Although B2C companies were first to jump on the social media bandwagon, B2B companies are starting to recognise that social media can also work in a B2B context. But, as a B2B marketer, where do you start?

We hosted a Funnel Masters dinner (alumni of Funnel Academy and other funnel zealots) recently, and this is what they concluded:

1. Start with the basics, and decide where social media can add value (if at all).

The first rule of thumb is – don’t do it just because it feels like everyone else is. Social media may make no sense for your particular business, and – if that’s the case – that’s okay.

But, if you think it can play a role, be very clear on whether you’re pursuing it with the purpose of customer acquisition or retention. Social media can work well for both, but – depending on which you choose – you’ll need to develop very different strategies and content.

If your aim is to leverage social media for customer acquisition, you should focus on positioning in the right category and troubling your target market around the problem you solve. If you’ve decided to stick to retention, your focus should be providing content and engaging your existing customer base in a way that adds value.

2. Set clear objectives, and measure your results.

In B2B marketing, we understand the importance of metrics and holding our campaigns accountable. This shouldn’t be any different for your social media strategy, so start by determining indicators of success. Clearly identify what you want from your connections, friends and followers. Are you aiming to get 1000 members to join your LinkedIn group, a certain number of ‘retweets’ a week, or are you actually after marketing qualified leads? If the latter, how many?

The metrics will be different for everyone, but you need to be clear on yours from the outset. If your measures then inform you that your efforts are failing to deliver a return based on your objectives, either make a conscious effort to improve your results or stop.

3. Make it engaging.

One of the pitfalls of social media is that companies end up using it as a ‘push’ strategy, forcing their product or service through various channels, and boring their followers to death in the process.

Engage your prospects (acquisition) by providing useful content, and inviting them to ask questions – then moderate the conversation. Engage your customers (retention) by providing useful updates, and inviting them to share new ideas or lodge complaints. And, make sure you respond!

4. Don’t expect too much in return.

So, you think you’ve done everything right to engage your prospects, but they still haven’t ‘retweeted’ your tweet or ‘liked’ your Facebook page. Are you doing something wrong? Not necessarily. Just because you haven’t heard back from your prospects or customers, it doesn’t mean they’re not engaged. People receive thousands of messages a day and the fact that they remain a follower, friend or connection is sometimes all you can ask for. If you nurture your clients with the right content, chances are they’ll be reading away in the background. And, when they’re ready, they’ll stick their hand up and start a conversation.

5. Develop a social media policy, and ensure your team is across it.

Finally, ensure that you have a social media policy in place that clearly outlines how to behave and respond online. It’s important that your policy is consistent and comprehensive, and covers all possible scenarios: negative customer feedback, a complaint, suggestions, enquiries etc. Everyone within the company needs to understand what to do, and what not to do.

Although (like everything) results are never guaranteed, social media in B2B can be very powerful and lead to great results. Don’t be turned off by negative feedback, or disgruntled by a lack of interaction. Most importantly, ensure you have a clear strategy and objectives from the outset, and measure your results. As with everything, allocating your valuable resources to social media must be justifiable.