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Editor's note: See Lee in person at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Driving Sales: What's New + What Works. Catch her session on "Creating a B-to-B Social Media Strategy: A Guide to Defining It and How Your Company Should Take the Social Media Plunge." Sign up for the event and use promo code ESPK08 to save $200 on the registration fee.

If you're like most B2B marketers, you're probably wondering whether you need to jump on the social media bandwagon. You're likely getting asked whether your company should start a blog, open a Facebook account, or be on YouTube.

Every day there's a new hot site, a new viral marketing success (or horror) story, or a new technology to learn about. There's a lot to keep up with, and it's continually evolving.

So how do you decide what to do?

Start by taking a giant step backward and assessing the social media landscape as it relates to your market, your buyers, and your competitors.

Here are three key factors to consider.

1. What's going on in my market?

Identify where your buyers go to learn about new products and services. What are the destination sites and who are the influencers (also known as A-listers) in your market?

How to start:

  • Search the Web:
    • Use Google Blog Search and enter the top 5 phrases your prospects would likely use to find information about the issues that your products and services help solve. See what analyst sites, blogs, online publications, and organizations show up.
    • Search Technorati and and look for high-traffic sites.
  • Survey your buyers: Send out a survey asking customers where they go for information about job-related issues. What are their favorite blogs, online publications, organizations, and associations?
  • Ask the experts: Ask industry analysts and leading speakers where they go for information, what sites they write for, provide information to, or blog on.

What to look for:

  • Destination sites: Are there clear destination sites that have active conversations that would appeal to your buyers?
  • Quantity and quality: How many people are joining in? What's the frequency and quality of new posts? Are they talking about things relevant to what you do?
  • Who you should know: Are there respected A-listers or other influencers who you should get to know?

2. What are my competitors doing?

It's important to understand what your competitors are doing in relation to social media. If they're all over the destination sites that your buyers visit, that's a potential competitive threat. If they're not, that could represent a competitive opportunity.

How to start:

  • Search the blogosphere: Use Google Blog Search and enter your competitors' names, products, and company evangelists (if they have any).
  • Review destination sites: Go back to the destination sites that you identified in step one and search for company names, products, and people.
  • Check your competitors' sites: Look for signs that they're engaging visitors in conversation.

What to look for:

  • Activity level: What's your competitors' presence on the Web? Do their names, products/services, or employees show up on destination sites? Are A-listers talking about them in a positive way?
  • Use of social media: What social-media activities are your competitors engaged in? Do they actively engage in blogs, forums, reviews, and critiques—on their sites, on other sites? Do they have a following? Are they engaging their customers in new and different ways?
  • Syndication of content: Are they pushing out or syndicating content to destination sites? Are they educating buyers by providing whitepapers or "how to" guides? Are they establishing a position as a thought leader?

We'd like to know what social media activities you participate in and whether what you do is different for work than for personal use. If you've got two minutes, answer our survey. We'll reveal, at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in June, what we find.

3. What activities do my buyers engage in?

Another critical factor to evaluate is what activities your buyers want to engage in. If your buyer isn't the type to comment on blogs or post ratings or reviews, then it doesn't make sense to put a lot of effort into creating these tools or participation on those types of sites.

On the other hand, if your buyer is already actively engaged in blogs, social-networking sites, or social-bookmarking sites, you can accordingly plan the activities you should focus on.

How to start:

  • Ask them:
    • Survey your customers to gauge their participation with social media.
    • Use free tools like PollDaddy or SurveyMonkey to create and send surveys to your in-house list, or add a survey to your corporate site.
  • Tap into current research: Both Forrester and Pew (pdf) have conducted research to determine the types of activities that people like to participate in online. You can match the demographics of your buyers, in terms of age and gender, to current research and draw some high-level conclusions about what activities they participate in or whether they engage at all.

What to look for:

Preferred activities:

  • What types of activities to they gravitate toward? Are they online or do they prefer traditional media? Do they read blogs? Participate in social networks?
  • Define "sweet spots" (high-participation activities) and "dead ends" (not interested).

What's next?

By focusing on your market, your customers, and your buyers, you'll be better positioned to build a strategy that works for you and the people you're trying to reach. You'll be less likely to get caught up in the latest craze and more likely to select the right tactics to move your company forward.

The final step is assessing your company's readiness to dive in.

Continue reading "Three Factors to Consider Before You Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon" ... Read the full article

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Lee Erickson is cofounder and president of Erickson Barnett (, a B2B technology marketing firm. She can be reached at