads into customers.

Of course, this is the ideal. The reality is more convoluted.

We spoke to David Lavenda, Vice President of Products and Marketing at harmon.ie, on the difficulties of the end-to-end buying process:

There are several avenues along the modern-day buying cycle. We’re taught to always be selling, but people aren’t always buying – they’re investigating. They’re finding out more so when they get to the buying process, they’re already poised to make a decision.

So, the question becomes: how can you adapt your social techniques to match this? Thought leadership can provide knowledge and expertise, rather than constantly pushing the sale. And this builds up both the individual’s personality and the greater brand.


For more on social selling best practices, and to see the numbers behind social selling’s relation to return on investment, be sure to grab your copy of our social selling Insights report!
social selling report

B2B conversational selling

Understand the value of B2B conversational selling and build a B2B chatbot

  • Is face-to-face conversational selling a dead practice?
  • Conversational selling in the modern marketing world
  • How to use chatbots in conversational selling
  • Build a B2B chatbot

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“Whatever happened to real, face-to-face conversation?” This might be a phrase reserved for older generations that fear the technological revolution will leave the children of the future incapable of face-to-face conversation. Indeed, there is plenty of content (yet little proven evidence) that reinforces this dystopian idea.

While we shouldn’t forget the importance of ‘real’, face-to-face conversation, most of us will agree that technology improves our conversational skills, rather than limits them.

Conversational selling, for example, is the process of retaining your customers and attracting new ones through one-to-one conversations. It’s therefore typically been performed face-to-face, but thanks to technology, conversational selling no longer requires physically meeting with someone. The internet and mobile devices allow us to have real-time conversations with potential leads from practically anywhere in the world.

This isn’t to say that B2B companies should neglect physical meetings with leads or potential clients when possible, as this is still arguably the most effective form of driving engagement. No matter how closely online communication can mimic real conversation, it will never fully replicate it.

So, how can technology enable and enhance conversational selling for B2B companies today?

Conversational selling in the modern marketing world

Cold calling has been a go-to method for conversational selling. But when only 28% of people who are cold-called engage in conversations and just 1% of calls ultimately convert into leads (and even less for attaining actual customers), we’re not sure if there’s really much ‘conversation’ going on.

Currently, email, arranged calls and physical meetings are the main sources of conversational selling. But these methods are also far from ideal. For online marketing, open rates hover around the 18% range, while click-through rates sit on average at just 3.16%. Face-to-face meetings still reign supreme—95% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships while the conversion rate for in-person meetings is 40%. Of course, arranging physical meetings takes up considerably more time, effort and money than sending an email or making a call, meaning you simply can’t arrange as many as you might like.

On landing pages, resources like case studies, eBooks, and whitepapers are often locked behind lead capture forms. Modern lead capture forms have, on average, 11 mandatory form fields. If that seems like too many to you, you’re not alone - the average landing page form conversion rate is just 2.35%, leading 84% of businesses to think their lead generation strategies are inefficient. These inbound leads are left to wait until a sales team member responds to them, which can take hours, days, weeks or potentially forever if they’re waiting on a response to a query that never gets solved.

Customers want information provided to them in a way that feels natural. They don’t want to feel obliged to hand over personal information or wait around for an email response to get that information. That's why real-time online conversation, having enveloped the consumer world, is taking hold of the enterprise. Instant messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack are revolutionising office communications, while live chat services make it much easier to answer customer support queries. And now, chatbots are facilitating a brand-new interface for conversational selling.

Instant messaging and chatbots

As the name implies, instant messaging platforms better facilitate real-time conversation,  making it far more conversational than a platform like email. The first instant messaging platforms were AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in 1997 and MSN Messenger in 1999. But it has now evolved to a point where any number of people can communicate in real time from anywhere in the world on free platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s understandable that instant messaging has become so popular; online conversations have a more natural flow, enabling quicker information sharing and more personable interactions.

