It's not just you: A lot of B2B content makes even content experts fall asleep.

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"98% of B2B content I run across is very boring. It's all made up of clichés and facts, and it's tiresome," admits Brooke Sellas, our guest on Marketing Smarts Episode 520.

Those clichés and facts can only take your brand so far, especially on social media. If engagement is the goal, your content needs to be a balance of acquisition and retention strategies—or what Brooke calls "breadth and depth."

"You have to be superficial because, hopefully, you're constantly adding new audience members to your social pages, so you need that superficial water-cooler cliché: how's it going today, how are you doing, I'm fine—even if you had the worst day ever," she explains. "But then you have to be thinking about depth....because the people who have been there with you and are loyal with you, you need to continue to build that relationship."

Relationships are particularly important during a time when people are getting content overload and want to start socializing again. "People aren't starved for content. They're starved for connection. They're looking for like-minded individuals to connect with. Your brand needs to be that 'individual,'" Brooke says.

Check out the episode for more wisdom from Brooke, including he inevitability of trolls, the necessity of social listening, and the embracing of audience dissolution.

Listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.

Full Transcript: Creating B2B Social Media Content that Fuels Human Connections

George Thomas: I have to ask, are you trying to fuel human connection? The real question is should you have those human connections so that you can build trust, build reciprocity, and how do you do that? Is the answer content? Is it social media content?

You know me, I'm super excited because today this is exactly what we're talking about. We're taking about being human, we're talking about feelings, we're talking about creating B2B social media content that fuels human connections. Best of all, we're talking about this topic with Brooke Sellas, which is absolutely amazing. She is absolutely amazing. This interview might be one of my favorites that we've done.

Brooke Sellas is the CEO and founder of B Squared Media, an award-winning digital marketing agency focused on social media management, advertising, and social-led customer care. Her marketing mantra is "think conversation, not campaign." Let me say that one more time. Think conversation, not campaign. She believes in it so much that she wrote a book on it called Conversations That Connect. Additionally, Brooke teaches a digital marketing course virtually at the University of California in Irvine.

Ladies and gentlemen, again, if you don't have social media content that fuels human connection in place now, and you want to know what keeps Brooke up at night around this, how to get started, some hurdles that you might hit along the way, what success looks like in the future for that human connection social media content, well then enough is enough, let's get into the good stuff.

Marketing Smarts listeners, I'm super excited, but I'm going to start out different because usually I say I'm excited. Today, I'm going to ask what do you think of that intro, how does it make you feel? I'd really like to know because questions are powerful. Anyway, I might be doing this for a reason. Today we're going to be talking with Brooke Sellas about social, how-to, things that keep her up at night, and all sorts of fun and wonderful things. Without further ado, let's just get into the good stuff.

Brooke, how are you doing today?

Brooke Sellas: I'm feeling quite wonderful. Thank you. How are you feeling?

George: I am feeling great. I love that we're already messing with the audience. They're going to be like, "What is going on today?"

Brooke: What are we doing?

George: Let's go ahead and start with the first question here as we get into this. We know all of the B2B marketers out there are busy, they're trying to learn and get back to work. Pertaining to this conversation that we're having today, when you think of B2B marketing content, what keeps you up at night?

Brooke: I feel like I'm going to get blasted for saying this, but 98% of B2B content I run across is very boring. It's all made up of clichés and facts, and it's tiresome. I'm beyond tired at this point. I really want brands to push the envelope much more, especially on the B2B front, when it comes to the content they're producing for social.

George: I love this so much because the thing you just said, and I missed the word social, maybe on purpose. When you think about social content, the key word there is social and this idea of being human. Of course, some people will be like, "We're a B2B business." Well, you are not a sentient building with arms, you are actually a building with human beings who actually serve human beings. That's the road that we're going to journey down today, ladies and gentlemen.

Let's get into some more of this stuff. Why do you think it's essential for B2B marketers to focus on creating social content that fuels connections?

Brooke: I'm going to focus on the science part of it first, because it is part science, part art. If we just look at the psychology of buying, we know based on reports that have gone back to the '70s and earlier that buying is 95% emotional. We make a buying decision, whether we're B2B or B2C, or at the checkout line and those Peanut M&Ms are calling to us, it's emotional. I think brands, especially on the B2B front, have left that emotion aside and that's why it feels so stale and robotic, and why we don't want to engage, because it's not emotional.

George: I'm going to circle back around off the beaten path here in a second with a question for you. Listeners have to be thinking, "Is my social content (or maybe just your content in general) evoking emotion?" because that's literally what Brooke is talking about here.

