According to a recent Infographic released form @Econsultancy, “76% of CMO’s list high-quality lead generation as their greatest challenge.” In addition, according to reports from IDC, 44.7% stated their biggest challenge in implementing lead nurturing initiatives was lack of resources available to do the work.

So the biggest ticket item for marketers is also the biggest challenge. No surprise here. As marketers struggle to navigate the new world of online lead gen and advertising, more and more are turning to social media and online communities to help them not only build brand awareness, but nurture and capture those prospects who visit their sites.

Content is out there, and being created by the second. So now, more than ever, it’s important that your company be viewed as a thought leader, which can be established through multiple online content and branding activities. But, this is a delicate practice that requires a balance of your company voice with that of your audience and the broader industry –and requires more educational messages than promotional ones. Without this balance it’s impossible to build trust with potential customers who will find your company while seeking educational information, not a sales pitch.

Here are 5 ways to achieve this balance on your social media and online community sites. Here are 5 ways to achieve this balance on your social media and online community sites. For more ideas and best practices, join the upcoming free webinar happening October 17, 2012. The webinar will cover how companies are using specific lead gen and branding initiatives online to achieve success and be viewed as a thought leader; no small feat, for sure.

1. Open your content ‘gates’: If you’re new to the social media or online community-game, you need to build trust with your audience before asking them for ANYTHING. This means free white papers, videos, case studies. A free consultation, perhaps, or incentive. Build that relationship before you ask for anything from them, because this will be the key to them offering up their personal information to you in the future.

2. Answer questions and establish a personality: Just as you need to establish your content “voice”- you need to have personality shine through your sites so your audience feels connected with you.  Use your online community as a place to become “real”. Implement a live chat feature, or show some cool things your company is doing unrelated to your products or services. Finally, take the time to respond to customer inquiries on your social sites. These connections points will be crucial, and top-of-mind, when ready to buy.

3. Provide content as a nurture technique, tailored for different audiences. This is a great way to reach all your different audiences. For example, have a section on your site or content pieces that are tailored for different job functions. Or, provide industry analysis and reports for each of your verticals. Finally, allow your audience to sign up for updates that are relevant to them by developing targeted eNewsletters. By giving your audience exactly what they want, and listening to their needs, you’ll be better equipped to establish yourself as a trustworthy and educational resource (as opposed to a sales center).

4. Use surveys to see what your audience wants to know from you. Plain and simple, nothing’s clearer than a poll. You may need to provide incentives for people to complete them, but the direct input from your audience is invaluable.

5. Give industry news for free, but offer an eNews for consolidation of the ‘latest and greatest’ for your audience. This allows you to build your database of people who have requested to hear from you on an ongoing basis (i.e., marketing gold).

How do you balance lead gen with online advertising on your social media sites or online community? Join the conversation. Facebook  | LinkedIn | Twitter