2012 is going to be a big year for adoption of social media for B2B companies. We expect that early adopter companies will move even further out in front by becoming social in many areas of their business, while more of the second wave adopters will begin to see value in social media and move forward with planning and execution. This means that there will be a greater spread of B2B social media activities than ever before. More resources are available for B2B marketers, as well as more experienced practitioners, both of which will make the previously steep learning curve more manageable.
The following predictions for 2012 reveal many of the ways B2B companies will leverage social media for their business success.
1. B2B Websites Become the Ultimate Social Destination
In the consumer world, many companies send their visitors directly to Facebook. This strategy seems to be based on the fact that people are already on Facebook and why should companies encourage them to leave the environment. B2B companies will understand this year that it is more productive to drive traffic to their owned property, their website. This is where they control the environment are not subject to the whims of others. Many B2B companies not only need to update their websites, but add social components like Facebook and LinkedIn shares to allow visitors to spread the word about a company’s solutions to industry issues.
2. Blogging Accepted as Hub of B2B Social Media Success
A blog goes hand in hand with the B2B website as a social destination. Companies that post valuable, educational content to their blogs at least once or twice a week will drive traffic to their blogs (and websites) through a combination of search and social media. Many B2B companies are challenged by the idea of creating content, but there are enough resources and examples of compelling content that marketers running blogs will publish posts that make a difference in their traffic.
3. Social Media Lead Generation Taken Seriously
Many B2B companies will launch dedicated programs to generate leads through social media, and they will succeed. As more B2B companies take this approach to adding real, measurable results to their social media efforts, the easier it is for C-Suite executive to take social media seriously. This doesn’t just need to apply for direct sales, but companies that have well-established processes for sharing leads in a variety of sales channels can also benefit from social media lead generation. Every stage of the buying process benefits from the kind of better educated customer that results from significant social media content efforts.
4. Email Grows Despite Its Reported Demise
As the platform that keeps getting called out for its continued expiration is stronger than ever. Email newsletter drive traffic and results and will do more of the same in 2012. Marketers who send email will get better results by sending email more frequently. Email is still a viable content sharing option with your colleagues. And inboxes support growing social networks with both a LinkedIn plug-in for Outlook and one for Gmail by Rapportive.
5. B2B Marketers Expand Social Media Followers
Traditionally B2B marketers kept their social media follower counts to a minimum, due to their limited customer base and prospect profiles. This coming year they will discover the benefits of building greater reach through their social profiles. Between the benefits of social search, a wider social graph and the necessity of a broader audience in adjacent industries will be apparent.
6. Social Media Treehuggers Lie Down in Front of Bulldozers
One sign that social media is maturing for B2B companies is that softer social media activities and metrics will no longer be tolerated. Brand awareness through social media is not a sustainable activity. The social media purists, or treehuggers, will lie down in front of the business bulldozers and try to insist on softer approaches to social media execution. Don’t listen to them. Conversation, engagement and sharing are great, but generating leads and sales are okay too. They allow a business to continue to stay in business.
7. Measurement of ROI Can No Longer Be Ignored
Just because it may be hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Measuring the ROI of social media requires you to adequately bucket the expenses required to drive the results. This also means you need to have results that can be measured in dollars. Leads, which is a proxy for sales, can be used for the return portion. These calculations can be different for every B2B company, and you need access to data that you may not have access to now, but in the end it will demonstrate the success of social media, in business terms, in 2012.
8. Mobile Strategies Catch Up to Reality
As each mobile device is released, it sells more than its predecessor. This will continue in 2012 and we will get closer and closer to the day the mobile web dominates B2B site traffic. B2B companies are on course to develop their mobile strategies so they can move forward with their customers. If every B2B marketer took their smart phone out of their pocket and suffered through their own website, this really would drive the creation of mobile-friendly sites.
9. It is the Beginning of the End for Twitter as a Social Network
The role of Twitter will change in 2012. This is the beginning of its reduction of importance for B2B companies and their customers and prospects. Partly driven by its limited adoption (8% of US Adults) and partly driven by its new focus as a discovery platform for new users, Twitter will become more a place to go for news and information and less a social network. It’s minimalistic approach and reluctance to add features will ultimately be its undoing.
10. Social Media Advertising Gets Results
All social platforms have advertising components that let B2B marketers expand their reach and get their content in front of their prospects and customers. As more B2B companies show success with these methods, these auction style bids will get more expensive. They will still be affordable in 2012, and will gain popularity.
11. Social Media Adoption No Longer Driven by Hobbyists
A funny thing happened on the way to social media adoption for B2B companies. Marketers who were passionate about social media and had fun keeping up with the latest platforms and over-shared with all the other early adopters have moved on. Many work for agencies, technology companies and startups. The irony is that those currently responsible for managing social media at many B2B companies are those who initially didn’t care about this communication revolution. They got left behind by those that did. And in 2012 these are people who will be most responsible for the broad support of social media in their businesses.
12. Social Media Supports Offline Activities
As social media becomes a key component in the marketing mix in 2012, it will become an important driver for offline activities like trade shows and direct mail. They will not be competing for the same budget resources, but will be part of a coordinated plan to improve results of these traditional tactics.
Let us know what you think of our predictions, and if you have any of your own. No matter what happens in 2012, it will be an awesome year for B2B marketers who are expanding their use of social media to provide business value.