It's funny because you said it's part science, part art, and the beaten path question is when you think about the word art, what are some words that come to your mind, Brooke? By the way, listeners, you should be thinking what comes to mind as well. When you think of social, not just the science part of this, is there something from the artistic side, and I don't necessarily mean design, but the art side of your brain, that B2B marketers should be thinking about?

Brooke: Oh, yes. The brands who are doing it right and are using content that entices conversation, the art comes into play, and I'll give you some examples from some clients that we're working with now, we're now being very choosy and distinctive about the words that we use. Simple words, because what we're finding is that some words better lead to connection, conversation, and conversion, while other words don't.

Once you start having these conversations, then you get to dig into, I guess that's a little bit science too, but a lot of it is art. It's the art of wordsmithing and storytelling to get people to align with your brand, your products and your services, but also to get them to share their opinions and feelings about your brand, your industry, and your competitors.

George: So good. I think you just gave the Marketing Smarts listeners a micro framework to pay attention to because you threaded so eloquently words together, it was connect, conversate, and convert. If we would just focus on streamlining and simplifying what we're doing to those three things, is it doing this or not, is it doing these things or not, as we move forward. Again, I think this is going to be the episode where I maybe go off the beaten path the most that I have on any episode.

You brought up feelings and sharing your feelings. We've all been there. There's a difference between sharing the way you feel on something and airing your dirty laundry. How can B2B marketers really pay attention to you've gone beyond the line or in the line of what you should be sharing as a human and the feelings, because sometimes you're going to have negative feelings, not that you shouldn't those, but positive and negative feelings and what are the rules of engagement, if you will, when it comes to this piece of the conversation?

Brooke: I love that you asked me that. If we look back, again we're going to go with some psychology here, the social penetration theory, or the onion theory. It says the way you and I as humans, no matter the medium, including social, build relationships and trust is through self-disclosure. When we share superficial self-disclosures like clichés and facts, that does nothing to build a relationship, loyalty, or trust. When we get to opinions and feelings, that's when you as a person to another person, or perhaps to a brand, can start to see yourself aligning with that person or that brand.

You kind of have to have what I call breadth and depth. You have to be superficial because, hopefully, you're constantly adding new audience members to your social pages, so you need that superficial water cooler cliché "how's it going today, how are you doing, I'm fine," even if you had the worst day ever, that's why it's cliché. You have to give the facts, here's what our products and services do. But then you have to be thinking about depth, which is where we're peeling that onion back and getting to opinions and feelings, because the people who have been there with you and are loyal with you, you need to continue to build that relationship with.

So, it's a constant balance of breadth and depth.

George: A couple of things came to my mind as you were talking, which always happens. When I'm doing these interviews, my mind goes in a couple of different directions. Somebody once told me they're going to make me a t-shirt that says, "My mind is going in a couple different directions." I would wear that if it showed up at my doorstep.

The first thing is I always love when you preface the how am I doing, "I'm doing great," or, "I'm doing fine." Have you ever actually stopped to ask that person, "Do you really want to know, or am I supposed to say fine," because that is a shattering moment in a conversation. I mean shattering in kind of a good way, because it makes them break the norm and pause for a second and think. The reason I'm bringing this up is because what you're kind of talking about is how are you shaking up the social norm, how are you actually not just paying attention to the surface level façade baloney that a lot of people are doing and actually going in deep or medium, intermediate, beginner, whatever, these layers of actual conversations. I dig that so much because it kind of leads me to my next question.

Maybe this is some tips, tricks, hacks, whatever words you want to throw in there. How can we create this connection focused social content to start these conversations? Brooke, I want you to answer this and think of this – by the way, Marketing Smarts audience, you should be thinking about this in both ways as Brooke answers it – because what I mean is consumers to us, as well as consumers to consumers, and even us to consumers, maybe that's three ways actually. But what I'm trying to say is it doesn't always have to be us talking, it can be them talking to each other, and them talking to us. Can you just unpack that whole ball of wax for us for a little bit?

Brooke: You're hitting such an eloquent point. I love it because you're showing your smarts, and hopefully people are picking up on it. As you start to have these conversations with new, medium, and maybe very loyal audience members, you start to kind of identify who the community is because these are the people who are constantly asking your questions, getting involved in the conversations. Those people, those community advocates, as I might call them, are going to help you move the conversation forward with that peer-to-peer situation. A lot of times, the conversation that is started by the brand ends with that peer-to-peer community conversation. That's gold. That should be a north star goal for every brand who is listening to this.

