While more than 80 percent of businesses marketing to other businesses (B2B) use social media, marketers are consistently managing the benefits and challenges. According to the Social Media Examiner 2015 study, the primary benefits include new business partnerships, improved search engine rankings and improved marketplace insights. At the same time, difficulty proving return on investment, lack of time and no strategic planning are the key challenges, according to respondents.

LinkedIn continues to be the top medium for marketing to business professionals and according to the social media study, 80 percent of businesses who use LinkedIn plan to increase use.

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Karen Sherrill

One business using LinkedIn for B2B marketing well is Miller & Martin PLLC. This corporate law firm uses a blend of social media channels as a part of their content marketing strategy with a goal of building relationships, credibility and trust in the firm and attorneys.

"Our social media content is useful to clients and prospective clients," said Bibber McCurdy, Practice Development Manager for Miller & Martin. She added that "content includes trending legal updates impacting our corporate clients, recognition of attorney accomplishments and notable firm accolades."

What about the big dog — Facebook? Of B2B businesses that use Facebook, less than one-third report the medium is effective. McCurdy agrees, "We determined it is not a valuable use of our time and resources [currently] because most people on Facebook are much more likely to utilize it as a platform for 'social' engagement. As we evaluated the use of social media platforms, one key factor for us was to determine where and how to best reach our target audience and provide resourceful information about industry trends and legal insights impacting businesses."

Based on the Examiner report, other platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Slideshare play a less important role and offer lower results. McCurdy said expectations for Twitter posts are more immediate, fluid and interactive," said McCurdy, added that, "we use Twitter to promote certain events in which Miller & Martin is involved, current happenings, and promoting and connecting with professional and community organizations."

Are you looking to reach business customers through social media platforms? Consider these best practices:

1. Begin with a plan

Strategic plans for social media should be based on reaching target audiences and measurable goals that align with strategic goals of the business. Evaluating trends and analytics, you can identify opportunities to modify your plan and make adjustments to increase engagement in a strategic and meaningful way.

2. Use the right content mix

The right content mix establishes your company's credibility. Give contacts a reason to stop on your posts. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, recommends a system called Social Media 4-1-1; for every six pieces of content you share, four should be content from industry influencers, one should be original, and one should be promotional. Another popular formula is the 30/60/10 rule — 30 percent original content, 60 percent curated and 10 percent promotional. Either way, the goal is to share helpful information and position your company as an industry thought leader.

3. Use tools that optimize time

Posting content to a mix of platforms improves visibility but can be time-consuming. Opt for tools such as Hootsuite that allow you to schedule posts in advance and monitor interactions.

4. Use platforms strategically

As mentioned by McCurdy, the best use of Twitter is to provide more immediate interaction and engagement; LinkedIn is the best vehicle for sharing relevant business and industry information of value to the reader. Facebook is the top consumer site (followed by Instagram and Pinterest) and may not play a role in B2B marketing plans. Finally, platforms hosting videos, such as Vimeo and YouTube allow companies to store and share videos without taking precious in-house server space.

5. Post consistently

Are you offering industry insights, best practices, instructional videos, testimonials, or all of the above? Whatever your content plan, post consistently so that audiences view your business as the "go to" resource and industry thought-leader. McCurdy agrees, saying that to achieve their goals for using social media to build credibility and trusting relationships, posts must be both relevant and timely.

Unlike B2C marketing, B2B marketers may not post multiple times each day, but weekly posts are preferred for top of mind awareness. Fortunately, if you're blogging on your site, rerunning top posts or post updates is absolutely permissible.

6. Make it actionable

According to McCurdy, "As often as possible include a call to action (such as driving the reader to your website to sign up to receive information or attend an event). This is one more opportunity to track engagement and better identify what is important to your audience."

7. Track analytics

Want to know what type of posts works best for your business? Reviewing analytics against the goals you documented in step one provides important insight for guiding strategies, and determining if and how they may need to be adjusted.

Having a consistent and meaningful digital plan that includes social media continues to be important for B2B marketing along with traditional marketing and business development tactics designed to increase business. With today's social business tools, B2B marketers can hone their understanding of user interests and use that information to refine digital marketing efforts as a part of overall business develop and brand value goals.

Karen Sherrill is a partner in MarketWise, a full-service marketing firm equipping companies with marketing strategies and the most creative and effective online and offline tools for building strong brands, high recognition and higher sales. For more information or to inquire about this article, visit