When it comes to social media, many businesses rightly echo the demand of Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!” Can blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc., actually help you make more money? “Absolutely,” insists Tom Pick, digital marketing and public relations director at KC Associates, a marketing research and services company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Pick says there are hundreds of case studies and examples supporting that claim. “In the B2B realm on which K.C. Associates focuses, social media is about increasing lead generation. One of our clients launched a blog and began promoting it through Twitter and LinkedIn, and within three months the blog was producing nearly 10 percent of the company’s leads,” he says.

Leveraging social media to create real business value is a long-term process that requires some upfront investment in terms of resources and time. “Like any form of promotion and exposure, repetition combined with the ability to show value or knowledge in an industry draws customers when they have a need,” says Dona Storey, American Express Open advisor on procurement. “Through social media you can position yourself as a credible solution to their potential challenge or problem.”

Pick suggests giving things away—expertise, resources, free tips, information—to attract a following. “But the ultimate goal is to get that following to do something in order to convert them into leads,” he says. That action can be downloading a white paper, registering for a webinar, subscribing to a newsletter, signing up for a free trial, or anything else that gets them into your company’s sales pipeline.

Benjamin Enterprises is a total workforce solutions company with offices in New York, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. Founder and CEO Michelle Benjamin says social media has been more effective than traditional marketing channels at increasing opportunities for her company’s sales and operations people to interact with bona fide prospects.

“We use social media to survey prospects and get immediate feedback on our products and services,” she says. The resulting dialogues helped drive a switch to green cleaning products in its facilities maintenance division and a reevaluation of the lasting effects of classroom training vs. hands-on mentorship in its training division. “In those cases, social media helped us save money and time by understanding the needs and wants of our customer base at a substantially lower cost,” she says.

The social media platforms best suited to monetization efforts vary by industry type. In retail and hospitality, for instance, Facebook, Foursquare, and Pinterest are likely to be key tools. In the B2B world, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs tend to be the cornerstones of successful social media marketing.

“People consume content in different ways and have different preferences,” Pick says. “To be successful in monetizing social media, SMB owners and managers need to consider producing content in a variety of formats: photos, infographics, presentations, video, text, etc. Often, the challenge of constantly producing new content can be made easier by instead presenting previously published content in a new format.”

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