Social Networking: what does it offer B2B Marketing?

Like many marketing professionals, I have spent the last 18 months or so trying to get to grips with the value that Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and so on bring to a business focused on selling products and services to other businesses.

Of course, we all know that social media is ‘a good thing’. Why else would everyone be putting up pages on Facebook, tweeting and retweeting messages and ensuring that they are posting content to the right groups on LinkedIn? Why indeed? It couldn’t just be because everyone else is doing it, could it? Nor because it is new, trendy and exciting. We HAVE to do it to build ‘communities’ of interest, to let people know we have just issued a press release or posted a new Blog. Don’t we? It’s the future of digital communications: email is dead and that’s official (Facebook say so)!

But amidst all the hype, what value are business marketers getting from it?

Granted, social media helps you ‘get found‘ on the Internet: being found in a world of noise is pretty important and stage one of the buying cycle. But what then? How about conversion of that interest into leads? And nurturing those leads until qualified for Sales? How does that work without outbound marketing – using traditional techniques like email, telemarketing, webinars and so on?

In other words, what part does social media play in closing business? Is it just for raising awareness in new market segments and then for keeping customers informed so that you can sell more to them, at lower cost? Or does it signal a fundamental change in marketing strategy?

Strategically, B2B marketers need to know how social media integrates with the rest of the marketing mix and what the appropriate business metrics are for judging its contribution to ROI. Not just followers, clicks and web hits, but its contribution to the overall sales funnel.

My experience is that once the overall social strategy is developed, execution, as with most of marketing, means doing a lot of detailed, inter-dependent tasks well and consistently with clear targets and a real-time dashboard that tracks inbound and outbound activity throughout the buying cycle.

I’d be interested in your experiences.