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by Matt McKenzie, Contributing Editor

Last week, I had a chance to hear Forrester Analyst Lori Wizdo speak at an online seminar: “Integrating Social in the Lead-to-Revenue Process.” She offered lots of great statistics about social media and B2B buyers, and quite a few useful tips.

When I listen to these things, however, there are always one or two points that stand out from the rest. Lori’s presentation was no exception.

This time, it was research that detailed what B2B buyers find most compelling when they engage with an online social community. Nearly half said they most valued the expertise that other participants offered; many others cited the quality of the discussion and topics as their biggest draws.

Here’s the shocker: Only 12% said “volume of activity” mattered to them, only 7% said the size of the community mattered, and a paltry 6% said they cared about how long the community has been around.

Now, let’s connect the dots with two more interesting numbers: 55% of B2B buyers cite online communities or forums as influencers on their buying decisions, and a whopping 86% say they engage on social channels while they’re working.

The bad news here is that B2B marketers who want to engage – really engage – with high-quality communities have their work cut out for them. After all, the easiest way to decide where to focus one’s efforts is to seek out the biggest or most active communities.

It’s a lot harder to figure out where the most influential people hang out or where people post the most insightful comments. When you trade quantity for quality, it takes more research and a studied eye to make the right decisions.

The good news is that putting in the work will pay off in the long run. B2B buyers seek out these communities specifically to research their options; they play a critical role in moving buyers from being merely curious to purchase-ready prospects.

So, where do you get started with a community-driven engagement strategy? Our advice is to begin with LinkedIn, where you can find B2B discussions on virtually every topic – and where the quality-over-quantity approach is often on prominent display. Hang out, pay attention, get a feel for how these groups work, and when you engage, engage carefully.

Remember that you’re a participant in a community, not a salesperson hunting for prospects. B2B buyers can spot the difference a mile away, and nothing will kill a community faster than a hard-sell attitude.