As marketers, we think of ourselves as social. So why is it that almost 50% of B2B marketers surveyed say that they primarily use social media as just another channel to push messages to their target market?

And those are the ones who are attempting to use social media for demand generation. There are still many who are not. One marketer I talked with recently believes that social media is only useful for marketing to consumers and the gimmicks that B2C marketers use would never work for B2B. To some extent that's true, but B2B and B2C marketing are both about people-to-people communications and eliciting emotional responses, which social is perfect for doing.

I was giving a presentation to a marketing team a few weeks ago, and one of the senior folks in the room said that his buyers are too old, too senior, and too busy to be on Facebook. But we were able to show him that his demographic of buyers does use social media when learning about solutions the company sells. Forrester's B2B Social Technographics data shows that business decision-makers use social media for business purposes, and when it comes to creating content and sharing opinions, they do it more for business than personal reasons.

Social media can be harnessed for generating demand, but you have to recognize how it's different from your other channels and use it differently. 

  • Social media is about relationships, so it requires you to engage in two-way conversations and participate consistently.
  • Social media is real time, so you need to be monitoring the conversations and taking action on them in real time.
  • Social media enhances and amplifies other channels, so it cannot be used in a silo.

Companies with advanced social media strategies engage people in conversations that infuse insights into all parts of the company, from product development to marketing, sales, and customer service. At Forrester's Marketing Leadership Forum on April 18-19 in Los Angeles, I'll be speaking specifically about how companies can use social media to drive demand, by being more systematic and building a social marketing engine.

Taking a more systematic approach means building a social marketing engine that produces valuable social interactions with anyone interested in your problem space and industry, whether they are customers, prospects, industry influencers, regulators, or regular citizens. To generate demand from these conversations, you want the engine to identify those people who are potential buyers in the discover phase of their customer life cycle so that you have already started a relationship with them and created brand preference when they enter the explore phase. How does the engine work?

  • Like a car engine, a social marketing engine needs fuel, which is your social content, full of fresh insights and provocative ideas on your buyers' problems. 
  • To keep the cylinders firing, you need to listen and respond to what people are saying, get them to connect with you and your social content, encourage them to spread the word, and get prospects to raise their hand when they have an interest in your offerings.
  • Each of these activities combines to build social profiles of the people you are engaging over time.
  • The output of the social marketing engine is prospective buyers who enter your marketing and sales funnel.

B2B marketers who take a more systematic approach have a huge opportunity to cast a wider net than ever and use the fact that people are connected to the things and people they care about to reach people, draw them in, and build brand preference early in the buying cycle. But to do it, you have to be more systematic.