B2B marketers start to see value in social media

Business-facing marketers haven't warmed to social media as quickly as their consumer counterparts, but B2B marketing pros appear to have finally realized the potential of social.

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Social media is becoming a preferred channel for business-centric sales and marketing professionals, according to a new report from Forrester Research. While B2C marketers have been using social for years, it is now a crucial access point for establishing new and rewarding relationships in the enterprise, the report says. 

B2B marketers still lag behind their consumer-focused peers, according to Forrester, but the gap is closing, and more businesses will likely follow the trend as the ROI of these programs becomes more apparent. Forrester says B2B companies should incorporate social selling into their marketing strategies through tighter collaboration between marketing and sales, and also devise game plans that automate as much of the process as possible.

Top social media challenges, successful factors for B2B marketers

While B2B social selling programs are becoming more popular, many companies "only dabble," and have not officially launched programs or struggle to deliver measurable value, according to the research. After interviewing 17 companies that both sell and use social media tools, Forrester identified five of the most common challenges businesses face in B2B social marketing today: 

  1. Securing commitment and buy-in from executives
  2. Establishing metrics for success
  3. Understanding the responsibilities of each stakeholder
  4. Determining the right amount and diversity of content
  5. Increasing sales to drive further adoption

To effectively use social networks, B2B marketers must create authentic and personal brands, empathize with customer concerns, share expertise between employees, and build trust with the larger community, according to Forrester. The firm underscored the importance of finding allies and influencers that can expand the reach of B2B marketing, as well as the need to integrate research, listening and selling activities into daily responsibilities.

[ Related: Social media a missed opportunity for customer service ]

Practice and preparation are also key contributors to successful B2B social-selling programs, according to Forrester. "A holistic B2B social selling program is much more than sourcing new contacts for top-of-the-funnel outreach," wrote Mary Shea, a principal analyst at Forrester and the lead author of the report. "Marketers have told us they believe social selling tactics are most effective in both early- and late-cycle activities, with 38 percent indicating that social selling tactics are most effective in creating brand awareness, interest, and leads while 29 percent indicate that it was most effective in nurturing and converting leads to deals."

[ Related: Most marketers miss mark with mobile messaging ]

B2B marketers that cut corners are doing a "disservice to sellers and buyers alike," Shea wrote. The research also highlighted 10 critical success factors for effective B2B social marketing programs: 

  1. Executive support
  2. Resource allocation
  3. Identifying gaps in content
  4. Begin with a pilot program
  5. Link campaigns to metrics
  6. Integrate existing processes
  7. Commit to ongoing training
  8. Establish clear policies
  9. Invest in leading platforms
  10. Keep the team motivated
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