Business to business content (B2B) is often overshadowed by consumer content that gets millions of views and shares. We felt it was time to bring it out of the shadows, to celebrate the best B2B content of 2017 and to learn about engaging business audiences.
Creating business content is complex. It has to satisfy various needs such as raising awareness, driving traffic, generating leads and ultimately converting customers. Content is often aimed at specific niche audiences of buyers and hence it doesn’t get widely shared. However, there are some types of content that engage large business audiences. We have reviewed the most engaging business content published this year and identified 10 key content types that work well to drive B2B engagement.
The too long, didn’t read summary of the top 10 most engaging forms of B2B content:
- Technology developments. Industries can be destroyed and created by technological change, and quickly. Whether it is online banking, artificial intelligence, driverless cars or big data, business audiences eagerly consume content on technology change in their industry.
- Future trends. These trends may be related to technology developments but they cover a wider range of trends such as customer engagement, regulation, cultural change and political developments.
- Opinion or viewpoint posts. There is no shortage of viewpoints about business developments from ethical and moral perspectives to how to grow a business. Controversial or challenging viewpoints frequently provoke engagement. The views of successful business leaders such as Jeff Bezos also gain high engagement
- Inspirational stories and case studies. Story formats are an increasingly powerful form of business content, particularly data driven stories and inspirational stories.
- Practical tips and how to posts. Business audiences want to do their job better and actively look for practical content that may help them improve their performance.
- Personal career advice. Most people want to advance their career and they actively seek out and share good career advice.
- Research and reference content. Knowledge can become obsolete very quickly, new research findings help business audiences to understand changes. Reference content is closely related to practical and ‘how to’ content, it is helpful and a source of support.
- Leadership. Aspirational staff aspire to be leaders and good leaders want to improve. There is a thirst for content on leadership from practical tips to case studies and reflections by current and former CEOs.
- Industry news. We all have to keep up with the latest developments in our industry and sectors. Thus there is always interest in company news and significant market developments.
- In vogue topics or brands. Every year and in every industry there are celebrity brands and topics. These are the in vogue topics people actively discuss in meetings and coffee shops – sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Recent celebrity brands have included Uber, Apple and Tesla. Recent celebrity topics have included big data and artificial intelligence.
- Bonus Tip: LinkedIn Pulse articles. If you want to gain more attention on LinkedIn, then you need to be publishing on Pulse. Nineteen of the top twenty most shared articles on LinkedIn this year were published on the platform itself.
Some of the most engaging articles combine a number of these elements and emphasise these in their title.
For those interested in exploring the issues in more depth, scroll on down.
1. Technology Developments
Companies that don’t keep pace with technological change are likely to fail. We all know the stories from Kodak to Blackberry to Blockbuster Video. These days your products and services can be rendered obsolete by new technologies from artificial intelligence to smartphones to new communication software such as Slack. And it can happen fast. Thus business audiences are very sensitive to new technology stories and more specifically case studies. Nobody wants to to get Betamaxed.
In this first example from Bloomberg gained over 95,000 engagements. It is a story, a case study and a briefing on technology developments which may change the future of legal services. Lawyers: Maybe cut the Christmas lunch short and read this. Your billing models may need a fresh look in 2018.
This list post ‘10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017‘ from Technology Review also gained over 50,000 social shares and engagements.
2. Future Trends
When we analyzed the top headline phrases on LinkedIn, we found phrases such as ‘the future of’ and words such as ‘trends’ gained above average engagement on LinkedIn. We all want to know the future (or at least what people think the future will look like), in business we want to know so we can prepare and plan. Or say we did at least.
This next post taps into our desire to understand the future. It is a really interesting post because it was not original content but a straight lift of points made by Udo Gollub, CEO of Mercedes in a Facebook post and then posted to LinkedIn. However, the LinkedIn article was then shared more times on Facebook than the original post. It also gained over 40,000 LinkedIn shares. The headline draws the reader in, it has that fear of missing out component ‘must read’, it has an emotional element ‘dramatically’, it also appeals to us directly ‘our lives’. It works well as even through it’s business content, it has a personal appeal – hence the traction on Facebook as well as LinkedIn.
A more traditional trends post is this next one from Tableau. This post specifically focuses on the top 10 trends in Tableau’s industry namely big data. It also did well on Facebook.
3. Opinion Content
Everyone’s got an opinion.Opinions and viewpoints can generate significant engagement if they resonate with the audience. Click To Tweet
They help to build a tribe around your business and content. This next article was the second most shared article published by the Economist this year. It is partly opinion but also a trends article. In addition to shares this article also gained over 670 links from unique domains. It is a referencable article – they’re far more likely to generate links than trending/of the moment content.
Controversial opinions or opinions that spark debate tend to do particularly well when engaging a business audience. This next article in the New Yorker challenged the concept of the ‘gig’ economy and of excessive working hours. It also uses wry humour in the headline (though Lyft drivers may fail to see the funny side).
4. Inspirational Case Studies
This next inspirational post was both a story and a case study. It tells the story of Stripe, its growth into a multi-billion dollar company and its latest partnership with Amazon. This post gained over 30,000 shares on LinkedIn. And who doesn’t want to emulate this kind of success?
5. Practical Tips & ‘How To’ Content
The most engaging two word phrase that started headlines in our analysis of LinkedIn headlines this year was ‘how to’.People want to do their job better and are hungry for practical tips and advice. Click To Tweet
Even if we know in our B2B hearts that there are no real quick wins or instant ways to improve, we still love a hack. Here are a couple of examples that caught our attention this year.
