The University of Massachusetts released its annual survey of social media usage at Fortune 500 companies. The report revealed that in the past year, these business giants have increased their adoption of blogging by 5%, their use of Twitter for corporate communications by 11%, and their use of Facebook pages by 8%. Sixty-two percent of the 2012 F500 have corporate YouTube accounts, and 2% (11 companies) are posting on Pinterest. Sixty-six percent of the F500 are now on Facebook. Seventy-three percent of the F500 have active corporate Twitter accounts.  

However, what caught my attention was another recent survey that the University was also promoting on the same web page. This survey examined how universities use social media to attract students to their MBA programs. The study showed the same sort of increases that the F500 survey revealed. However, the headliner take-away from this research was “The Missing Link in Social Media Use Among Top MBA Programs: Tracking Prospects.”  The report concluded that “the missing link appears to be tracking those who first become interested in the program through one of the program’s social media sites. Being able to measure whether these prospects actually apply to the program is something schools may be looking to do, but have not yet mastered. Without this piece of information it is difficult to really assess the effectiveness of the social media plan and to know where future investments should be made.”

As I talk to companies in large and small companies about their lead-to-revenue processes, the most frequent topic over the past six months has been about leveraging social media in demand management programs. I’ve compiled a list of the most common questions and my perspective:

Social media seems to be a B2C marketer’s game; why should a B2B marketer bother?

A lot of the hype around social media stems from the very the creative tactics B2C marketers use to make an emotional connection. Tactics like humor, games, contests, deals, and entertainment. For most B2B marketers, those tactics seem rather inappropriate to use with serious business buyers who are buying serious business stuff! But in many ways, social media is very well suited for B2B customer engagement. In B2B, people buy from people. It’s a relationship-based sales cycle. B2B marketers who are not actively integrating social techniques into their marketing programs are ignoring a powerful tool that can exponentially spread their message. And B2B marketers who are not leveraging social as a new form of customer interaction are ignoring the potential that social media offers to scale customer engagement.

How can B2B marketers leverage social media to spread their message?

In B2B purchases, people influence people. Consistently, in every survey of buyer behavior that Forrester fields, we find that peers and colleagues are the most influential source of info. Increasingly, those peers and colleagues are found outside the boundaries of the enterprise – in social networks, communities and forums. Getting your content shared in these social networks increases your digital presence – and your chance of being found by potential buyers. The lowest hanging fruit in the all of social marketing are the “share to social” buttons that are available in your marketing automation platform. Use them in every email, every offer. These tools get your content into play socially and can exponentially expand your reach.  

How can B2B marketers use social to improve lead origination and lead nurturing?

Most of today’s B2B purchases begin with a web search. Your social activities and advocacy increase your digital profile and are a factor in how many prospective customers find you. Once they find you, once they come to your website, you want them to identify themselves. In a marketers’ term, we want to capture them! That’s a complex challenge. It starts with having compelling and valuable offers. But, please, please use tools like Social Sign-in to minimize form abandonment. Social Sign-in allows people to use their Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter ID on your lead forms. In-person events like tradeshows and seminars remain remarkably strong choices when Forrester asks B2B buyers where they learn about new solutions and products. Take advantage of social media tools to create more engaging mobile and social experiences at these live events.

What are the three things a B2B marketer should absolutely be doing on social today?

If I, as a B2B marketer, could do only three things with social media, social marketing, today, I would chose the following:

  • First, I would design my campaigns to be socially sharable. I’d write content that is shareable; that adds to the discourse; that shakes it up; that shows an edge.  And I would use social sharing tools to get my content in play.
  • Next, I would grow my prospecting network by mining social networks for likely prospective buyers and engage them.
  • And then I would develop a strategy to engage with social influencers. That is actually easier to do than it sounds. If I am getting that first bit right. If I am creating that engaging and valuable content, then social influencers will engage with me. I might want to accelerate the process by identifying them first and commenting on their blogs or retweeting their tweets. But, if I am adding, in a positive way, to the discourse on an important topic, I am going to raise my digital and social profile.

Can social drive revenue or is it really just about buzz?

The term "buzz" needs a good PR agent. It has somehow lost value in the B2B marketing lexicon in the past few years. But in a world where "peers and colleagues" are the most powerful sources of influence, "buzz" is pretty powerful. I think what we are really talking about here is measurement. How can we measure the impact of social media on our marketing effectiveness . . . on our revenue generation. Here are a few tips.  

  • You can promote gated content directly from social, not only capturing important contact information but also learning about what topics are of interest to your social followers.
  • You can use social to drive people to other channels (email, website, etc. with more proven revenue metrics).
  • With today’s marketing automation systems, you can follow social media contacts all the way through to the revenue event.

Have you had any experiences (good or bad) incorporating more social media tactics into your lead-to-revenue management processes? If so, I’d love to hear from you.