Most B2B brands have a presence on at least one social network. But far too many B2B companies don’t tap into the full power of social media. The reason? They may assume social media caters to B2C companies and are less of a priority for B2B.

Social media trends tell a different story. According to recent statistics, an estimated 3.6 billion people use social media, with that number likely to grow to 4.4 billion by 2025. That means nearly half of the world’s population uses social media.

Instead of overlooking social media, B2B brands need to take a strategic view. With some smart planning and focused effort, social media can become a strong marketing platform for any B2B company. By following five best practices, you can use social media to reach new audiences, tell their brand stories, and build relationships with prospects and customers.

Choose the Right Social Networks

Today, there are dozens of social networks, but not all are good fits for B2B audiences. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), the top five most-used networks for B2B are:

  • LinkedIn (97%)
  • Twitter (87%)
  • Facebook (86%)
  • YouTube (60%)
  • Instagram (30%)

Each network offers distinct value and opportunity to B2B companies.

LinkedIn is the #1 social platform. As a business-focused network, LinkedIn is a hub for professional networking. Much of the content is professional, so it’s the perfect place to communicate your brand messages. Through LinkedIn, you can directly reach key decision-makers at target companies through social posts or focused advertising.

The second most-used network, Twitter, is another B2B hotspot. Twitter offers wide open networking. That means companies can proactively find and follow people in their industry or prospect base–and often gain a return follow. Since tweets are character-limited, you can’t convey long messages, but can showcase brand personality and voice.

Facebook holds stature as the world’s largest social network, with more than 2.5 billion monthly active users. Although Facebook is a hub for personal content–like family vacation photos– B2B brands can use the platform to reach target audiences by creating share-worthy content. Also, Facebook offers cost-effective advertising options and can be an excellent customer listening and support channel.

As video consumption rises, YouTube has become a force in B2B communications. Today, YouTube reports that it has more than two billion users, with more than one billion hours of video watched each day. B2B brands can leverage video in many ways–from “how-to” tutorials to interviews with industry and in-house experts.

With more than one billion monthly users, Instagram is emerging as a potent social media opportunity for B2B brands. What makes Instagram so compelling? It boasts the highest engagement rate of all social networks at 2.26%. For perspective, Twitter has a 0.21% engagement rate, and Facebook’s rate is 0.06%. As a highly visual network, Instagram is an excellent venue to showcase culture, humanize the brand, and tell stories about team members.

Determine Your Content Mix

When posting on social media, brands need to think about the content they share. The traditional advice for social media has been to follow the “80/20” rule. With that approach, brands post 80% non-promotional or educational content, and 20% promotional content.

While the 80/20 rule is a good place to start, it’s not a mandate. You should look at competitors to understand what level of promotional content works for the audience. Studying social analytics is also important. If you find people respond well to your promotional content, you can break the 80/20 rule and share more.

Most brands find that some non-promotional content is necessary. Questions, polls, and inspirational quotes from leaders can spark discussion. Also, sharing and commenting on posts from thought leaders or customers can lead to higher engagement.

Devise an Interesting Angle for Your Content

One reason some B2B brands shy away from social media is that they assume that they don’t have anything interesting to say. Often social media is fun, friendly, and personal. And some B2B products provide essential functions but don’t seem particularly exciting.

Companies may also think their primary social media goal is connecting with the limited audience that has an interest in their products. With a shift in mindset, your company can expand its presence and build an engaged following.

The key is focusing your brand’s social messaging to emphasize their industry or the benefits of what they do. How can you do that? Here is an example from content marketing expert Neil Patel:

Let’s say a B2B sells repair services for vibratory leaching systems in mines. There aren’t many people who are going to tweet about vibratory leaching systems in mines. But some people are interested in mine reclamation or increasing mine safety. There’s the unboring angle.

With this approach, you can make your brand relevant to more people. That broadened relevance can translate to more brand awareness and more customers.

Showcase Personality to Humanize Your Presence

B2B brands have often taken a conservative approach to social media. However, social media is all about human connection, so this style doesn’t always resonate with audiences.

Instead of a formal approach, B2B companies can use a conversational tone. The goal is to write how people speak and use straightforward language. A simple tactic is switching out long words for shorter ones. And don’t be afraid of colloquialisms or a touch of humor.

Another good idea: Read content out loud before posting. If it sounds like something you’d say in conversation, you’re using a conversational tone.

Also, you can humanize your brand to focus on real people in your company. Tell the story of who you founded and highlight your brand’s spokespeople. Introduce customer-facing team members, like account managers and customer support professionals. And instead of hyping the features of your product, give a face and voice to the people behind it.

Engage with Your Audiences

Never lose sight of the fact that social media is about connection and conversation. Don’t just use social media to broadcast one-way messages. Aim to build a community through dialog with your circle of followers.

Is there a hot topic of discussion in your industry? Ask for opinions. Use polls to provoke thinking on a topic or gather feedback. Comment on interesting or newsworthy posts or tweets.

You can also share industry news regularly to become a trusted information source.

Also, you can use a humanistic approach to build engagement. Highlight “fun facts” about team members–such as the last book read or favorite vacation spot. Invite your audience to share their ideas.

Always respond to as many comments as possible. When you do, people will know that your company wants to listen and build relationships. And that will win you goodwill.

B2B Brands Can Make the Most of Social Media

No doubt about it: Social media adoption is on the rise. Recent figures from Pew Research show that 72% of adults in the US use social media every day. B2B brands simply cannot ignore this important trend.

The good news is that building a strong social presence is a cost-effective marketing tactic. You first need to choose the right networks, with LinkedIn being a clear must-do for B2B. Next, you should determine your mix of promotional and non-promotional content and decide on an angle that will help you reach a broad audience. And creating social media proposals doesn’t stand aside either.

Always keep the social nature of social media in mind. Showcase the human side of your brand–your personality and people. And don’t just blast brand messages. Aim to start conversations and engage with your following.

The truth is that all B2B brands should embrace the power of social media. With a strategic approach, social media can help you improve brand awareness and build customer loyalty.

You can also position your company as a trusted thought leader and generate web traffic and leads. Over time, your social media presence can deliver business value and boost your bottom line.