social-media-iconsMany B2B marketers have only dipped their toes in the social media waters because they are still unsure of how to measure the ROI. However, as more data appear on the validity of using sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, companies will be more comfortable devoting part of their budgets to start social media campaigns to reach prospects.

Forrester Research has predicted that by 2014, B2B companies will spend $54 million on social media marketing, increasing from the $11 million spent in 2009. How does that factor into the entire marketing mix? According to an American Marketing Association survey, B2B product and service marketers expect to spend up to 15 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of their budgets on social media in the next few years. To compare, B2B companies allocated 7.4 percent (products) and 11 percent (services) to their social media marketing efforts in 2010.

B2B brand leaders will be pioneers in social media, using it to attract more prospective customers than competitors who don’t engage. Up to 48 percent of B2B marketers have already harnessed social media as a way to improve search results. They will also see that social media is not only a lead generator, but a thought leadership builder, too.

While not every social media outlet is for every company, the well-known sites have earned their place in B2B marketing toolbox. Consider Twitter, the 140-character messaging medium that took the marketing world by storm in 2009. B2B public relations experts have used Twitter to reach key journalists — who are sourcing content from social media — and to increase the reach of press releases. They have also shared links to blog posts that help establish their companies’ thought leadership and expertise.

Some B2B companies have also had success using Twitter as a customer service medium. They can monitor Twitter to learn what customers are saying, taking care of questions and complaints as they arise. This is also another way to manage a company’s online brand reputation, as a company can quickly reply to any nay-saying (or praise) in a public manner.

LinkedIn is useful for sales prospecting, as well as getting introductions and meetings. Having a LinkedIn page for your company gives your brand another space to live on the web, too. In fact, of all of the social media platforms, LinkedIn seems the best fit for B2B because it provides easy access to company profiles, buyers and industry groups. The groups in particular are a great way for a company to monitor an industry’s pain points and trends.

Facebook is just another way to help drive sales. With so many prospects using Facebook as a personal resource, it stands to reason that they would be interested in business-related content if it is presented in an interesting way via Facebook. So, B2B companies should consider using Facebook groups and fan pages as another venue to share its industry expertise and resources in order to engage customers.

And let’s not forget corporate blogs, which can house content that gets fed to larger audiences via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. B2B blogs help companies establish thought leadership, as well as put a face and personality to a company. Blogging builds corporate and personal credibility, positioning a company as having few credible substitutes in the marketplace. And through their content, blogs also provide a glimpse of what it may be like to work with a company, which helps reduce perceived risk in the minds of prospective buyers.

Consider also that social media channels are another way to lead customers and prospects to your valuable content. Social media has more power than some other online venues because Google indexes it. So, even if your prospects aren’t avid social networkers yet, they can still find the content you broadcast through social media through Google searches.

How are you using social media at your company? What are your successes and challenges? Let us know.