"Social media, like any new marketing channel, is a sticky slope for B2B marketers," says Justin Hitt in a recent blog. "I personally prefer keeping social media 'business social' rather than polluting it with advertisements."

But, wait a minute: if ads are out, what else can B2B marketers do to monetize (and justify to the boss) their participation in online communities? Hitt offers a list of ways that he and his clients have been successfully using social media to boost their bottom lines. Among their "social" activities:

  • Conducting research to understand more about a prospect's or client's "buying desires."
  • Finding decision makers for certain products and services.
  • Extracting names from a given community for lead generation.
  • Getting answers to questions, reaching out to other experts.
  • Finding joint-venture marketing partners and creating various "cooperative opportunities."
  • Connecting with past customers, keeping them up-to-date.

The key word here? Research. There's a wealth of data (leads, client preferences and shared wisdom) just waiting to be tapped by B2B marketing teams in these communities. "Social media is something I added to my existing mix," Hitt reports, because "in some ways, it does it better (saving time, money and resources)."

But a word of caution: "An important thing to remember is that not all your prospective buyers are even online; don't give up one channel for another," he advises.

The Po!nt: Even without ads, social media can pay off. One key is tapping online communities for the vast amount of insights they offer.

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