One of the popular topics on LinkedIn is sales content. This next post on the LinkedIn Pulse platform focused on a favourite sales challenge “sell me this pen.” The post gained almost 200,000 shares on LinkedIn, despite the fact we don’t even use pens these days. Or certainly don’t buy them. That’s what going to conferences is for.
The post has a clear promise, here is the best answer to the most well known sales challenge. I suspect it was this promise that caused many people to click through. And sure, maybe the picture of Leo helped.
Another high performing sales post was by LinkedIn Influencer Robert Herjavec, of Shark Tank. Posts by LinkedIn Influencers get a lot of extra promotion, they are more like paid posts. Herjavec’s 5 Essential Tips for Selling Anything to Anyone gained 195,000 shares on LinkedIn.
The Harvard Business Review article above reported on the research of Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google and referenced the company’s two-year study on team performance. This revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. This post sets out the six practical steps that Santagata takes to make his team feel safe, with a brief description of each one. A related post on Inc ‘Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits’ was a mix of research and advice. It was shared over 200,000 times. The title helped here – it has the promise of data-backed research.
6. Personal Career Advice
We all want to advance our career. Several of the top performing posts this year shared career advice and tips.
Advice on interview questions are popular because they serve a very specific need for people going through the interview process. This video post on What to say when a job interviewer asks, ‘What’s your current salary?’ gained over 60,000 LinkedIn shares.
Tips for success remain particularly popular, gaining shares on both LinkedIn and Facebook. This LinkedIn Pulse article on ‘13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want To Be Successful‘ was shared over 250,000 times on LinkedIn and 100,000 engagements on Facebook. Just using the words ‘Success’ or ‘Successful’ in your title helps to get traction.
More general posts on career development and advice also do well. This next post on continuous learning on Medium is part opinion, part case study and part career advice. Continuous learning is critical as we can all become obsolete as our skills, knowledge and experience degrade. The advice to spend 5 hours a week learning was shared over 85,000 times on LinkedIn. Whether people actually went on to carve out those 5 hours – well that’s a different question.
This more controversial article ‘If You Can’t Find a Spouse Who Supports Your Career, Stay Single” found an audience on Facebook where it received over 100,000 likes, shares and comments. A lovely one to bring up on the dating scene.
7. Research and Reference Content
This next post from Inc is a curation of a number of research reports on the productivity of remote workers. This post gained over 65,000 shares on LinkedIn proving that you don’t need original research to engage business audiences.
Reference content such as data driven reports or charts tends to do very well. For example, ‘The FT1000 fastest-growing European companies‘ gained over 14,000 shares on LinkedIn but also gained over 700 backlinks from unique domains.
This next curation example from LinkedIn is a promotional post for a site summarising business books. The post is more like an advert than an article, with a clear call to action ‘Get’, a promise of free summaries and with a link to site. This post was shared over 80,000 times on LinkedIn.
8. LeadershipLeadership content gains attention from both existing leaders and aspiring leaders. Click To Tweet
For the same reason that posts on success and career advice do well: we’re all looking for tips to be better leaders.
People are particularly keen to learn the secrets of successful leadership. This post on ‘4 things that set successful CEOs apart‘ on Harvard Business Review gained over 15,000 LinkedIn shares. They are also keen to avoid making mistakes and this article on Huffington Post on ‘9 Bad Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit’ gained over 200,000 social shares and engagements. We suspect this post was not only shared by leaders but by those who feel they have suffered under bad managers.
9. Industry News
We all wake up dumber than we went to bed. Overnight there will have been breaking news stories, new research reports published and new products launched. Keeping pace with market news is essential for all of us.
Business news stories have reach simply by virtue that they are published on major publications such as the New York Times. This Wall Street Journal story ‘Nike Confirms Partnership With Amazon‘ gained over 30,000 LinkedIn shares.
This next article, also about Nike, on the BBC tapped into a number of business themes including marketing to muslims. It was shared over 130,000 times on LinkedIn.
10. In Vogue Brands and Topics
In every industry there are celebrity brands, CEOs and celebrity topics. In recent years celebrity brands have included Uber, despite its troubles, and Tesla. Content that combines these topics with the formats list above tend to do particularly well.
This next post from the New Zealand Herald is a great example ‘Elon Musk’s brilliant email rule at Tesla‘. It combines leadership and practical advice from a popular (possible soon to be supreme) leader.
We referred above to the leadership advice from Uber’s new CEO: ‘In Just 8 Words, Uber’s New CEO Gave a Master Class in Leadership‘ which gained over 40,000 LinkedIn shares.
Recent celebrity topics have included artificial intelligence, bitcoin, machine learning and driverless cars.
Publish on LinkedIn for LinkedIn SharesThe most shared content on LinkedIn is almost exclusively content that was published on LinkedIn Pulse. Click To Tweet
The top 20 posts measured by LinkedIn shares were all published on Pulse apart from one. This makes sense as by publishing on the platform you are ensuring your content is surfaced while people are on the platform, making it easy for them to share.
The downsides of publishing on the Pulse platform is that you are building your house on rented land and it is not easy to drive traffic to your site. Also as a general rule people do not link to content on Pulse. None of the top 20 most shared posts on Pulse got more than 20 links. By comparison the top non-Pulse posts got many hundreds of links from unique domains. The best approach in our view is to publish on your own site first, allow a few days to pass, then republish (slightly editing) on Pulse.
So there you have it: While B2B may never reach the giddy share count heights of more mainstream content like music videos and recipe posts on Facebook, there’s still a lot you can to to maximise your chances of success. We hope these 10 trends in top performing B2B content help to steer you in the right direction in 2018. We’d love to get your feedback.