Chatbot technology combines the essence of instant messaging with artificial intelligence. Chatbots use natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language generation (NLG), which, combined, allow chatbots to derive the meaning and intent of the written text. There is already a huge range of chatbots, from a companion for insomnia sufferers (created by a mattress company, no less) to a medical diagnoses practitioner. In the marketing sphere, chatbots are also booming, and for good reason. Chatbots can:

  • Put your company on the biggest platforms 

The top four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Viber) have surpassed the top four social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn) for global monthly active users. 65% of smartphone users don’t download any new apps in a month, but the apps they do download and keep are the ‘core’ apps like Facebook, Messenger and Twitter. So, a chatbot on Messenger or LinkedIn will give you access to as wide an audience as possible.

  • Improve the customer experience

Whether it’s providing information, content or support, chatbots put the customer first. In any and all these situations, chatbots provide real-time assistance the same way a salesperson would in a physical store, except chatbots can serve hundreds of customers at once, 24 hours a day! Chatbots can be programmed to give automated answers to repetitive questions immediately, and forward more specific questions on to real employees when actions that require human intervention must be taken. This transition creates a seamless experience for the customer – and one they’re much more likely to remember.

  • Improve lead generation

Chatbots can also initiate the conversation, rather than just answering customer queries. With cookies, consumer information is linked to almost every web visit and transaction. Chatbots can use this information to personalise their conversations with customers, assisting them along the buying journey in a conversational manner. This adds up to create more engaging conversations, improving your company’s brand image and overall lead generation.

Build a B2B chatbot

In 2016, Facebook introduced chatbots to Messenger, opening the doors for developers around the world to create their own bots within the app. In the six months following their announcement, more than 30,000 bots were created. Another tech giant, Microsoft, has some of the best NLP technology around and allows developers to leverage that technology through the Microsoft Bot Framework.

In 2018, you don’t need to be a developer to build a chatbot. You can do so without any coding proficiency and in as little as 10 minutes. Companies like ManyChat make it easy to build a chatbot to function on Facebook Messenger. They have their own helpful how-to guide, but let’s break down how a small B2B business owner might use a Messenger bot.

1.   Identify the purpose

Arguably the most important step—you need to decide what you’re going to use your chatbot for. There’s no point jumping on the chatbot bandwagon for the sake of it—you need to know what it’s going to provide visitors to your Facebook company page. This could be:

  • Help and advice on technical topics
  • Links to your website pages (blog/services/solutions)
  • Additional content for further reading/learning
  • Information on the company – its history, upcoming events, webinars, etc.
  • E-commerce if your company sells product copies (or product demos)

It could be a combination of all of these—your chatbot can be as simple or as complex as you design it to be. Remember, though, that this is for Facebook users. As such, they may have different wants and needs to regular visitors to your website.

2.   Write your welcome message

Once you’ve identified your chatbot’s purpose, the first step is to create your welcome message. This is the first thing that website visitors will ‘hear’ from your chatbot when they visit your Facebook business page. You might use your welcoming message to try and direct traffic to your main website, your blog or services page. Just make sure it feels like a conversation… don’t simply list what your company does. Suggest questions they can ask the bot to try and elicit a response and get the conversation started.

ManyChat lets you add buttons the same way you would add calls to action to the end of your blog, prompting the user to take further action. You can also add media like images, videos and audio to your welcoming message in the hopes of boosting interest and engagement.

3.   Automate your replies

Finally, you’ll want to create set responses that trigger when certain phrases (or keywords) are typed in. If you’re a company that serves multiple industries, you might want to suggest blog content around ‘Construction’ or ‘IT’ when these phrases are mentioned, for example.

Automated replies are essential (and highly effective) in getting a conversation going between you and the customer. The more you add, the more you can craft a realistic conversation.

Modern conversational selling with meaning

Like many other elements in the marketing and business spheres, conversational selling is changing to fit in with the modern world. Depending on your platform, your chatbots can use the latest AI technologies to push the boundaries of what’s possible for conversational selling. If you don’t have the developer firepower, you might just want to build a simple chatbot that sits on your company website or social media page to give visitors a warm welcome and suggest ways to interact with your business.

Those that are able to embrace chatbots and conversational selling can put their business at an advantage today and prepare themselves for the future.