When you're asking the question, try to keep it light if you're new to it. Let's just say you're an umbrella company, let's pick something boring. Most people are like, "Umbrella company, so boring. How are they going to have these conversations?" What if you said something like, "How do you feel when it rains?" Simple question. Not risky. Right?

People are hopefully going to answer back. Some people are going to say, "Rain makes me depressed." That's an opinion, and also kind of a feeling. Some people might say, "I love it when it rains. I love thunderstorms. I get all cozy and have my little cup of coffee and watch the storm come through."

If you're getting all of these opinions and feelings back from your potential and current customers, couldn't you then go create content based on that? If 90% of the people who answered that question said, "I love it when it rains. Rain makes me happy," then your messaging shouldn't be about rain being a bad thing and needing an umbrella. It should be like, "My umbrella is my best friend and I use it to go dance in the rain," or something.

George: I love this. You're showing your smarts, because the underlying message there is paying attention and listening, then executing on the education that your audience just gave you. Can you maybe wax poetic, off the beaten path once again, on this idea or importance socially to listen to your audience, to pay attention, and then to execute content based on what you're receiving from them?

Brooke: There's a brand who I use as an example. This is a B2C brand, but it's so beautiful because they listened, and it wasn't good. I guess I should preface this with as marketers, a lot of times I feel like we are glossing over the negative, we're always showing the stakeholders the positive with the big cheesy grin, "Look, this is down, but we did this." No. Stop doing that.

The negative is the only place for change. If you're trying to make the path to purchase easier through your customer's digital customer journey, then you need to find and smooth the potholes along that path. To do that, you have to listen, but then do something about it.

Really quick story. There's a makeup brand called Bloom. They have this serum that everyone loves, all kinds of positive chatter on social about this product. They changed the product from a dropper to a pump, and people lost their minds. If you're an aging woman like myself, you know that you should deliver serums through a dropper, not through a pump. That's just science. They heard all of this, obviously, because they were listening, they were asking questions about the new product and the new packaging, and people were upset.

They took the negative user generated content and they focused on it. They had a post that had several negative comments. They said, "Tell us more. Why should it be a dropper?" Tons and tons of feedback, conversation, and voice of customer data. What did they do? They changed back to a dropper. They used a lot of UGC for changing back to a dropper and announced that they were changing back.

I just think this is mind-blowing and so simple at the same time. They listened to their customer, they showed that they were listening, they did something about it, and people bought more product.

George: I think there's a step in between bought more product that everybody listening to this needs to pay attention to. Because they paid attention and listened, and because they started to do what they did, as you were telling the story I'm thinking that sounds like a massive amount of engagement. By the way, engagement, aka conversations, is what you're looking for. That's a positive, even if it is negative or maybe not so positive or positive things, you're getting engagement, you're getting the conversations, and that is one of the goals.

It's funny, we've been waxing poetic about life and social during this. One other piece that hit my brain before we move on to the next question. You were like we always gloss it over, we don't want to get into the hard stuff. We were even talking in the green room before we hit record about humans fundamentally want to stay in their safe space, they're kind of scared or many times have said questions are difficult, sharing feelings is difficult. It's not really that it's difficult, it's just that we're afraid to do it, probably because we're afraid of being judged. When you realize it's less about being judged and actually about being a leader in the space, in the social arena for the tribe that you have, now all of a sudden, you're willing to step out. That's not where my brain was going, though.

When you said about it being difficult, my brain went to maybe it's just the older I get, but I've realized that the world doesn't shape us with tissue paper and toilet paper. It shapes us into who we're supposed to be with hammers and chisels and saws. The older I've gotten, the more I get excited when life gets rough. I'm going to get excited because I wonder who I'm going to be when I punch fear in the face and step through the wall into the next side. I would implore you, Marketing Smarts listeners, if you're sitting here listening to Brooke and you're like, "Questions are hard. Sharing my feelings is hard. I don't want to be vulnerable," today is the day, punch fear in the face, step forward, and use what we're about to talk about to actually impact your business and your own life.

With that said, Brooke, with all the hallelujahs and amens across the interwebs that we're getting right now, as B2B marketers get started shifting their mindset and this social content around conversations and connection focus, and all of that, what are some things that they should be paying attention to? This can be one, two, three tips, it might be mindsets, I'll let you go in whatever direction you want to go.

