The Lowdown on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for B2B Marketers

I had a strange experience at my local cigar shop over the weekend. I was sitting at De La Concha, puffing away on the house cigar, when I wound up in conversation with another guest. He works in the risk management profession – and I was a marketer in the insurance industry for a while – so we found we had a bit to talk about. Before he left, we wanted to exchange business cards, but neither of us had them on hand. So, he asked me if I was on LinkedIn. I spelled out my name, and he sent me an invitation to connect on his BlackBerry.

This is the first time that’s happened to me. I’ve received Facebook friend requests (which I tend to ignore unless there’s a real personal connection), Twitter follows (which I reciprocate if there’s some value in doing so) and email address swaps. LinkedIn, however, was a new one for me as a digital handshake when meeting someone new.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve had a lot of luck using LinkedIn for B2B social media marketing – far more than I’ve had with Facebook and Twitter combined. As I thought about it, I remembered that each platform plays a role in advancing your company … but you need to keep it all in perspective. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how B2B social media marketers can use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn effectively.

1. Facebook: yes, it’s the biggest, most popular, most feature-rich, blah-blah-blah social network. Yes, it has 600 million users. Yes, nearly everyone you know – and likely most people in your target market – are on Facebook. Some will even “like” your company. In my experience, however, it doesn’t measure up to Twitter and LinkedIn in terms of driving traffic to your corporate blog or website. The affinity ties aren’t as strong in the Facebook world for B2B as they are for consumer brands. It doesn’t hurt to have a presence on Facebook, and it can be beneficial. I wouldn’t make it my primary social media marketing investment, though.

Additional insight: you can mine some intelligence from your Facebook page, which can help you see regions, referral sources and so on. This can be interesting and useful supporting information. As far as making it the main event in the B2B social marketing mix, though, I wouldn’t commit. It’s great for engaging and retaining the attention of die-hard customers and fans, but it won’t help as much with prospecting and continuous engagement.

2. Twitter: this microblogging platform is great for “reminding” people of your company’s existence, value proposition and message. Use it to attract followers in your target market who will want to follow your brand. Rather than expect the sort of engagement that will drive new business opportunities, though, liken it to fishing: your tweets are bait to bring people to a more robust environment, such as your corporate blog, where you can take more time to drill into a particular issue that will resonate with your lead or client. Then, lure him in for a sale.

Additional insight: Twitter is a great way to see what your competitors are thinking. Keep an eye out for tweets that suggest issues they are watching, especially those that could become strategic priorities in the near future. If you do this, you can steal some of their thunder and possibly piggyback on their big push with less investment.

3. LinkedIn: for pushing corporate blog traffic and driving actual engagement, this remains the most effective environment for B2B social marketers. I took my eye off it for a while, as I experimented with Twitter and Facebook. Even when I gave it less attention, LinkedIn continued to deliver steadily. For fastest results, partner with someone who already has a strong LinkedIn group rather than try to launch your own.

Additional insight: B2B users actually use LinkedIn for business. And they talk frankly in closed groups. Monitor conversations for intelligence you can cycle back into your marketing strategy, and share it with sales teams to help them in relationship development.