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I recently had a conversation with one of our Industrial Manufacturing clients about building a successful B2B social marketing strategy. The client was in the early stages of rebuilding their website and wanted advice on how to leverage and start using the many different social opportunities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. In particular, they wanted help in understanding how they should build an audience for their own blog community. There are many nuances to this question, based on your objectives. However, for many companies the answer is simple; you don’t until you have a solid foundation for managing a community and turning these types of communication streams into solid lead opportunities.

As someone who spends a great deal of time investigating, participating in and managing different blog networks, my advice may have seemed a bit harsh, if not shortsighted. The reality is many companies succumb to the hype before they truly understand how to capitalize on the benefits of social marketing. Knowing when a B2B organization is ready to launch a social marketing initiative boils down to a single question; “Have you invested in the marketing infrastructure to identify and manage lead opportunities, and are you willing to invest the human capital to manage it?”

Okay, so maybe that’s two questions, but the message is clear. Building a successful B2B social marketing strategy requires careful planning and consideration. At the top of this list is a method of identifying the people involved in your community and being able to profile and nurture them until they become sales opportunities. Failure to address this issue won’t result in a stagnant community, but it will cause executives to question the effectiveness of the entire effort if you continue to devote a substantial amount of manpower and money to managing your network without clearly defining metrics for how the investment will result in an increase in business. Often the answer to how they will identify sales opportunities from among the many different conversations that happen is shortsighted. Most companies simply answer that someone will be responsible for reviewing discussions and talking with clients. To that, I point out the potential magnitude of work and the required long-term commitment.

A more effective strategy is to focus on building the marketing platform, audience and specific conversations within your social forum. There are tools and resources available to help you build a community and make your social marketing strategies run more smoothly. In the early stages, you’ll need to do more to support its development, but as I mentioned in a prior blog post, when a community takes off it can go in many unintended directions. Your job is to nurture and guide it forward, not control its growth. This doesn’t mean you should simply let your blog or community wander. Incorporating a planned editorial schedule with regular content updates and follow-up messaging is critical. This doesn’t mean planning the entire year, but rather thinking far enough ahead to ensure content is regularly available. The next step is to broadcast this content to your existing database of customers and prospects using e-mail and e-Newsletters. Encourage discussion by linking all of these vehicles back to your social platform as a way to grow your content and track individual participation. If you don’t have a database or you haven’t developed a working outbound communication strategy that incorporates e-mail and e-Newsletters, then that is the place to start.

Finally, be conscious of who you are communicating with and mindful of how public member profiles are. Business-to-Business social marketing sites are as valuable to your competition as they are to you. This includes Twitter and LinkedIn networks, where discussions are relatively open. Often members are easily identified. If your client base participates in these discussions, be cautious of how easily it will be for your competitors to target them as lead sources. As always, if you are interested in discussing any of your marketing activities, drop me a line. At ResponsePoint, we are here to help. We offer honest, straight-forward opinions and real-world experience gained from working with a broad range of clients.