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Business marketers have embraced social media with enthusiasm.  One of the reasons social media is working so well in B2B, in my opinion, is that business marketers tend to wear their direct marketing hats when they strategize and plan how to apply social media to their marketing objectives.  So they get a lot of measurable value from social media, and they pull it into their programs as a full-fledged member of the integrated marketing mix.  In B2B, social media and direct marketing have—in other words—met, hit it off, and developed a long-term relationship.

To back up and support my argument, let me offer a working definition for direct marketing: Direct marketing describes communications that are structured to motivate a response.  Direct marketing communications are characterized by:

  1. Being delivered to a carefully targeted audience
  2. Containing a motivational offer, a call to action and a response vehicle
  3. Collecting the responses in a database
  4. Expecting the results to deliver a measurable ROI.

By this definition, a direct marketing message can be delivered anywhere.  It is truly “media neutral.”  It can work in direct mail and email, but also in print, on billboards, on television and radio.  And in social media.

In fact, social media represent an ideal direct marketing medium.  When social media first arrived on the scene, they were widely viewed by marketers as a way to “get the word out” (which means awareness) and bring traffic to a website.

But increasingly, marketers are getting much more “DM-y” about social media.  In this year’s Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 58% of marketers said they were using it to generate leads.  Last year, in 2011, only 7% said that.  A big change.  Small businesses were even more likely, at 65%, to focus on lead generation in social media.

As marketers increasingly view social media as direct marketing media, the media owners themselves are responding, fast.  Just last August, Facebook announced that it would improve the targeting options available to advertisers, including for the first time targeting variables like email address and phone number, which direct marketers have used for years.   Before this, advertisers were limited to demographic selects like company size.

Also in August, Twitter announced that it will offer ad targeting by user interests or @username follower groups.  This kind of targeting has been a staple of direct marketing media for decades.  So I am concluding that these social media are moving in a direct marketing direction, recognizing that this way they can attract advertisers who are looking for measurable results, like a specific number of leads and a certain allowable cost per lead.

One other piece of evidence to support my case that B2B social media are intersecting with direct marketing, albeit a semi-humorous point: I was doing a seminar out at Facebook in Palo Alto a while back, training their ad sales marketing team on B2B direct marketing.  While there, I learned that Facebook itself is a sizable user of direct mail, the long-time workhorse medium of direct marketing.  The Facebook ad sales group uses direct mail to sell advertising to small and medium businesses.  So here’s a social medium using a traditional direct marketing medium to reach their B2B goals.  The intersection comes full circle.

What ways are you seeing social media intersect with direct marketing?

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Ruth Stevens

About Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools in the U.S. and abroad. Crain’s BtoB magazine named Ruth one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc., the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com.

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