It is that time of year again where we look forward and try to predict the future of social media for B2B companies. This is not a shot-in-the-dark exercise, but one based on observing how B2B companies have adopted social media over the past year. When we look back at 2013, we will not see a banner year with explosive growth in B2B social media. In many areas there will be continued gradual growth started in 2012 or earlier. If you have your own predictions or you disagree with ours, please let us know in the comments below.
1. There will be incremental growth in using social media for lead generation
Social media provides new and lower cost opportunities for B2B companies to generate leads, and the adoption of this continues to be slower than social media advocates would have you believe. Many B2B marketers still struggle to get the mechanics, tools and resources in place to build a robust social media lead generation program. More B2B companies will see success in generating leads with social media, but it will still not be the norm.
2. B2B CEOs will remain skeptical about social media
The disconnect between B2B marketers and their CEO about the value and application of social media will remain. Just like with the adoption of social media lead generation, there will be slight improvement, but it will not be a banner year. Many CMOs have seen the light, but there is not enough evidence from inside and outside the organization to convince the CEO. They will need another year of the pain of higher cost and inefficient lead programs before shifting to more cost effective social media marketing.
3. The chasm between B2B companies creating content and those who don’t will widen
Remarkable content will continue to distinguish B2B companies from their peers and competitors. Marketers who have mastered the art of blogging, ebooks, visual content and video storytelling will forge stronger relationships with prospects, customers and advocates, while those who don’t will get left behind. Customer expectations will drive this disparity even more in 2013.
4. The skills of B2B marketers will expand as content gets more visual
It starts with storytelling and interpreting data, but the new world marketers who will write their own tickets in 2013 are those who have a graphic design or photography background. The smaller explosive platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have driven up the importance of visual content, but Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all continued to incorporate rich media into their platforms. Marketing communication is no longer just about great writing. Look for fewer words from top B2B marketers and eye-catching visuals that promote compelling offers.
5. Data becomes more than a buzzword
Look for more B2B marketers to really understand the data components of their social media efforts in 2013. This is not about better measurement, but about compiling data to gain better insight into customers and prospects. This kind of data mining and interpretation gives marketers a more holistic view of social media profiles and activities, which lead to smarter and more informed actions.
6. The role of marketing automation becomes clearer
Sometimes B2B marketers need to say the name of their tools out loud to understand what they do. “Marketing Automation.” Say it again. “Marketing Automation.” You didn’t just say, “Sent spammy emails.” Expect to see better use of marketing tools in 2013 as B2B marketers do more than set up email drip campaigns, but unleash the full power of these tools to automate repetitive activities or other things that computers do better than people.
7. Mobile Strategies Catch Up to Reality (Again)
Repeat of 2012 Prediction: As each mobile device is released, it sells more than its predecessor. This will continue in  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.
8. B2B Marketers will determine relevant social media metrics
This is one prediction that I hope exceeds my expectations of how far it goes. Overall social media adoption hinges on better and more appropriate metrics. Lots of B2B marketers are still measuring vanity metrics or optimization metrics and reporting them as results. While the tactics of increasing reach will help you drive more leads, it is the leads themselves that are an indicator of your success, not the increased reach. Without the proper reporting in place that is connected to company business goals, there will be a social media backlash due to soft reporting.
9. B2B Marketers will get addicted to social media ads
B2B marketers will explore additional ways to build their audience and drive traffic to their lead-generation landing pages. Not only do social media ads fit this bill as a new tactic, but these ads will be less competitive and more cost-effective than pay-per-click (PPC) ads throughout 2013. That will change as more marketers start using them, but they will be regular part of the tool set before that happens.
10. Email usage will grow as B2B marketers struggle to generate leads with social media
As customers and prospects continue to click on email offers, B2B marketers will keep sending them, but with diminishing returns. This is still interruptive marketing, while social media acknowledges that the customer or prospect is in charge of the relationship. A tipping point is coming, but it won’t be in 2013.
There is still a tremendous amount of work for B2B marketers to do in 2013, but we know you can do it with planning, remarkable content, marketing and sales alignment and executive buy-in.
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