Finding the recipe for success on social media is quite the challenge for B2C brands. For B2B, it carries infamy similar to that of the Sorcerer’s Stone. Somehow, despite the continual effort, most B2B and SaaS content in the vast expanse of social networks comes across as bland.
Sadly, bland means it’s not even bad enough to dislike.
Still, a few sparks of hope here and there bring light to the grim picture. There are B2B businesses with lively communities that don’t fail to inspire large followings, engage, entertain, and, from time to time, make their viral footprint on the moon. One of those brands is Semrush, an online SEO and visibility management tool. Today, the brand boasts 204,961 followers on Linkedin, 178,418 followers on Twitter (on the main account alone), 88,984 followers on Instagram, and even a TikTok viral video with 153,600 impressions.
Having started working with Semrush when the company was still in its infancy, Olga Andrienko, currently VP of Brand Marketing at Semrush, has been in charge of the brand’s social presence for eight years, drawing it out from the social shadows into the spotlight. In this week’s episode, she tells us the story and strategies behind this success.
Going Social with B2B: Starting from Zero
The most common excuse to explain away the non-existent or lukewarm social media presence for most B2B brands is lack of resources. After all, many of these brands are startups that have to count every cent. Who has the time to create the ever more demanding creative and visual content for every new network?!
While Olga admits that the channels have changed and evolved over the years, and the focus shifted from text to visual, “...the need for connection, the need to discuss and exchange and just share recommendations and word of mouth is still there. It's [all] very, very much alive.”
This need shaped her approach when she joined the company eight years ago as the first and only social media person. Instead of focusing her energies on creating cool graphics and pushing the product, she focused on the people: “From that point, when I joined, [until] we still have the philosophy that we reply to every mention. As long as it's not trolling or it's not like something very inappropriate, we do reply to everything that comes to us. I just had this rule from the very beginning because if somebody spent even a few seconds on Semrush, then they were definitely worth my time, worth my effort. And even if it was negative, that was still a conversation that I wanted to be part of.”
Not all mentions were shoutouts, though. With Semrush being an SEO tool, many organic mentions of the brand were part of a technical query or doubt. This didn’t deter Olga: “I wanted to talk about it, but I didn't know the right answers. So, I was Googling the questions. I was reading a couple of articles on our blog or on Moz’s blog. Then, I went straight to comments. I also paid attention to the comments in the initial discussion. Then I tried to rephrase it, how I understood it, and then I validated [the answer] with the internal team and posted this from the [Semrush] account.”
Despite lack of resources, her strategy was to establish Semrush as an expert: “Without any experience, spending 20-25 minutes on a topic, I was actually able to sound like, well, Semrush was the expert back then. And then that's how I was getting the knowledge, by being actively engaged in the conversation.”
It was going the extra mile that broke the ice: “I think this was super powerful because [even though] I didn't have the years of experience in SEO, I just made people feel that we care for them, and they suddenly paid a lot of attention to the brand. So, this is how the community started.”
More importantly, focusing on the mentions and on the people who talk about your product first can help you identify your most promising markets outside the English-speaking world: “This is where you just identify the languages that really mention you the most, and then start developing those communities.”
Taking Your Strategy from Local to International
How can you think about other languages when you are barely making it on the social channels in English?
Yes, language can be a hurdle! Another barrier to success many B2B brands (especially those selling digital products) face is the tower of Babel that is the international market. While English is often the strongest business language for most, ignoring other languages can negatively affect your bottom line.
Since many companies have one person to take care of all the channels, thinking internationally in terms of social media presence is viewed as impossible.
Or is it, though?
“I joined when we were a team of 50. I was the only social media person and I only speak English and Russian. And that's it. We had mentions in French. We had mentions in Spanish... So, what I did, I created a list of phrases I needed, like ‘Thank you for so much for the mention!’, ‘I will transfer it to customer support, and they will get back to you shortly.’ Something very, very easy and basic that I could reply with.”