Fifty Five and Five offer a full suite of marketing services for B2B technology companies. Whether you need a chatbot to engage customers or some compelling content to drive traffic to your site, we can help. View our full range of services and get in touch with us to find out more.


importance of backlinks

The importance of backlinks: What they are, why you need them and where to get them

  • What are backlinks and why are they important?
  • How do you get them?
  • Looking at your competitors for help on getting traffic to your site

What is a backlink?

A backlink refers to any link from one website to another. There’s often a little a bit of confusion about the difference between outbound links and backlinks. In essence, they refer to either end of the same link; the definitions refer to the direction of traffic. If I link to your website, I create an outbound link from my website, and you receive a backlink to yours.

There are plenty of different reasons why people would choose to link from their website to someone else’s. Perhaps it backs up their point, provides valuable citation information, extra information, or could just be of general wider interest. One thing’s for sure though: getting backlinks is SEO gold.

So why are backlinks important? And how do you get the best out of them? Here’s more.

The importance of backlinks

The importance of backlinks lies in their value to Google search results. If there are two articles about the same topic – blog A with 10 backlinks and blog B with 5 – there’s a good chance Google will actively rank blog A higher.

But it actually goes one step further than this as well. Let’s say both blogs A and B link off to their own external sources; blog A to blog C, and blog B to blog D. Automatically, blog C gains more ‘vote’ value from their backlink than blog D did, since Blog A is considered more useful a source to start with than Blog B.

Google aggregates all of these scores into an overall ‘domain authority’ (DA) score. Though Google’s own scores are secret, you can get an approximation of your website’s DA score using Moz’s DA checker.

What about no follow links?

As it turns out, not every external link is inherently valuable – as Google themselves discovered back when they first rolled out the algorithm. As soon as the world of SEO first discovered this tool, it was like Christmas: all you needed to do was manually input links to your website in website comments sections and watch as those all-important SEO ‘votes’ pour in.

These links can all be classified broadly as ‘user generated’ – couldn’t be reliably trusted to determine whether a page had DA value. In 2004, Google changed the algorithms, so most links created by external users, rather than by the website admins, have ‘no follow’ tags in the URL – meaning search rankings basically ignores them.

How to get backlinks on to your website

So, you know that you can’t simply go onto another website and put your URL everywhere. Or, more accurately, it would be a waste of time and achieve little to no SEO value.

As it turns out, you need to earn your backlinks. The simplest, and most honest way is simply to write decent quality content that people find good enough to link to.

The problem with SEO, however, is bad rankings make it hard for people to find you, meaning they’re unlikely to link to you, which will further contribute to bad rankings - however good your content is. So occasionally, you need to give things a little boost.

The best way to ‘earn’ backlinks is by guest blogging. You agree to take the time to craft a (hopefully) interesting, engaging piece of content for someone else’s website, and in turn they’ll agree to provide you with a backlink. Everybody wins: they get a free blog, you get a backlink, and the reader gets directed to your platform if they liked your content. Easy.

But that’s not the only way you can go about earning your backlinks.

Your competitors can help

Let’s look at an example.

Anna and Helen both run similar websites and compete for traffic. Grace is an unrelated third party who found an interesting blog on Helen’s website and linked to it from her own.

Thus, a backlink is created to Helen’s website. Good for her. Here’s the catch though: one day Helen changes the page’s URL without setting up a redirect, meaning she loses all that SEO value and Grace’s readers get sent to a 404 error page. Bad for Helen, bad for Grace.

This is where Anna comes in. She’s pretty savvy at competitor analysis and decided to do a Screaming Frog test to find all the 404 errors on Helen’s website, then used Moz’s open site explorer to see which of those have backlinks. She comes across Grace’s link, who doesn’t know the link is directing her readers to a 404 page.

Anna writes a blog on the same topic as Helen’s original and publishes it on her own website. Then, Anna gets in touch with Grace, informs her of the broken link, and asks her to replace it with the one to her rewritten blog. Grace, knowing that broken links aren’t great for her user experience thinks ‘why not?’ and quickly changes the link anyway.

Grace wins because she gets a functional link and better user experience. Anna wins because she gains SEO value and traffic. Helen doesn’t notice the difference because the broken link wasn’t providing her with SEO value anyway.

