By Sylvia Laws, Technical Associates

With over 60% of the world’s population active on social networking sites, no one can deny that social media hasn’t had a profound impact on how we interact as a society today. The frequent use of social media by individuals in a personal capacity for all manner of purposes quickly led to the discovery that it could be used as an extremely powerful and targeted marketing tool for companies, and while it was seemingly clear how B2C marketers could utilise platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage with their customers, the rules of engagement for social media in the B2B world were slightly less obvious and it almost became seen as a kind of arcane art to many companies in our sector.

Social media is still a relatively new and quickly evolving marketing channel which means there are no fixed rules in understanding what works and how it works for each individual company and this can be daunting to anyone just starting out. However, those of us that have experimented with it have come to realise that this is in fact the best part about social media, and as numerous pioneering B2B companies have demonstrated, your success with social media marketing is limited only by your own creativity. Through social media, we are presented with a huge opportunity to directly interact and engage with our stakeholders in a way that we never have done before, paving the way to increased brand awareness, loyalty, and sales growth.

Overcoming obstacles

So you know that your company needs to have a social media presence but what’s holding you back? According to a survey carried out this year by Ascend2, the three main obstacles that B2B marketers believe stand in their way to achieving social media success are staff limitations, inability to measure ROI and a lack of organisational commitment.

Perhaps like these companies, you think that it will take up too much time and budget to do social media properly? If this is the case, let me reassure you that your starting point into B2B social media doesn’t need to be overly sophisticated. Some companies are worried that making a commitment to social media is like opening up a can of worms, where they envision that all of a sudden they are going to be inundated with requests and will spend all their time ‘tweeting’ and ‘Facebooking’ responses, when in fact it’s actually quite passive. You don’t need to spend all day concentrating on social media platforms to ensure they work effectively and efficiently for you.

What you do need however, is to distribute content that is thoughtful, relevant and engaging to your target audience. In other words, content that is ‘worth it’. According to 40% of B2B Marketers (Source: Ascend2), creating articles and/or blog post content is their most effective tactic. If you’re engaging a PR agency or you have in-house PR specialists then they will be already creating the content that you need to distribute through social media channels and usually what you PR is ‘worth it’. A key point to remember is that all your content needs to include a call to action because this is what will drive your lead generation and lead generation should be a key objective for any B2B social media strategy.

Understandably, every marketing department has to justify what they are doing and if you don’t know how to measure the value of your social media activities then you will have a tough time communicating to the rest of the organisation what you’re doing and if it’s successful or not. In the Ascend2 survey, 36% of B2B Marketers said that the inability to measure social media ROI is the biggest obstacle to achieving their objectives. If you want to overcome this obstacle it all begins with setting the right objectives.

Measuring your success

In general, most companies that are involved in social media activities would say their top objectives are to improve brand awareness and engagement with customers and to utilise additional channels to give their content further reach. While these are both good reasons to use social media, they are too top-level to allow you to measure the effectiveness of your social media strategy. Just like any other communications strategy, the objectives for your social media activities must be S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).

As mentioned above, lead generation should be a key objective for any B2B company engaging in social media, because not only is it a highly desirable outcome, it is also relatively easy to measure. If your objective was to increase the number of sales leads through using Linkedin for example, then in order to see how effective your content and activity was all you need to do is look at the contact—lead conversion rate. In this way, we are able to demonstrate easily the impact social media has had on contributing positively to a company’s bottom line.

Other measurements are also possible. Some social media experts say that spending time collecting followers on social media platforms is a fruitless exercise for companies in the B2B sector and that counting the number of followers on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for example, shouldn’t count as a measurement. However, this is something that I disagree with entirely because if you think about it carefully, what those followers amount to is effectively an actively engaged database full of contacts that have opted-in to receive information on your company and can share your content within their own extended networks. When you look at it from this point of view why wouldn’t you want to collect more followers?

It’s really simple.

To sum up, if your B2B company isn’t already involved in social media then it really should be and the key thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be overly complicated, time-consuming or costly. Through identifying the key platforms to reach your audiences, setting the right objectives and using the content that is already being generated through your PR activities, you can create a social media strategy that can deliver outstanding results — it really is that simple.