January 23, 2018

How to use social media for B2B

Making Friends - Marketing Cartoon
Image by HubSpot via Flickr

I want to do something ambitious and I’m hoping you’ll help. I’d like to create a guide for how to use social media in B2B that does not involve talking about the specific tools—as least not in the top line.

I think it’s important to try to do this if we’re going to get social media integrated with the rest of marketing. It’s also important if we’re going to stop talking so much about the tools and start talking more about what to do with them.

I started trying to do this a year or so ago by talking about the four components of social media management. I wanted to focus the discussion on things that we differently in social media. Here they are:

  • Monitor. Find and track the relevant conversations in social media and online.
  • Engage. Take an active role in social media by engaging with customers and influencers in the various forums where conversations are taking place.
  • Manage. Take an active role in facilitating and managing conversations, such as creating a blog or community.

The next step is to categorize how we use social media in these different areas and how our actions hook back into the rest of marketing.


First, here’s what we do as part of monitoring:

  • Track conversations about your company. You need to know what’s being said about your company online. Pretty obvious, right? Trouble is, we’re finding in our research that most companies stop here. There’s much more that we should and could be doing with monitoring.
  • Develop a target audience. Monitoring can be used to discover customers and prospects that are most relevant for your offerings by observing the patterns and topics of their conversations. All of the major social media tools have search capabilities, and there are specialized monitoring tools that have more powerful searching abilities. Offline research and segmentation are important pieces of this effort.
  • Discover influencers. By monitoring conversations online, we can find the people inside and outside our companies that say smart things. Monitoring tools help determine how much impact these smart things are having on our target audiences. For example, the number of RSS subscribers bloggers have, the number of comments to the blog post, the number of page views, etc.
  • Gather research. Social media are repositories for discussions and content on every possible topic. Search tools can help you mine that data.
  • See the distribution of conversation. Some monitoring tools let you segment the different types of social media to determine where conversations are happening—such as blogs vs. Facebook.
  • Trend the conversation. Some of the tools let you analyze the direction and popularity of conversations over time. This is helpful during important periods like new offering launches or in the aftermath of a crisis.
  • Determine share of attention. You can track the amount of conversation about you versus your competitors.
  • Identify influential sources. The tools can determine the popularity of conversations and the sources of those conversations. This helps you decide which blogs you’d like to do outreach with, for example.
  • Locate the conversations. Some of the tools let you see the geographic locations of people involved in the conversation.
  • Track propagation. Track a comment from a blog post all the way through to mainstream media.


Here are the things that we do to get our companies involved in the social media conversation:

  • Identify subject matter experts (SMEs). It’s up to marketing to find SMEs who can engage in the conversations that are most important to your target audience.
  • Assign SMEs to engage with key influencers and/or topic areas. Think of this like the old beat system in newspapers. You want to have someone knowledgeable get involved in the most important and relevant conversations. Marketers and PR people can help by monitoring conversations and alerting SMEs to the topics and conversations they should get involved in.
  • Create social media policies for engagement—and support them. One of the things that’s new about the social media conversation is that engagement can’t be vetted by PR. We have to trust employees and SMEs to engage on their own, otherwise our conversations become stilted, one-way messages. Social media policies help the organization understand how to engage without getting in trouble. Some organizations have created support channels for employees to ask questions about the guidelines. Others have set up training programs for employees who will engage in social media.
  • Gather information by asking questions. Asking for information helps deepen social media relationships. Taking a poll in a LinkedIn or Facebook group, asking for input from Twitter followers, or asking for information through comments on blogs are some of the ways to gather information. If you can link to a survey and promise respondents some level of access to your findings, you can create a powerful source of information.
  • Build influence by answering questions. Social media is all about sharing—whether that be pointing to good content (yours and others’), or sharing expertise and experience. By pushing SMEs to engage with the target audience in these ways, you help them build up trust and loyalty among customers and prospects.
  • Create continuity. As we start showing up regularly in social media, we build up a sense of regular connection with our target audiences. That, in and of itself, helps build trust and stronger relationships with audiences. This sense of continuity helps fill in the gaps in communication that we have with the traditional campaign style of marketing. For example, when SMEs speak at conferences, they can engage conference attendees before, during, and after the event to follow threads of conversation through to their conclusion.
  • Promote other types of marketing. By engaging, we can share links to the various other forms of marketing content that we produce, such as white papers, events, Webinars, etc.
  • Seed discussions. Using social media, we can drive interest in other forms of marketing by posting provocative questions or information. For example, posting a link to a survey that you reference in a white paper or will discuss in an upcoming event helps drive interest—and may even provide valuable research.
  • Get people together. B2B buyers value peer connections above all else. By having your influential SMEs help introduce them to one another, you can help build a stronger relationship.
  • Locate others. Using mobile applications to engage with others is going to become important in B2B in the coming years. Knowing where others are at any given moment will give marketers opportunities to link peers at conferences or to have real-time conversations, for example.
  • Build loyalty be being timely. SMEs that can be counted on to contribute to conversations quickly will become very popular among their social media followers.


In our ITSMA research, we’re starting to see marketers manage conversations through social media, whether it is groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, blogs, or private communities. Managing the conversation takes more time and resources, but it can pay off in a number of ways:

  • Develop and test points of view. Managing the conversation through vehicles like blogs and communities gives you a ready test bed for getting help and feedback on ideas that you are trying to develop into thought leadership.
  • Extend conversations. Managing the conversation gives you a way to keep your target audience’s interest by bringing in conversations from other marketing channels and giving them a permanent home.
  • Closely observe behavior. By capturing a target audience within your own community, you can get much richer data on their actions, needs, and interests.
  • Reuse and re-purpose. Managing the conversation gives us ways to stretch our content further. Blog posts can riff on other marketing channels or revisit pieces of them. The episodic nature of blogs and communities lets us sprinkle content through them like bread crumbs in the forest.

Does this all make sense to you? What would you add? Please help with your comments.

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  • Chris, i think you have done a good job defining the major phases for effectively using social media in a B2B environment. However, I think your this piece does not ,in my opinion, sit well with your own post “There is no social media strategy, only marketing strategy.” The key first step, as alluded in many of your posts, is to tightly couple social-media to marketing objectives.

    Therefore, I think the appropriate first step and a key phase would be to understand what marketing objective one will hit with social media. Then based on this the other three phases/stages you outlined can be leveraged.

    Chris, your thoughts?

  • Hi Jijesh,
    Good point. I should have remembered to address that issue. But I would not say that step one would be to create your strategy for social media–it would be to set your strategy for marketing. So for example, what are the key themes that we want to hit this year across all of our marketing efforts, including social media? I call out the three steps in this piece because they are what's truly different about marketing within social media. This is about deciding how actively you want to participate in social media–but it all must fit under the larger marketing strategy. Thanks for pointing it out, Jijesh.

  • Hi Chris,
    While I agree with your response. I think you misunderstood my comment. I apologize for not making my point well in my comment.

    My point was not to define or create a social media strategy in step one, rather to couple social-media activities with marketing objectives.

    Let me illustrate my point – assume that a marketing strategy (say, the objectives for a said period are a, b, c and d) exists, then it is important to think and understand which of those objectives can be addressed by social-media. This deliberate process, in my view, facilitates the social media (strategy or tactic) to couple with the overall marketing strategy and aid the marketing objectives.

  • No apology necessary, Jijesh. I don't think my dense brain filtered your comment properly. Yes, absolutely agree. We first need to consider the overall marketing goals and how social media fits into them.

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