This process can involve a lot of groundwork without any guarantee of result. There’s no guarantee you’ll find 404 pages with backlinks that you can reproduce, and there’s no guarantee your equivalent of Grace would agree to change the link to your page once you’re done. But if you’re struggling for SEO traffic, failing to get backlinks and losing out to your competitors, it could definitely be worth the search.

SEO marketing for Microsoft Partners

On the surface, SEO is a fairly simple concept; the process for improving your search rankings and getting more traffic to your website. In reality, it requires a knowledge of a wide range of techniques, of which backlinking is just one small part. In our experience, B2B technology companies often find their time and skills are better spent focusing on what they’re best at. However, the importance of backlinks shouldn’t be underestimated.

Get in touch with the experts here at Fifty Five and Five to find out more about specialised SEO marketing for the Microsoft Partner Network. Want to read more about SEO for B2B technology companies? Check out our content here.

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top Microsoft partner

What does a Top Microsoft partner company look like?

  • The top Microsoft partner companies in terms of marketing; where they are, how big they are and how old
  • Get our insights on the best Microsoft partners and improve your marketing

To find the top Microsoft partner companies in terms of marketing, Fifty Five and Five take an annual look at the digital marketing efforts of partners from around the world and rank them across three criteria: their website, their blog and their social media engagement.

What you’ll find is lots of valuable information and data about who is performing particularly good inbound marketing across the partner network. What you might find slightly less of, however, is specific data about the businesses that are doing particularly well – and how they compare to yours. Those looking to get differentiate themselves would do well to find out exactly who, where and how big their competition is. So that’s what we’re going to uncover in this post.

Where are they?

top Microsoft partner

If you take a look at the geographical distribution of our Top 50 partners, you’ll quickly discover a few things. The first, and perhaps most obvious of these is that most companies in the Top 50 are based in the United States. In fact, as much as 32 of the companies in the Top 50 are American (64%). Of these, nine are based in California, three in Texas and one in Washington state.

top Microsoft partner

The next largest concentration of Top 50 Microsoft Partners in the study came from the UK, with nine companies (18%) of the total included. The remaining nine companies are split in totals of one or two between Australia, South Africa, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

How old are they?

You might be tempted to think that the best performing Microsoft Partners are the oldest, most established companies – but that’s not always strictly the case. Sure, the top performers are hardly brand-new tech start-ups, as the highest-performing blogs and social channels are built on consistency over time. But there’s a fairly broad scope of companies here – showing that there’s plenty of potential for even the smaller and less defined organisations to achieve digital marketing excellence.

top Microsoft partner

The median age of companies in the Top 50 is 17, though there’s a huge range of different ages within this. The oldest on the list, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) was founded back in 1939, and the most recent, Bettercloud, arrived on the scene just seven years ago in 2011.

Bettercloud itself managed to beat plenty of competitors and landed itself a healthy spot as number 8 in the Top 50 – thanks in large part to its impressive social media score. So,  there’s no reason why younger companies can’t achieve digital marketing success.

How big are companies in the Top 50?

Just as with the average age of Top 50 Microsoft partner companies, there’s a varied range of sizes of companies all achieving success. The smallest companies, of which there are nine, consist of between 11 and 50 employees, while some others are much larger. In fact, two notable businesses even have over 10,000 employees.

top Microsoft partner

Those who read reports like ours on Microsoft’s most competent partners, may well conclude that the top contenders are simply operating in a different league to theirs. Barring the possibility of committing more employees to a marketing department, a larger organisation is not representative of marketing success. It’s companies that have the right marketers in their team—willing to commit the proper amount of time and dedication to digital marketing—that are seeing success.

If companies numbering as small as 11-50 employees can have better digital marketing strategies than their 38,500 competitors, it’s surely proof that it’s perfectly possible to make limited resources go a long way.

Who are the Top 250?

Though we write our annual report to celebrate the inbound marketing strategies of the Top 50 best performing Microsoft Partners, we actually produce a list of the Top 250.

The majority (73%) of our Top 250 Microsoft Partner Companies consisted of between 11 and 200 employees, versus the 50% in the Top 50.

top Microsoft partner

It’s difficult to draw any direct conclusions from this comparison – and it may simply be a result of the differing sample sizes. What is clear, however, is that smaller companies are well represented among the best performing Microsoft Partner Companies – by both metrics.

