b2b marketing using social media – a dark art?

With all the buzz around social network valuations I imagine that more and more attention is being focussed on the business cases for these applications. I spent Monday at a workshop hosted by the Innovation Warehouse trying to get to grips with this – particularly from the perspective of  “non-brands” who are trying to gain visibility and qualified customer leads, a perennial issue for early-stage companies.  The case for brands is much easier to see, as is the case for business areas like customer services.

So a quick & dirty methodology that I have stitched together from these talks are as follows:

  • Figure out what your market vertical is that you are trying to target
  • Identify the social media tools that best identify the thought leaders and influencers in that market. These can be leaders of LinkedIn groups, active contributors to Twitter or Xing or regular bloggers.
  • Track those people & get to understand them – what do they influence, what are they interested in, what’s currently topical & how do they engage in social media
  • Tracking them online will obviously allow you to track them offline too
  • Engage them in conversations that are topical
  • Engage them in discussions that tie into the needs that your products address
  • Don’t refer to your company or product
  • Identify the cost drivers they face

Hopefully this process will spit out some qualified leads. Your participation in these types of forums will also raise your profile and hence the visibility of your business.

I came away with a few conclusions:

  • All the normal business principles obviously apply. Plan carefully, resource, execute in part, measure & adapt
  • It is not necessarily cheap – particularly when you start and perhaps until you reach a critical mass of followers
  • I suspect you get increasing marginal returns from the investment in social media over time versus decreasing returns from push marketing
  • You need to reach buyers where they are – so an important goal in engaging with them is to connect the content you are going to create with where they are consuming content

This is probably somewhat simplistic – but at least it is starting to feel like a viable tactic to me.