Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing how Forrester Research came out with a new report saying: “Marketers use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to engage customers and prospects… but it’s not working”. Now as someone who earns a living helping B2B marketers make social media work, this definitely stopped me in my tracks.

Could the social media results I was seeing with clients be a mirage? Or was this just further evidence that social media, like most marketing disciplines, is not easy to master? With those questions in mind, I got my hands on the Forrester report: “Social Relationship Strategies that Work” (Forrester Research, $499) to understand for myself what the author, Nate Elliot was getting at.

Social relationship strategies aren’t working?

Here’s what the report says in a nutshell:

Most marketers are still struggling to generate business value from social relationship marketing. Why? It’s because few people actually see brand posts (think: 2% of social audience) and even fewer engage with them. Therefore, brands are wasting time, money, and resources investing in social networks that don’t add value.

The report goes on to recommend that brands build their own social properties (e.g., blog and brand community) while investing in those social networks that still have high reach and engagement such as Instagram.

Correct but misleading

While I generally agree with the points being made, I worry the report has the potential to mislead B2B marketers into thinking that investing in the major social networks is a losing proposition. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as these social networks continue to be where your prospects are engaging their peers, learning about solutions, and deciding which products and services to consider. So you need to be there, too.

Besides that, average reach and engagement metrics shouldn’t be the main factors used to determine which social networks are right for you. Instead, you should:

1. Invest where your buyers are

You need to be where your customers and prospects are – period. Said another way, if your target audience isn’t spending time on Instagram or Pinterest then who cares what the average reach is on those platforms? Focus your time, money, and resources on the social networks where your buyers are. If that’s LinkedIn and Twitter, then so be it.

2. Build high-quality social network channels

When it comes to building out your social channels think quality not quantity, otherwise don’t be surprised when there’s little engagement, let alone ROI. Look at it this way: Would you open a store selling B2B software at a busy shopping mall? Of course not… so why do something similar on social media?

3. Share content that tells your story

If you want to generate meaningful engagement from your target audience, then it’s not enough to share generic “me-too” content. You need to curate, create, and share content that reflects your brand’s themes, story, and unique perspective. All in a way that’s relevant and helpful to your buyers.

Of course, your social marketing challenge is to do all three things correctly and consistently. And even then it won’t happen overnight… since social media is about connecting and building relationships, not selling.

Your social media approach needs to evolve

So how does a smart marketer defend against the changing tides of the various social networks and build a social marketing approach that works? Consider the following:

Your blog is more important than ever as a source of content to share on social networks, to educate and build trust with your prospects, and to generate website traffic and inbound leads. But most marketers still need to do a better job aligning blog content with what customers care about, and the story of what makes a given business unique.

The tactics of social media are changing to reflect the declining reach and engagement of any given tweet or status update. We already went through this curve with online advertising and email marketing, resulting in a more targeted and optimized approach. You need to start thinking the same way about your social media efforts.

Social marketing is becoming more like search marketing in that you need to consider both “organic” and “paid” initiatives to get the results you’re looking for from social media. This means having a social advertising budget for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is becoming a requirement for B2B marketers (like it already is for brand marketers).

Success with content marketing is more dependent on social channels as the challenge is shifting from one of content production to one that’s more about distribution. Why is that? Because it’s really hard to generate enough “net-new” leads from simply blasting your email database or relying on SEO to make the cost of producing quality content worthwhile.

Brand communities increasingly make sense if you want to have a social community that you can truly control. Otherwise, you’ll always be vulnerable to the changing priorities and rules of the social networks (think: LinkedIn Groups). So invest in brand communities as a way to supplement your efforts in building communities on the social networks.

What’s the bottom line?

Making social media work for your company is not easy. With that said, now is not the time to slow down let alone abandon your efforts… instead, you need to double-down on those social networks that make sense while evaluating more deeply how you’re approaching and executing on your social media strategy.


This post originally appeared on CMSWire