Get the details on the best Microsoft Partners and improve your marketing

The Fifty-Five and Five Inbound Marketing Excellence report gives insight and understanding into what it is that makes these top performing companies’ digital marketing campaigns so successful.

In the four years since the report was published, it’s quickly become a staple of the industry, delivering vital knowledge that helps companies improve their own inbound marketing strategies.

Did you make it to the Top 50?

Get your free report right here

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Inspire social strategy

Your Inspire social strategy: an interview with Rachel Braunstein

  • Rachel Braunstein of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner organization shares the perfect Microsoft Inspire networking and social media strategy
  • Advice on the power of LinkedIn and Twitter in your Inspire social strategy
  • What new and returning attendees should aim to get from Microsoft Inspire

With Microsoft Inspire around the corner, we’ve been speaking to Microsoft to help partners (us included!) prepare for Microsoft’s biggest event of the year. We spoke with Rachel Braunstein—Partner Marketing Manager with the Microsoft Partner Network—on the spectacle of Microsoft Inspire and how to take advantage of the event through networking and social media.

Thanks for talking to us Rachel. Can we start with a bit of info on you and what you’ll be doing at Microsoft Inspire this year?

“Of course. I’m part of the One Commercial Partner organization, which harnesses Microsoft’s partner expertise and knowledge, from technical to marketing, business development, and programs. Microsoft is not just partner-led, it’s partner-first. And nothing showcases that as much as Microsoft Inspire.

“Last year I ran the social media for Microsoft Inspire, but this year, I’m speaking, attending sessions, and hosting podcasts onsite in the community hub. What’s great about Inspire is that we have incredible people from across the globe coming together, from business decision-makers to thought leaders and Microsoft employees. There’s a lot of great content there, so it’s a perfect place for podcasts. My session on Thursday morning is on how to connect with customers through modern selling and LinkedIn, something I’m super passionate about. So, lots of stuff going on as always! I love being an active participant like our partners—listening to the Corenotes, attending sessions, exploring the commons, and enjoying all the networking events at night.”

For those that haven't attended Inspire before, can you briefly break down what it is and why it's such a great opportunity for Microsoft Partners?

“Microsoft Inspire is where Microsoft connects with its partners on the largest stage of the year. We connect at many small events around the world but Inspire brings together nearly 18,000 people to talk about how we can build businesses, go-to-market and sell together.  It’s all about partnership and unlocking new opportunities.

“And this year, Inspire is being co-located with Microsoft Ready—our major internal sales conference. With both these audiences in the same place, there’s sure to be even more opportunities for Microsoft Partners to talk to Microsoft directly. The community is unified in a way that’s only done once a year on and on such a scale, so you’re bound to learn and create opportunities no matter what. And if you’re a first-time attendee, we have specialized tours starting Sunday and programming to help you find your way, connect with others and have an incredible time.”

If there was one thing that Microsoft Partners must do while at Inspire, what would you say it is?

“It’s hard to say! Some conferences are solely about digesting information and attending sessions. While you can do a lot of that at Inspire, if I had to choose one thing, it’s networking. And social media, particularly LinkedIn, is key to that. So maybe it’s more: network as much as possible, but make sure you use the social platform to help you!

“There will be greater functionality on the My Inspire app during the event to make it easier to network with people digitally and connect with attendees through LinkedIn. There are many opportunities to use LinkedIn to create conversations and potentially create new business. For instance, I always suggest people connect with session speakers on LinkedIn right after attending their session, and send a note saying how you attended their session and what you learned; or follow-up with them before or after the session to show that you care. That’s what networking is all about. It’s these special ways to build relationships with potential clients or partners that makes LinkedIn the perfect tool for your Inspire social strategy. It’s also important because when you speak to so many people, you can quickly lose track and you can refer back to the notes you send.

“With that in mind, you want to make sure your personal and company LinkedIn profiles are as engaging and up-to-date as possible. Include imagery, a summary description, rich media, your qualifications, and anything to draw someone in and relate to who you are. First impressions count, and your profile could be the first impression people have of your company before they actually meet you. So, be sure to post on your company pages before, during and after the event. If your profile is in top shape, you can be ready to meet as many new people as possible and give yourself the best chance at finding new leads and building relationships.