Brooke: One of the biggest things I would recommend is as I was writing the book, I was talking to our customer care clients, and I just on a whim decided to ask all of them, "How much of your social chatter do you think is acquisition versus retention?" Meaning, how many people are asking you questions as they're thinking about buying your product and becoming a customer, and how many have already become a customer and are coming to your social channels for support? Across the board, they all said that they thought acquisition or pre-purchase would be zero to 5%.

So, we studied it. We literally labeled every single incoming conversation as acquisition or retention for all of our customer care clients. Guess what we found? All of them had at least 20% acquisition chatter happening on their pages. One of our big global tech brands who has probably 12 product lines, four of the product lines had over 60% acquisition month over month. One of the lines had 80% acquisition.

So, we were able to take those frequently asked questions back to the sales team and say, "Where is this information? How are you answering these questions?" Lo and behold, they didn't have nurture content for those types of questions, so now we're creating that content. Again, these conversations, whether they're reactive, they're coming to you, or they're proactive, you're asking questions through your social content, that data changes the whole game.

Now, just to give a quick note, we are putting MSRP amounts to these conversations, and I can say that the 80% acquisition conversation in July equaled about a million dollars in product. What if we turned around and we're answering those FAQs, answering those questions, but we're also saying something like, "Hey, George. Yes, absolutely, that printer is Alexa compatible. Here's a quick video on how that works. If you buy within the next 48 hours, here's a promo code for free shipping." What's going to happen then?

Are we going to start to attribute revenue to organic social media efforts? Yes, we are, because we already are doing that. Guess what happens then? The C-suite starts to pay attention and notice the value of organic social.

George: In that last little segment there, I know earlier you said, "You're showing your smarts," and then without you knowing it, you literally showed me also how old I am because I was like, "Wait. Is there an Alexa integrated printer? Oh my god, is this a thing?" and my mind went totally sideways. Also, here's the thing, the true question. I'm waxing funny, but not really. I can just imagine, "Alexa, print this." Anyway…

You referenced that's why you wrote the book. I know that probably a lot of the Marketing Smarts audience was like, "What book?" Why don't you take a minute before we dive into the next question and explain the book, the philosophy behind it, and what you were trying to solve with birthing that to the world?

Brooke: The book came out this Summer, in July, it's called Conversations that Connect. It's literally how to use social media content, social media listening, and social-led customer care to connect, converse, and convert your audiences on social. We have a lot of real-world case studies with big brands who you know and love, but we also have a lot of our client case studies in there, too.

Part one kind of talks about the psychology that we've been talking about. Part two of the book gets into the nitty-gritty. I give you the tactical, practical, here's how to do it from inside the house. The call is coming from inside the house.

George: I love this so much. I'd be remiss and I'd probably get lots of hate mail if I did an episode centered around social media and I didn't ask the question around tactics. By the way, I fully understand that probably one day after this episode airs this tactic might not work anymore because social is such a moving target. But as we sit here today recording this, are there one or two tried or true social media tactics that you think if Marketing Smarts listeners are not trying this or doing this, this is definitely something that you should put in your petri dish and test to see if it works for your company?

Brooke: Yes. I'm actually shocked that more companies aren't using social listening as a strategy, but also a tactic. It's very tactical what you do with social listening. That allows you to not only see the conversations that are reactive, that are coming to your inbox, but when people talk about your products, they're not tagging your brand, you're missing out on those conversations if you're not using social listening. That would be my biggest point of advice. If you're not using social listening, you better get on it yesterday.

George: Yes. Here we go again, just trudging off the beaten path. When you say that, my brain immediately goes to are there certain tools that you like to use or have seen people use? Again, social listening rolls off the tongue, but then you're like where do I go, what do I use, how do I get started? Maybe wax poetic on that for a minute.

Brooke: There are so many wonderful tools. I think the first piece of advice I would give is understand what you're trying to achieve with that tool. What are your goals? What are we trying to prove through social listening? That way when you go to demo these tools, you know what you're trying to do. You can say, "Hey, George. As we're demoing this tool, I need you to show me how to do this, because this is our goal. Show me how your tool is going to help us meet that goal." If George can't show you on that demo, move to the next demo. That's one piece of advice.

My second piece of advice is if you want to dip your toe in, has one free listener, so you can go put your brand or company in and get a free listener. Obviously, it's not going to be super robust, but it's worth a try, and it's free.

We use and love Sprout Social at B Squared Media. They have an excellent social listening tool. Agorapulse also has social listening, Talkwalker has social listening, or Sprinklr… It really depends on what level you're at with your brand, and obviously, budget. There's everywhere from affordable to really ridiculously expensive. It really just depends on your goals and your budget. Know that first before you go to the demos.