Once again, Olga emphasizes the importance of overlooking what you can’t do and actually doing what you can to show that you care: “I just sent my English templates to different people in the company who knew different languages, and they gave me all the answers. So, I was actually having conversations in every language possible. I was striking on the Semrush keyword; I didn't go beyond something like that. I still couldn't converse in French, but I was just trying to make people feel that I was out there, [that] Semrush was part of the conversation, and I heard them, and I cared about it.”
It’s an important observation as a lot of brands get hung up on the roadblocks and can’t see past them. In Olga’s terms, you have to be bold because today, there’s very little to stop you: “I didn't have this fear. [...] Right now – with the technology and all the localization opportunities – I think that a small startup can start growing a global presence.”
For instance, she realized that Semrush had a lively international community all along. She didn’t attract them, just recognized they were there and tapped into that interest: “I realized that our community was already global before I joined, just nobody talked to them.”
Right Channel, Right Time, Right Content
Succeeding on social media is also a question of knowing how to choose your battles. There are channels where your presence can be significantly more impactful as opposed to others. And, when resources are scarce, choosing the right channel to which to devote your efforts can be a game-changer.
For instance, Olga explains that with Semrush being a B2B tool, “Twitter [and] LinkedIn get the first place. And then, very, very important, is YouTube also because of search, because it's the second search engine in the world. [It] has had a lot of potential to convert the audience that already wants to know something.”
Of course, Semrush today is on Instagram and even TikTok, but this shift only happened when the team was large enough to dedicate time to building those communities and creating channel-specific content: “If you're in B2B, Instagram should be the last place — at least it was for us — the last platform to consider. [...] It was the last place to really invest in, and once the team grew, then we decided, yes, we're going there.”
However, Olga also points out you need to understand how people are using a particular platform in a certain language/country. For instance, while English speakers tend to use Instagram for more personal purposes, “Russia has a very different pattern of using Instagram. If a company doesn't have the Instagram profile, that's very weird, and then the trust might be lower.”
Hence, when looking for networks into which to invest your time and resources, look at their relevance to your business, not just by network type but also from a cultural perspective of your target countries.
Though, once you are engaging with the right people on the right channels that make sense for you at the given time, it’s time to turn to content. Besides being one of the top go-to tools on the market, Semrush is also quite famous for its social media content. So let’s take a look at what they are doing, channel by channel.
LinkedIn & Twitter: Humor, Education & Conversational Prompts
Olga listed LinkedIn and Twitter as their top channels. And indeed, it’s where Semrush audiences are the most active. One look at either of Semrush’s accounts in these networks, and you can see the pattern: humor, educational infographics, polls, and discussion prompts.
There’s not a sign of a sales pitch for miles, yet funny content seems to go on endlessly.
Olga explains: “If there’s something that really defines human interactions, it's humor. Machines, they don't joke, but humans do. And then, if you want the brand to be human, you need to add jokes, because immediately this puts the brand in a very, very [intimate] environment. This is what we are doing.”
They are using humor to capture the attention in a way that’s still relevant to their business. The types of jokes resonate with their customers’ pain points and daily experiences while the educational part of content offers support and aims to resolve those pain points and improve the experiences. Though, the discussion and communication are still at the heart of it all: “So, we are combining the educational content, which is infographics and humor, which is memes, while also adding memes to other people's threads, whenever we are mentioned. I think that this is actually what differentiates us a lot.”
Memes in discussions? Yes!
“We, again, track mentions, and then we try to be in every thread that mentions us. There was a question: ‘So what’s better, Semrush or Ahrefs?’ — that's a very popular question — and this guy mentioned that ‘I haven't used Semrush for five years, but I'm ready to give it a go, what do you guys think?’ And my team [...], we replied with the meme from Squid Game and just added a funny joke to that. And we got so many reactions! We actually won the poll because of that meme.”
