We have all heard a lot about social media tools, tips and strategies by now. From Facebook and Twitter to blogs and YouTube, there are multiple channels available for the business owner today to share your message with your audience. The new challenge is figuring out how to incorporate these tools into your B2B plan and how to show results. Getting started is sometimes the hardest part.

There are many opportunities for B2B social media such as entering new markets, generating leads and demonstrating thought leadership to name a few. The object is to start small and focus your efforts on each step. There are four types of social media engagement for B2B marketing: Convening, Sharing, Connecting and Listening. Each step will help get you started and pave the way for those coveted results with social media.

In order to understand the conversations that are happening around us, listening must occur. This can be accomplished by browsing existing social media platforms, such as LinkedIn discussion groups or blogs, to hear what is being said. If you invest in this step first, it will pay off in the end and help guide you towards the appropriate social media tools to use. There are several services and tools available to help you such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, as well as outside paid services like Google Analytics. No matter what you choose, this research stage is crucial.

Extending social ties can create new platforms for engagement. Take LinkedIn for example. Here, professionals share ideas and thoughts about their respective industries and daily challenges with their fellow peers. This form of social networking not only builds your credibility, but develops relationships and forms a personal connection with other professionals and your customers. Take these personal connections a step further and keep a consistent dialogue, and you have a growing trust with these connections.

Contributing knowledge and leadership to your industry is important in establishing industry expertise. By identifying the issues that are worth talking about and finding the “white space,” you can develop your credibility and participate in the conversation. Whether you choose to comment or become a resource, there is added value in sharing. For instance, commenting on a LinkedIn group discussion and providing guidance can position you as a thought leader. Educating your audience in this manner will increase your presence and provide your customers with a resource that they will likely refer back to in the future.

This is where you put it all together and implement your own talking forum. Taking what you learned from your listening, relationship building and knowledge sharing, begin to formulate your goals and objectives for your social media platform of choice. Whether you choose to start a corporate blog or a Company Profile page on LinkedIn, the options are endless.

To recap, listening to what your customer’s are saying can identify industry needs. Building connections and keeping them active was the second step to building a presence. Sharing what matters to these audiences will position you as a thought leader. And, finally, developing your own platform is the final step towards engaging your customer.