Most B2B marketers know that social media plays an important, and growing, role in their demand generation strategies. However, not as many understand that social media now plays a crucial role in reaching and influencing C-level executives.

That may sound counter-intuitive for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a persistent belief that executives are disconnected from their companies’ day-to-day purchasing decisions. Second, the typical image of a busy executive doesn’t include them spending time on social networks, much less using those networks to make important decisions.

Breaking Down Assumptions about Social Media

Our team at DemandGen Report has studied both of these assumptions, and the results of our research might surprise you.

Let’s get the first assumption out of the way: Our research shows that executives actually play an active role in the purchasing research and decision-making processes. These decision-makers – VPs, CEOs, GMs and Partners –also are ahead of the curve in terms of embracing next-generation buying behaviors.

Those “next-generation” traits include looking at early adopters and establishing a business case for a purchase before allocating budget. Among executives, for example, 76% engaged peers who had addressed similar business challenges, versus 59% of the total sample; 55% of executives conducted anonymous research of a select group of vendors, versus 44% of the total sample.

I could go on, but the point is clear: Executives are involved in B2B purchasing decisions, and it is increasingly difficult for marketers to reach these decision-makers using traditional communication channels and methods.

Executives Are More Likely To Use Social Tools

So, what does work? That’s where social media enters the picture. Here’s a key statistic to start the conversation: 69% of executives say they now use social tools for business purposes, versus 64% of the total sample.

Let’s tie this data into the responses from another piece of DGR research: Our 2012 Content Preferences Survey. More than half of those respondents said they now attach great emphasis to peer reviews and user generated feedback – both staples of social media content — when making purchasing decisions. At the same time, just over half of the respondents said LinkedIn is one of their favorite content-sharing methods, while another 40% relied on Twitter for sharing content.

Harnessing B2B ‘Peer Power’ Via Social Media

What does it all mean for B2B marketers? Here are a few key points to take away:

  • Executives play a prominent role in the buying process, and they’re even more likely than their subordinates to play the marketing game by today’s new – and very different –rules;
  • These executives rely heavily upon peer reviews, feedback and content-sharing to inform their buying decisions;
  • Social media is even more popular among executives than it is among their subordinates.

Connect the dots, and you’ll see that social networks are the perfect way for B2B marketers to turn this peer-powered executive outreach to their advantage. Is your firm doing everything it can to take advantage of this trend?