On paper, just about every B2B and B2C marketer extols the possibilities of effective social media. Sure, everyone is on it—so your customers are likely there. Sure, opportunities for virality are virtually limitless—so you can leverage inexpensive, efficient marketing channels for maximum exposure. And sure, the right content can supercharge your online marketing—so start posting, and the leads will roll in. In theory, B2B marketers generally agree on the importance of including social media in their general marketing strategy. However, if you ask how they leverage social media in their greater marketing strategy, you stand a pretty good chance of hearing, well, nothing.

The Challenge of Creating A B2B Social Media Strategy

As with any strategy, identifying goals, audiences and opportunities are key pieces to establishing a structure for success. Your social media goals are likely not dissimilar to other marketing goals—yet marketers often have difficulties translating online marketing goals into social media. This is partly because marketers are constantly told that social media isn’t about generating leads or selling. Rather, it is about engaging in conversations and connecting with audiences. But ask yourself: Is your end goal for social media really just getting likes and shares? Probably not.

Unless you are truly optimizing for increasing likes or followers—which you might have a hard time explaining to your C-suite—your strategy still needs to align with your overall goals. That means connecting the dots from all social media engagement, from Facebook posts and tweets to LinkedIn updates and YouTube videos, to lead generation and beyond. In short, your strategy might start with increasing engagement on social media, but the goal is to create engagement with the right audiences and create conversion opportunities to capture and increase your audience.

And here’s how.

If Content is King, Social Media is the Kingdom

Your social media strategy starts with your content, which should align with your entire B2B marketing funnel but likely skew toward early-stage engagement tools such as free tools, infographics and white papers to provide purely educational value to your audience. Your social media platforms will ultimately become the tools with which you disseminate relevant content. Of course, this is not all of your strategy, but it is a start.

For example, let’s say your business sells commercial-grade copiers to higher education institutions. Your content calendar—which you should set up a minimum of 30 days in advance to effectively lineup and leverage multipart content—should be comprised of a mix of blog posts, infographics, guides, humorous memes and opportunities to download free tools. This highly shareable content—such as an infographic depicting the “Top 10 Reasons Your Copier Decides To Jam on Monday Morning” will resonate with a large population of the users—and buyers—of commercial-grade copiers. Followed with a blog post later in the week on the measurable life of a copier and a free tool at the end of the month to gauge your office’s printing volume and costs rounds out the experience for social media. But it also provides value and education, and creates the early research phases of a buyer funnel, which can later be tracked to lead generation and conversions as visitors travel from social media platforms to your website to download and convert.

Affiliate Marketing in Social Media Strategies

One of the unique features of social media marketing strategies is the ability to collaborate with and leverage the brand presence of like-minded verticals and affiliate partners. Sharing content with other industry partners, vendors and experts not only decreases the internal burden of constantly producing interesting and engaging information, it dramatically increases organic reach by placing your brand directly in front of an affiliate audience already engaging with your partners. For example, the same copier manufacturer can team up with a school supply manufacturer, continuing education provider or commercial furniture company to leverage relevant social media messages across platforms. In a marketing channel built on engagement and community, this kind of relationship is key to maximizing opportunities and building brands.

A B2B social media marketing strategy is a critical part of online marketing—and given the robust opportunities to engage with different buyer personas in their native environments, it is likely going to become an ever-increasing lead generation channel for savvy B2B social media marketers if they simply put in the work required to build a thoughtful and engaging strategy.