“It all comes down to networking and relationship building, and LinkedIn is your digital method of doing that.”

That’s really useful. Beyond keeping your profile fresh, how should Microsoft Partners approach the show on social channels like LinkedIn?

“There are two sides to social at Inspire: personal and brand. They’re both different and alike.

“If you’re bringing a team to Inspire, you’ve got a small army of advocates. As an individual, you’re representing yourself and your company. That’s what employee advocacy is all about. So, from a personal social standpoint, I would focus on Twitter and LinkedIn—those are my social platforms of choice. At an event like Inspire, you can post a lot of content every day—videos of the Corenotes and Sessions is a great way to capture the atmosphere of Inspire. Every time you post, you’re representing your company. So, including hashtags like #MSInspire and #MicrosoftLife, and ‘@’ mentioning the people you’ve met, are good ways to do this. It’s about creating an authentic experience around what you’re learning and participating in—that’s the best thing you can do. Show your credibility and differentiate not only yourself but your business by talking about the cool stuff you’re doing.

Show your credibility and differentiate not only yourself but your business by talking about the cool stuff you’re doing.

“The other side is thinking about the impact on your company brand. This should require a bit more of a framework. Of course, you still want to use images, video, and hashtags to give your posts the best visibility. But each post should have thought behind it. It’s not just about the experience—leave that for the personal side—but about sharing thought leadership with your audience. Let them know why the company is there, and the benefits of attending for your clients.

“But there should, of course, be fluidity between personal and brand in your Inspire social strategy. On your corporate account, re-post and share any great messages shared by employees (and vice versa). They play off each other. There’s nothing better as an employee to know they’re having their content broadcasted, while the business gets to extend its reach further. It’s a win-win!

“Social is ultimately about driving the conversation. It’s not supposed to be a static tool. That’s what’s so great about events like Inspire because there’s so much to say and do.”

And, even though Inspire hasn’t started, that should be the case now, too. Right?

“Frequency picks up the most at the event for sure. You can’t exhaust your audience before they even get there! At Microsoft, this month is all about inspiration. We’re trying to engage the partner network with inspirational quotes on our social channels—we want everybody to get in on the conversation and get people excited about the event.”

 

We’d like to thank Rachel for sharing her thoughts and expertise with us. Don’t forget to follow Rachel on Twitter (@rkbraunstein) and LinkedIn (rachelbraunstein). Keep up with the Microsoft Partner Network (@MSPartner) on Twitter for all the latest around Inspire, and make sure to visit Fifty Five and Five at stand #1622 at the event!

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Employee advocacy programme

How to build a great employee advocacy programme

  • Tapping into the power of your employees to share company content
  • Building an employee advocacy programme strategy
  • Step-by-step guidance

Gaining consumer trust should be the priority of every brand. A way of increasing consumer trust is putting together a well thought out and strategic employee advocacy programme.

The power of an employee advocacy programme

The Edelman Trust Barometer has revealed that people are three times more likely to trust company information shared by an employee of that company over the CEO. LinkedIn network activity can back this up even further as the click-through rate (CTR) on a piece of content is twice as high when shared by an employee vs. a generic company account.

Tapping into the power of your employees to share company content should be next on your to-do list! But first you need to empower them, you need to cultivate the right climate for them to feel confident enough to share quality content with their own social networks. Because on average, employee networks have ten times more connections than a company has followers. Now that’s going to expand your reach if you encouraged every employee to share content.

Your employee advocacy programme strategy

Bear in mind that when you first start employee advocacy, your people will be reluctant to dive in. It’s not because they don’t want to be a part of it. It’s more likely that they feel their contribution will be insignificant. Therefore, training is important. People can’t appreciate how a tiny ‘like’ or ‘share’ can really impact the grand scheme of marketing your brand. Also, people are worried about what they can and can’t share about work. Educate, train, give them confidence and before you know it you’ll have an army of brand ambassadors!

So, assuming you’ve got your army out on the front line – here’s what you need to do to build a great employee advocacy programme.