According to Olga, infographics were one of the best new tactics they used in 2021, which helped their exposure a lot, growing their audience at a faster pace. Interestingly, despite Twitter being perceived as the more dynamic of the duo, it was the LinkedIn audience that grew faster: “When I compare the growth that we have in LinkedIn and the growth we have on Twitter, then Twitter is so much slower than LinkedIn.”
Still, Twitter has its own strong points to make it to the top two in the eyes of Semrush.
Olga advocates: “I love Twitter because of Twitter search. This was the first thing I used there. Typing in the name of the brand and understanding who already mentioned you… I think this is super powerful. It's very difficult, even on LinkedIn, because some profiles are private, and you don't have connections to everybody.”
Twitter allows for a different kind of connection and discussions to take place: “On Twitter, everything's open. This is the beauty of marketing in there. Because you can have a conversation with everyone. And you can still vote, you can reply to whoever mentions your brand.”
She continues to explain how this can specifically benefit small companies: “It's a great place to start for a small company. You can also type in the industry you're in and the hashtags that would be connected to something you offer or the services. You can select certain people who are in your industry, so you can just reach out to a lot of people, have genuine conversations.” Better yet, unless you forgo celebrities with millions of followers and focus on those with 10-20k, you have a huge chance they will reply and engage with you: “So if that's not some salesy stuff, but an actual moral opinion, your brand can be a part of the conversation.”
Though if you engage in the right way, you might pull big brands out of their shells. As Olga would put it, it’s the power of humor:
All in all, Twitter is an inexpensive platform that allows you to reach far and wide through conversations, taking part in threads, and smart use of hashtags.
Facebook: The Unwaning Power of Groups
Facebook is not what it used to be; there’s no getting around that. Gaining visibility on the mother of all platforms is impossible without paying for the privilege. Yet, there is a hole in the paid-advertising matrix, one that gets you both presence and engagement: Facebook Groups.
At Semrush, Facebook groups are a huge part of their daily efforts as they have their own private group as well as are active members in other relevant groups: “We have our own Facebook group that is private and only for our paid users. And then, we have a special monitoring tool for other Facebook groups [set up to send us] the alerts for Semrush keywords. So whenever someone mentions our brand, we can immediately see what's happening there.”
The most important part of succeeding in these communities is avoiding the sales pitch.
“We try not to be salesy; we try to have genuine discussions,” Olga explains. “We have the list of groups, and we're tracking them every day. We are part of the community and also have ambassadors in Facebook groups [who] are fans of the product. So they, again, try to be helpful to the community. They're not overselling when they're just genuinely recommending the platform. But they also help us navigate, track and moderate the mentions.”
The product fans ambassadors are very important to the strategy, but Olga emphasizes: “They're not anyhow connected or affiliated with the company, they just genuinely want to help, they want to spread the word about the company.” However, they do nurture those relationships: “We just have a stronger connection to them in terms of chatting with them more. They work with our product teams. They're just the ambassadors to us, and they're not tracking mentions, as we do internally.”
Instagram: Doubling Down on Education
As mentioned above, Instagram was not Semrush’s first go-to platform. In fact, it was one of the last ones to tackle. Despite that fact, the brand’s presence and following on the platform that is more typical for personal use or B2C promotion can be called nothing but successful.
Making it on Instagram is harder, especially for a B2B brand.
Not only does the network brutally limit your ability to draw users away from it to your website (unless you pay), its organic reach is highly dependent on followers, despite the possibility of using hashtags: “When it comes to the organic content, people need to really go and follow you. So they really need to be interested in whatever the brand has to say.” And so, Olga explains, most of their audience on Instagram knows them already. Or, if not, they come from countries such as Brazil or Russia, where the status and use of Instagram is different from that in the US or Europe.
The key to Semrush’s success is educational content with “every image that's being produced, is produced specifically for Instagram.”
Could something else work?
Olga elaborates: “We tried something more company/product-related. It wasn't that successful. So it's just education and our competitors do the same.”
