Most companies recognize the importance of social media. But recognition isn't the same as understanding, and confusion around its value has led B2B companies to view social's utility through a narrow lens.

Most B2B companies don't believe B2C social strategies will work for them. Instead, they often use social platforms as real-time broadcast channels for announcements or company updates. But that strategy misses one vital ingredient: participation.

Social media allows B2B companies an opportunity to show their expertise while participating in and adding value to a community. Done correctly, social can drive B2B lead gen and conversions.

The Role Social Plays in B2B Sales

Social is a top-of-funnel tactic, so use it to connect with the audience members who will benefit from your product or service. You'll ultimately achieve a lower cost per lead and drive a higher volume of leads by accurately targeting and delivering valuable social content.

Post social content about the impact your services can have on the audience's bottom line, operations, or efficiency. For example, if you sell a commodity product, highlight your differentiators: your service, delivery, documentation, attention to detail, etc.

Don't fret about whether you're giving away trade secrets. Instead, focus on how you add value. That's what gets people searching for even more content, which they should find on your website. Keep your website as the hub of your business—primed for conversions.

Speaking of the sales funnel: Don't make the mistake of measuring success by overall website traffic from social channels. Organic social media engagement alone won't necessarily drive people to your site, and paid will drive only a very small percentage. What matters for B2B sales is the quality of engagement.

So pay more attention to the quality of the social media leads who make it to your website rather than the number of people who click through.

How to Best Use Social in B2B Sales

B2B companies often miss out on social media, yet it can be a valuable resource to qualify leads and improve conversions. Here are seven ways social media can improve B2B sales.

1. Get your geek on. Use social media to demonstrate excitement about your own offerings and, more important, the customers you serve. People are more likely to convert when they understand and can clearly demonstrate to others how a product or service works in their business, in their application, or for their audience.

Keep in mind, too, that many B2B companies sell to highly skilled and trained people. If your audience members see that you share their passions, they're more likely to be interested in your company.

2. Go where your customers are. You'll generate better ROI when you interact on the platforms your target audience actively uses—and, of course, if you engage with that audience in a manner befitting those platforms.

As a marketer, you probably have an idea of where to focus your efforts on social sites. LinkedIn is great for increasing brand awareness, not selling goods. Instagram, a more visual medium, can help showcase your brand through images. And Twitter allows you to directly interact with potential customers. Just keep in mind that only 13% of B2B leads come from Twitter versus 80% from LinkedIn.

3. Supplement with paid posts. It's wise to pair your organic social activity with highly targeted paid social advertising. By doing so, you can unlock valuable data and begin to uncover insights about which content and messaging generates engagement on social channels, boosts overall brand interest, and drives traffic to your website.

Make sure paid posts have clear calls to action that drive deeper engagement. Don't settle for "contact us" or "get a quote." Drive users back to owned content (your website), encourage people to watch a video comparing installations, or point them to an infographic about sustainability concerns. Another pro tip: Vary the types of ads you deploy. People will stop paying attention if all you promote are product ads, for example.

4. Answer questions. There's no shortage of questions on social media, and one of the easiest, most effective ways to create relationships is by answering them. Head to LinkedIn, Quora, Reddit, or similar platforms to find questions relevant to your target audience. Answer them quickly and effectively in order to position your company as an expert.

Empower your social and technical teams to offer support in a timely manner, and you'll build connections with an audience based on expertise and passion. As a bonus, you'll likely boost your SEO and keyword rankings.

5. Post presentations. Most B2B organizations frequently present industry trends, product updates, and case studies, so you probably already have content primed for social. Start sharing nonproprietary presentations on your social channels—especially to platforms that are dedicated to presentations, such as LinkedIn SlideShare. The presentations are sure to prompt questions and comments to further the conversation.

6. Show off your culture. People work with people, so your company's culture is important to prospects. It might feel fluffy to take this approach, but your company's talent can validate a partnering decision. So get your team members involved in social posting. Define a theme, outline what is and is not considered appropriate content, and explain the dos and don'ts of hashtags. Make sure to run them by Legal. Then, open up the floodgates for team members to share. It might be best to test the waters with something considered "safe." You can always adjust your policies as necessary, and continue from there.

7. Go deeper. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social channels are all beneficial for B2B organizations, but you'll get higher-quality engagement with niche communities. Unfortunately, engaging with those groups isn't always easy, as their forums sometimes aren't open to the public. You might need to get out from behind the screen and connect with these communities through real-life networking groups, tradeshows, and meetups.

* * *

Social media is all about being social—even in B2B. So get to know your target audience members, engage in conversations, and try to answer their most pressing questions. Soon, you'll be using social media to drive B2B sales success.

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Seven Ways B2Bs Can Use Social Media to Boost Conversion Rates and Generate Leads

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image of Tessa Burg

Tessa Burg is vice-president of UX and technology strategy at B2B pipeline marketing agency Tenlo. She uses agile principles to test, identify, and forecast effective experiences and sales channels.

LinkedIn: Tessa Burg

Twitter: @tessaburg