Step 1: Create a solid content strategy

Before you ask your people to advocate for your brand, you should do so with a stash of content behind you – ready to go. This is an obvious one, but we’ve included some tweaks.

Two things really matter here – subject and format:

  • Subject
    Try to create exciting or thought-provoking content that employees will want to share. You could aim for a mix of company related, industry related and general content. It’s a little bit salesy if all people ever share is company specific articles, not to mention drab. Sure, you might get lots of likes and shares this way, but once their peers start noticing a robotic pattern your engagement numbers could drop. Your goal here is to drive engagement with employees and their networks, so match the content with their interests for better results.
  • Format
    Your employees will need a variety of content to post to keep things fun and easy and different formats serve different audiences. Videos are best shared on Instagram, blog posts on LinkedIn and news on Twitter. Social media is for quick snackable content on the go, so try not to flood feeds with 1000-word blogs, instead use social media to hook new audiences, and reel them back to your blog or website for further info.

Step 2: Identify your digital avatar

To get true engagement from your employees you must understand them as social media users. That way you can target them with certain pieces of content for massive impact. We’ve deciphered six types of users that are worth knowing about.

The Ghost: Randomly appears to scatter a few likes here and there, is an avid social media user but keeps a low profile. Target this user with photos and quick links. Or encourage them to simply ‘like’ content.

The Activist: Understands the power of social media and uses it as a weapon to change the world. Target them with newsworthy topics from your company.

The Bleeding Heart: Writes long poetic captions beneath their posts, using their profile as an emotional outlet. This user loves sharing an emotional connection with their followers. Flush them with inspirational content to start the conversation.

The Social Butterfly: Has 3000 friends on Facebook and a dazzling Instagram account. Loves social media and knows just about everyone. (This person is probably already sharing your content.)

The Early Adopter: They did everything before it was ‘cool’. Their pure iciness however is contagious. People look to them for all that is shiny, new and worth talking about. New launch? This person has an army of fans waiting for the down-low.

The Family Man: Bound to have a loyal band of devoted family and friends, this person uses social media to keep in touch with close ones around the world. Their peers are interested in what they have to say so bear this in mind when you want instant engagement with your content.

Step 3: Educate and train

Hold 101 trainings, such as lunch-and-learns and webinars to train employees on how to use social media for work. That way you let them know what’s in it for them:

Being an employee advocate can boost their professional reputations as well as impact the business. In fact, people who share consistently always end up being positioned as thought leaders in the industry, gaining a significant following. The business will also gain traction and start to gain more awareness, boosting sales and attracting top quality hires.

Step 4: Launch your programme

You’ve set your goals, you’ve prepared enough content and you’re ready to launch! Remember the following when your mid-air:

Exploit the channels you already have available, that way you can guarantee a captive audience. And always get leadership involved whenever you can. Arm senior executives, CEOs and MDs with material to share – so they can set a solid example.

Keep momentum

Employee advocacy is another way of engaging with your customers, but remember, like any other content strategy, it requires consistency. It’s paramount to return every so often to your advocates with new insights into how well they’re doing.

Mobilising your workforce to become brand advocates takes a lot of dedication and a positive mindset to get going. But with careful planning you can place your content strategically in the right hands, to be deployed at the right time. This will give you maximum impact, and you’ll boost employee engagement while you’re at it. Not too shabby.

 


For more advice on marketing your brand, contact Fifty Five and Five today or read our case studies to learn how we’ve helped tech companies around the world boost sales and get better ROI from their marketing.

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Are you using BuzzSumo to boost your content to top social media influencers?

  • BuzzSumo is a social media tool that allows you to research keywords and influencers
  • Step-by-step guide to using BuzzSumo’s research features
  • See how you can research potential topics and those most influential

With over 2.3 billion active social media users across the globe, you can, in theory, get your content to reach a huge amount of people online. Compare that to the days when all we had was printed media – even with maximum exposure, your content would only be able to reach the people who bought a physical copy of that magazine or newspaper.

So, social media-friendly content is clearly a great way of getting your messages in front of a (potentially) huge number of people who will engage with your product and brand.