George: So good. Here in the next little bit of the journey for this podcast, we're eventually going to try to get to the mountain top, we're going to try to get to success and what that looks like. However, we have to imagine this as a safari, people have to chop their own trail through this social content that actually does this thing of connecting, conversating, and converting. There are going to be snake pits, potholes, and all sorts of crazy things.

The question is how can we warn some of the Marketing Smarts listeners of the hurdles that they're going to face along the way, what should they be watching out for? You've seen people historically make their biggest mistakes.

Brooke: The unfortunate answer there is two parts. One, it's not if you're going to face a troll with your brand, it's when. I would put together a troll policy so that you're prepared for when that happens, because it will.

Part of what we're talking about with these conversations and asking for and soliciting opinions and feelings means opening yourself up. You used the word earlier of being vulnerable. You can't get to depth, you can't get to the middle of that onion without being vulnerable. The trap is not everyone is going to align with you.

The other thing I want to add here about looking at the negative and embracing it is embrace dissolution. We're so focused on follower numbers, dissolution when you're aligning your audience and their core values with your brand and your brand's core values is a good thing. It's actually needed to get to the audience who align with you the best.

Think about Patagonia and how stark raving their fans are. They've pissed some people off along the way with their opinions and feelings about climate change. Guess what? They didn't think a second thought about. They kept trudging forward because they knew they were only interested in aligning with those who were aligned with their core brand values.

George: I love this so much. If I just take it down to my simple brain, it's like you do you, boo. You were put on this world to be that person for your tribe, not for the entire tribe. I love it so much. Much of what we've talked about in this episode could go way past social media, could go way past marketing, it could just go into life.

By the way, let me rewind for a hot second to say when Brooke mentioned troll, she did not mean that cute animated thing that you've seen in the movies. She means a big hairy, ugly, nasty human who just has maybe some issues.

With that, let's go ahead and think about what success looks like. We've either reached the mountain, or if we go with a sports analogy, we're on the podium, the number one spot, we have the gold medal around our neck for social content that is actually driving conversation and conversion and connections. What the heck does that look like?

Brooke: It's not easy. I want to be honest. You have to do the deep work. You have to do the scary things. When you do it right, it leads to so many things. We've changed product packaging based on these conversations. We've updated marketing messaging when we found we were talking to the wrong audience for one client. For the other client that I mentioned, we found revenue sitting there on the table through organic customer care conversations on social. We've competed with competitors. I have a financial brand who, looking at the competitor chatter, which is one of the things that you can do with social listening, saw that their competitors were killing them with overdraft protection programs. Sounds boring, right? This is another one of those boring topics. Listening to that and then seeing that a lot of the negative chatter for their programs were about overdrafts, they overhauled their entire overdraft program. They're now kicking all of their competitor's butts, getting new clients, but retaining those clients who were not that happy about the program in the first place. Literally, the options are endless.

George: It's so good. Ladies and gentlemen, that's a rewind point. I want you to rewind and listen to that section again. It was screaming in my brain when you were talking during that portion, the word pivot. I was like Brooke is talking about being a transition specialist.

So many companies are like, "We're going to hit a wall. Stay the course. We're going to hit a wall. Stay the course." At any given point before they hit that wall, they could have pivoted, they could have transitioned, they could have tried something different, but so many companies aren't built that way. The fact that you talked about that and enabled any of the Marketing Smarts listeners to realize one of the golden tips we learned out of this episode is how to be a transition specialist is absolutely amazing to me. I love it.

One of the things I like to do at the very end, because you've written a book, you have years of experience, I just love to sit at the feet of the expert, the thought leader, and get the words of wisdom, some wise words for us to pay attention to. As we close out this episode and you think of the Marketing Smarts B2B marketers that are listening to this, what are some words of wisdom that you would share with them that they should take moving forward as they exit this episode?

Brooke: These are trying times, and they have been. Depending on who you are and how you feel, these have been trying times for anywhere from the past two to six years. They're getting even more trying, we're going through more trials and tribulations. Again, going back to the psychology, putting yourself in the consumer's shoes. People aren't starved for content. They're starved for connection. They're looking for like-minded individuals to connect with. Your brand needs to be that "individual." I'm saying individual in air quotes because, obviously, it's not an individual. Our motto at B Squared is think conversation, not campaign, and I really mean that. I really want everyone to embrace that because we're constantly upping content marketing budgets and pumping out more content, but people aren't starved for content, they want connection. How can you make those connections happen?

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with Arsen Avakian about the end of third-party cookies and is it a new beginning for digital advertisers, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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