As someone who earns a living helping B2B marketers make social media work, I was surprised by a recent claim from Forrester Research. Marketers use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to engage customers and prospects, Forrester noted. But then it added: it’s not working.

That's not the case, based on my experience.

Why Social Relationship Strategies Aren’t Working

To summarize the gist of the report, “Social Relationship Strategies that Work" ($499 fee) by Nate Elliot with Luca S. Paderni and Collin Colburn:

Most marketers still struggle to generate business value from social relationship marketing. Why? Because few people see brand posts (think: 2 percent of social audience) and even fewer engage with them. Therefore, brands are wasting time, money and resources investing in social networks that don't add value.

The report goes on to recommend that brands build their own social properties (e.g., blog and brand community) while investing in those social networks that still have high reach and engagement such as Instagram.

Correct, But Misleading?

While these are valid points, the report could mislead B2B marketers into thinking that investing in major social networks is a losing proposition. Not true. Social networks continue to be where your prospects engage their peers, learn about solutions and decide which products and services to consider. So you need to be there, too.

Average reach and engagement metrics shouldn’t be the main factors used to determine which social networks are right for you. Instead, you should:

Invest where your buyers are

You need to be where your customers and prospects are -- period. If your target audience isn’t spending time on Instagram or Pinterest, who cares what the average reach is on those platforms? Focus your time, money and resources on the social networks where your buyers are. If that’s LinkedIn and Twitter, then so be it.

Build high-quality social network channels

Think quality not quantity when building out your social channels, otherwise don’t be surprised when there’s little engagement, let alone ROI. Would you open a store selling B2B software at a busy shopping mall? Of course not. So why do the equivalent on social media?

Share content that tells your story

To generate meaningful engagement from your target audience, it’s not enough to share generic “me-too” content. You need to curate, create and share content that’s relevant and helpful to your buyers and that reflects your brand’s themes, story and unique perspective.

The challenge is to do all three things correctly and consistently. This won’t happen overnight… since social media is about connecting and building relationships, not selling.

Evolve Your Social Media Approach

How do you defend against the changing tides of the social networks and build a social marketing approach that works? Consider the following:

  • Your blog is more important than ever as a source of content to share on social networks, to educate and build trust with your prospects, and to generate website traffic and inbound leads. But most marketers could improve at aligning blog content with what customers care about, and telling story of what makes a given business unique.
  • The tactics of social media are changing to reflect the declining reach and engagement of any given tweet or status update. We went through this curve with online advertising and email marketing, resulting in a more targeted and optimized approach. Start thinking the same way about your social media efforts.
  • Social marketing is becoming more like search marketing in that both “organic” and “paid” initiatives could be necessary to get the results you’re looking for. This means having a social advertising budget for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, which is becoming a requirement for B2B marketers (as it already is for brand marketers).
  • Content marketing success is more dependent on social channels as the challenge shifts from one of content production to one of distribution. Why? Because it’s really hard to generate enough “net-new” leads from blasting your email database or relying on SEO to make the cost of producing quality content worthwhile.
  • Brand communities increasingly make sense if you want to have a social community that you can truly control. Otherwise, you’ll always be vulnerable to the changing priorities and rules of the social networks (think: LinkedIn Groups). Invest in brand communities as a way to supplement your efforts in building communities on the social networks.

The bottom line?

Making social media work for your company isn't easy. But that doesn't mean it's time to slow down or abandon your efforts. Double-down on those social networks that make sense and evaluate more deeply how you’re approaching and executing your social media strategy.