However, not all social media users are equal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a few hundred views of your blog a day, and it’s great if Joe Bloggs with his 32 followers shares your article. But…it’s not really what you’re looking for is it? When you’ve spent hours working on your blog, editing it to perfection and cutting out any jargon, you want it to get maximum exposure. So how do you do this? How do you go about attracting those big shares, how do you get your content to go ‘viral.’

Well, according to Science News  it’s all about influence…

A key reason some ideas are so successful, conventional wisdom has held, is that a few highly influential people espouse them.

That seems pretty straightforward. We’ve probably all, at some point, considered buying a product or chosen to do something because some famous person has been seen doing the same thing. In social media, where a lot of powerful and important people share their ideas and beliefs, the same principle stands. So, making sure your content reaches those important people and getting them to share it, is perhaps the ultimate goal of content marketing.

In B2C marketing, it’s often very obvious who you’d want sharing your content. However, when it comes to a niche like enterprise technology marketing, the influencers are far less often world famous names (OK, Bill Gates rings a bell…). So, how do you find those people and get them to share your content?

The top social media influencers

A social media influencer is someone with a large following. Yet, like with most things, it’s about quality, not quantity.  The top social media influencers, the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, they’ve built their followers and reputation organically. Forbes describes influencers as those in a “specific niche based on their reach, resonance, and relevance to a specific topic.” Once you’ve found those people, you can make a plan of action to enhance your social influencer strategy.

Really, all engagement starts with not just listening but actual research. It’s about learning what people are talking about, who’s leading the conversation and answering most questions (HubSpot)

So you need to actually sit down and find those people who are tweeting the talk, and walking the walk (virtually across a number of platforms).

Using Buzzsumo

In this post, I’ll  introduce BuzzSumo, the online platform that helps you to create an amplify your content, and find the most shared content & influencers. I’ll focus on two particular features of BuzzSumo that can really help you to find those top social media influencers: content research and influencer research.

The content research tool

So, you’ve found the keyword that you think you want to focus on, or perhaps you want to do some research and see what your competition looks like. Using BuzzSumo with the content research tool you can search particular words and phrases to see which sites are ranking highest, how many sharers there are (across social platform) and when posts were posted.

So I’m going to use ‘Inbound Marketing’ for this example. We can see that HubSpot, EventBrite and TechCrunch articles are the most valuable and interesting for those interested in Inbound Marketing. You can also narrow this down based on date, content type, country, etc.

So now you know what the competition looks like, great! But you still need to figure out who you want to read your content, and who are those top social media influencers you want promoting it to their tens-of-thousands of followers.

The influencer research tool

The next major feature of BuzzSumo is the influencer research tool. Using this tool, searching your keyword, you can find those talking about and sharing content related to the keyword based on their page and domain authority, followers, and Twitter ratio.

Going back to my example of Inbound Marketing as the keyword, we can see the top people talking about inbound marketing, their band of merry followers, and social media stats. Now I’ve got an even better idea of the people we want sharing our content. BuzzSumo allows you to create lists, so you can easily find out what your top social media influencers are talking about.

Keeping up with the Conversation

Now you’ve got your list of top social media influencers, but it doesn’t stop there. Start using this list to build interactions with the right people. Make use of the outreach list, and keep up with the conversation and see what your influencers are talking about. Begin engaging with them:

  • Respond to their questions
  • Share popular conversations
  • Retweet and react to their latest posts
  • Ask them questions
  • Share your content directly with them

By engaging with those influencers, by answering their questions and contributing to discussions, you begin to build a foundation for a virtual relationship with them. This is the perfect means to get you ‘on their radar’ – making them far more likely to share your content with their thousands of followers. And those followers are more inclined to pay closer attention to the content they broadcast – getting your brand in the eyes of an exponentially larger audience.

However, not all social media users are equal. Don’t get us wrong, it’s great to have a few hundred views of your blog a day, and it’s great if Joe Bloggs with his 32 followers shares your article. But…it’s not really what you’re looking for, is it? When you’ve spent hours editing your blog to perfection and cutting out the unnecessary jargon, you want it to get maximum exposure. So how do you do this? How do you go about attracting those big shares, how do you get your content to go ‘viral’?