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I always tell the story of the day a supervisor at a former company told me, "We should get on Twitter."

Get on Twitter. Why? Because others are doing it, of course. 

There was no game plan. How much should we tweet? When should we tweet? What should we tweet? Are our clients on Twitter? Nope, not even that question was considered. 

Today, of course, social media seems to be all we can talk about when it comes to marketing. Even B2B marketers have caught on. Having a presence in social circles is a must.

But is there really any return on investment (ROI) in B2B social media marketing? What good are likes if they don't get you leads? What is the purpose of a retweet if it doesn't lead to sales? What kinds of tools and metrics are used to measure ROI in social campaigns?

Outcomes can't be measured without clear objectives, it seems. B2B marketers diving into social media marketing campaigns pretty much can't do that -- just dive in. But even with a plan, is there a true, proven way to to produce ROI? We all want to be sharp with our answer when that inevitable question comes: why did we do this social campaign, anyway?

We decided to ask some industry leaders.

The Question

Are there proven metrics to demonstrate ROI from B2B social media marketing campaigns? If so, what are they, do you know case studies of success, and ultimately, is social media a worthy avenue for B2B marketing to begin with?

The Answers

Carla Johnson, Principal, Type A Communications

digital marketing, Discussion Point: Can ROI Be Achieved in Social Media Marketing?

Johnson helps companies develop frameworks and build teams to tell better stories in order to generate top-line revenue. She’s a lead consultant for the Content Marketing Institute, where she writes on the power of brand storytelling, content marketing, sales enablement and innovation. She also serves as vice president of thought leadership on the Board of Directors for the Business Marketing Association, is an instructor for the Online Marketing Institute, contributing author to the book, Advice from the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing and writes for CMSWire and other business publications. Tweet to Carla Johnson

Social media can serve as a strong component of B2B marketing when it’s planned, integrated and executed properly. As with any tactic, the key is to use it correctly and integrate it with the rest of your marketing mix. 

The metrics you choose should reflect the objective(s) that you’re trying to achieve. What kind of behavior do you need to motivate through social media and, knowing that, how will each of the different social channels play a role? 

Cisco does a great job with its YouTube channel and has a significant following – over 33,000 subscribers and almost 5 million views. It works because they know their audience very well, and it serves as a resource for both customers and sales teams. They also use their blog and Facebook to promote their thought leadership articles, so they’re able to engage and educate their audiences across a range of issue while driving conversations and SEO rankings at the same time. 

Then I see agencies, like Doremus, who create tools such as their DNA (Doremus Network Analysis) in order to help clients in a very sophisticated manner. By analyzing Twitter networks to determine audiences, influencers and geographic location, for example, Doremus helped HP raise the awareness of its ZED desktop workstation – they were able to increase peer advocacy in the target audience by 66 percent, deliver lead generation of 11:1 and generate over 18 million Twitter impressions. 

When B2B marketers create social media plans, they have to understand the purpose behind their efforts. “I’m focusing on Twitter so that…..?” They have to understand how to answer that question to ensure that what they do delivers ROI that move great business objectives forward – not just campaigns. Great social media, just like great content, needs to be purpose driven. 

Carter Hostelley, Founder and CEO, Leadtail

digital marketing, Discussion Point: Can ROI Be Achieved in Social Media Marketing?

Hostelley is the founder and CEO of Leadtail, a social media strategy and insights firm. For the past five years, he has championed  the power of social media to reach, engage and influence buyers to CMOs and senior marketers at leading business brands and venture-backed companies. His firm also develops and publishes social insights reports to help B2B marketers better understand how their target audience engages on social media. These reports have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Forbes, Huffington Post, Adweek and Tweet to Carter Hostelley.

Social media is a worthy avenue for B2B marketers. As a matter of fact, buyers are not giving B2B marketers much of a choice. They are increasingly turning to social media to learn about solutions that can help them, and then using it to research which vendors they should consider for a given solution.