Still, while organically, the strategy is safely nestled in educational content, and the channel is not the brand’s top focus when it comes to paid advertising, Instagram does steal the thunder from others: “Instagram is great for ads. People do buy from Instagram, but that's a totally different story.”
TikTok: Breaking the Ice with Future Marketers
And here we are, the section you might be most curious about.
No judgment there, TikTok (usually associated with dance routines) doesn’t really mix well with the concept of B2B advertising. Olga herself admits she was reluctant to go down this road. Yet the experience wasn’t for nothing, both in terms of learning and success.
She goes on to explain that in TikTok, they found a platform where they can make Semrush people’s “gateway drug” to marketing: “We also want people who are not marketing savvy, who had zero experience in marketing. These are students, these are people who are willing to change their career and then start something they haven't started before. And we want to be this entry point for everybody who wants to get to know how to market. This means that we need to be closer to people who just who are struggling to understand what marketing is, how to optimize for Google, how to work on social, and how to create content.”
Out of their TikTok attempts, they came to realize several important learnings:
1. You have to be a success from the start: “What we learned is that if the account doesn't pick up within three weeks or so, then you need to create a new one. Because the algorithm already thinks that that account is irrelevant. So that's what we tried.”
The reasons for such a harsh starting point are likely the consequence of learning number two.
2. TikTok is the channel of consumers, not creators: “98% of people who are in TikTok never even published one video. [...] We realized that most of the audience that TikTok has, they're consuming content; they’re not creating it. And this means that they want to be entertained, or they want something educational, but at the end of the day, they're there to discover something.”
3. Quality fun is where it’s at: “We need to penetrate with very funny, engaging, tongue-in-cheek content.” Olga goes on to explain the unique strategy they call “struggle search,” which takes advantage of the silly searches people do on Google. They take the silly queries and have standup comedians create a funny sketch inspired by them. While their TikTok audience is still small, some of the videos (like the one below) have reached over 150k views!
Going Viral: Luck or Hard Work
When it comes to social presence, going viral is the dream.
Semrush reached the hall of fame on several occasions.
One such instance of viral success came from the strategy of trying to get a response from big brands, or otherwise, piggyback on celebrities: “We started looking at what big brands were doing last year, and we started joking with those brands. So the successful case was with McDonald's, and their BTS meal where we replied to McDonald's with the joke again about the keyword and the Google searches. And they replied back, and this whole thing blew up to McDonald’s and our audience in two hours.”
Another campaign that exploded was a simple discussion prompt: “We tweeted ‘3 words better than I love you.’ And various people started posting those three words. And suddenly, it picked up, and big consumer brands started also tweeting the three words connected to their businesses. It wasn't planned. It was just the conversation tweet for our audience.”
So, was it pure luck or the result of hard work?
Olga comments: “It was fun. It was very motivating, and my team really realized they could do some crazy stuff.” In other words, going viral is powerful not just for your brand but for your team. It can open their eyes to new possibilities.
Still, it’s important to remember that virality is not the norm. It’s a glimpse of fame in the midst of hard work. A testament to that is the fact the Semrush team has been working to engage with brands daily before any of it paid off: “We were trying constantly to engage with brands, and then suddenly, I think the Twitter algorithm picked something up from the continuous efforts. So this was not an overnight success.”
What’s the strategy, then?
“Every week, I tasked my team to come up with funny, ridiculous ways to look at the news and then think of how we can tap into them. And then on Monday, every week, my Head of Social reported, ‘okay, this week, we're gonna try this, this and this.’ And then it was [followed by] an unlimited number of tries. So, I think the key here is just to continuously work and experiment. And then if you want to have this viral thing going on, then just pick the number of brands you want to interact with, just try and try and try to reply to them, and then maybe something will pick up.”
Bringing your B2B brand to life is not impossible. Like Semrush, you can find ways to engage meaningfully without putting an unnecessary strain on your resources.
If you would like to hear more about social media tactics from Olga, including launching an employee advocacy program or finding the right metrics, listen below or tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.