Last January, I kicked off 2012 with a report titled “The New Year Of Social Marketing”. The theme of that report was that B2B marketers would begin to emphasize the “social” of “social media” by focusing more on engagement and  interactions and less on broadcast marketing. I explained how marketers would continue to adopt social media listening and community platforms, that social media tactics would be used across various marketing functions within the organization and that marketers will start taking a community perspective to their social marketing strategies.

I humbly admit that my 2012 predictions were very conservative.  2012 was a remarkable year for B2B social marketing as seen by the acceleration of B2B social media adoption, rapid consolidation of  the social media platform market and the evolution of digital and social marketing. Savvy B2B tech marketers are quickly adapting to these changes in order to effectively (and efficiently) engage with prospects and customers.

The countdown to 2013 has now begun, and I can only imagine what is in store for B2B tech marketers as we exclaim, with champagne glasses in hand,  “Happy New Year!” on January 1st. For my last blog of 2012, I thought I would provide you with the Forrester tech marketing team’s observations from this year’s research, client inquiries and advisories.

Let the countdown begin!

12.  Content continued to be the king of social media.  2012 was the year marketers created innovative content to tell and distribute a story. Infographics, which was all the rage among both B2C and B2B marketers, flooded our inboxes and social network pages. Marketers enthusiastically dialed up their content marketing in 2012. Our recent Forrester Marketing Tactics Survey revealed that over 50% of marketers currently use content marketing for their B2B demand generation tactics.

11. Marketers experimented with new social networks.  Google+ became the fastest growing network in 2012, with 235 million active users.  Pinterest surpassed Google+ in year over year growth (over 1,000% vs 80%)  but B2B marketers remained skeptical on the impact of these new social networks on decision-makers. 42% of B2B tech marketers in SMBs are not using Pinterest at all; 30% of tech marketers in SMBs are not using Google+ at all. It is clear that the jury is still out on whether B2B marketers will be able to use Google+ and Pinterest to engage and influence decision makers, but we did see some examples of good Google+ and Pinterest B2B use cases.

10. B2B marketers began to question Facebook’s relevancy. One of the more comment statements our team heard from marketers this year was that they were losing faith in Facebook.  B2B buyers simply do not consider Facebook as an influential information source for decision making and B2B marketers took notice.  Either marketers will turn their efforts to other business-relevant networks or will invest in campaigns and technologies that will help turn their Facebook “likes” into engaged brand advocates.

9.  LinkedIn transforms into a business social network.  No longer just a job recruitment site, LinkedIn made the smart move to add new content rich features to its platform, including thought leader blogs, slideshare and enhanced company pages. Many  B2B marketers I spoke with this year stated that they were dialing up their LinkedIn presence by adding  company pages and group discussion boards. As of Nov 2012, LinkedIn had 187+ million users and is growing about 10 to 15 million members per quarter  

8. Thought leadership: the content theme of the year: B2B marketers focused on thought leadership content in 2012 by incorporating it into blogs, whitepapers and online communities.  We saw some excellent examples of companies that created entire campaigns like this one to establish thought leadership on a particular “hot” topic.  

7.  Video was still a “go to” tactic for B2B marketers.  If you think video is becoming an “old school” marketing tactic, think again.  Our 2012 Forrester marketing tactics survey indicated that 47% of enterprises are currently using video in their marketing mix.  This year we saw some excellent uses of video in awareness campaigns. The key to success to using video is to create a compelling story or persona to engage your audience.

6.  Lead to revenue management became socialized.  This year, marketers started to use social marketing tactics beyond the awareness stage. 59% of  marketers indicated that social marketing is one of their 4 most effective demand management tactics. B2B marketers are figuring out how to effectively use social media tactics such as sharable content, social identities and influencer engagement to influence lead nurturing.

5.  Gamification became the buzzword of 2012. Gamification was the buzzword that gained credibility among B2B companies this year.  The use of game dynamics to incent employees, brand advocates, and community member engagement drives impressive results.  This year, we learned that many B2B companies have incorporated gamification features into their online customer communities to drive participation and interaction.

4.  B2B marketing campaigns got immersive.  B2B marketers launched very impressive campaigns this year by combining traditional digital, social, and mobile tactics, shattering the perception that innovative, fun campaigns are only reserved for B2C marketers.  Adobe and Smart Bear launched great examples of immersive campaighs that delivered strong results for them in 2012.

3.  Professional social networks got B2B marketers’ attention.  Professional social networks have great influence on technology decision-makers, who tap into the expertise and feedback from peers. This year, we saw significant growth in existing professional social networks and the introduction of some new ones.  For example, Spiceworks, “The Facebook For IT Admins,” which grew to 2.2 million IT professionals in 2012   IT Central Station, the “Yelp For The Enterprise” was launched in the fall to provide CIO’s with a place to read and contribute reviews on technology solutions.  

2.  Companies invested in their owned communities.  Large tech enterprises originally launched their online communities and discussion forums primarily for customer support.  This year, we observed some companies turn their online communities into uber customer engagement networks through consolidation and expansion. SAP recently upgraded their community into an impressive, interactive network of over 2.5 million total members, setting the bar for other companies who are thinking about investing in their owned community.

1.  Companies raced to offer the “uber”  integrated social marketing platform.  To say the least, this was the year of marketing platform consolidation and the race to offer the “uber” marketing platform continues. This year, Oracle picked up social media platform vendors Vitrue, Collective Intellect, and Involver.  Just when we thought the spending spree was over, Oracle also picked up Eloqua in December. purchased social media marketing platform, Buddy Media. Google purchased social campaign management platform, Wildfire. Marketo acquired social campaign management platform, Crowd Factory.  This consolidation will be good news to B2B marketers who can now implement a fully integrated marketing solution that ties together marketing automation, social marketing, and CRM platforms.