Open any industry trade magazine and you’ll see them – the non-customer-facing business to business companies. These are the brands that typical consumers never see and have never heard of, even though they may be giants within their industry. Social marketing whiz Josh McCormack calls them “non-visual brands”; you might call them commercial/industrial brands but they are definitely hiding well under the radar when the media talks about B-to-B marketing.

For most of these companies, social media is not yet considered a useful marketing tool. They don’t see the ROI, don’t allocate budget for it and don’t spend much time thinking about it in the context of business. Social is thought of as an arena for consumer brands, who can amass huge followings and create exciting promotions costing the entire annual marketing budget of a non-visual brand.

But the shift is happening, and it’s impossible to ignore. Even in the trade press, page counts are falling as print magazines lose advertisers. New industry websites are popping up, but many of them have not yet learned to optimize viewership – they are coming from a print sensibility and the concepts of SEO and user experience aren’t organic to many of their organizations.

All this is leaving many of these advertisers wondering about the best place to spend their budget. Still, social media seems like a stretch to many of them.

How can we – the marketing experts – demonstrate the advantages, the ROI and the strategy of social media to our “non-visual” clients?

Start by ditching the term “social media” when presenting your case. McCormack has long lobbied for the term “social networking”, which makes sense because the platform is more about making connections than about media. The word media is inextricably linked to KPIs like views, impressions and clicks, but social KPIs should be determined for each campaign based on strategic goals.

Next, present your case by building a step-by-step plan that demonstrates a strategic rollout of specific tactics. Each should be associated with terminology that is native to the B-to-B world – for example, “sales support” may be a more acceptable business objective to this group than “community building”, even though both are central to social.

Be ready to discuss the benefits of the various social channels, and the differing reasons to be on each one you are recommending. It will help as well to have a few examples of non-visual companies that are doing really fantastic programming in the social arena (and send me a few if you find them; right now examples seem to be few and far between).

Not every one of these clients is going to respond – social is still going to be a bit of a hard sell to this audience. But once a few start making inroads, and creating buzz, the balance will tip. At least, that’s my opinion.

And finally, if you’re a non-visual, commercial/industrial or industry-specific B-to-B who wants to know, step by step, how it’s done – give me a call, email, tweet or LinkedIn DM. I’ll be more than happy to talk it through with you.