A whopping 7 of 10 U.S. adults are active on social networks — a number that jumps to 9 out of 10 among millennials and younger generations, a third of whom say social is their preferred channel for communicating with brands.

While few business owners debate the necessity of developing a social marketing strategy, more than 40 percent of business owners say they can't tie social marketing efforts to business impacts (2016 CMO Survey Report), and 46 percent of B2B marketers aren't sure whether social marketing has generated any additional revenue for their companies (MarketingProfs).

You might think social networks don't lead to deals, but it's simply not true. Social marketing strategies can help trucking carriers and owner-operators generate real leads and referrals. If your social marketing isn't producing a return on investment that allows you to tie real results (customer acquisition, engagement, repeat business, reviews or referrals, etc.) to your social profile pages and updates, it's time to tweak your strategy.

Below you'll find a primer that lists which networks work best for lead generation, customer engagement and referrals, along with the tactics you should add to your social marketing strategy.

Best social networks for generating leads

1. Facebook: Used by 62 percent of U.S. adults (Pew Research Center), Facebook is a crucial part of any social strategy playbook. Generate leads on Facebook with posts like:

  • Special offers
  • Stats like on-time delivery rates, cost comparisons, safety record
  • Customer guarantees
  • Customer testimonials

In addition to the reach your posts will have organically, Facebook offers business users the ability to sponsor posts (pay for extended reach) targeted specifically to the industry and demographics of your ideal buyer types. Among paid social options, it's one of the least expensive and highest return on investment options.

Sponsoring social posts for just a few dollars per day could bring target audience members to your website every day and exponentially increase brand awareness of your company in the marketplace. If you capture contact information or use retargeting ads, these site visits can turn into conversions that occur both immediately and over time.

2. LinkedIn: Used by 22 percent of U.S. adults, this platform is a go-to for business buyers. As you do on Facebook, you can also sponsor posts on LinkedIn to extend their reach and ensure they're seen by likely buyers.

3. Twitter: Used by 20 percent of U.S. adults, Twitter and its hashtag orientation make it a go-to for buyers who are looking for resources by specific tags. If, for instance, your fleet includes reefers, using hashtags like #fleet and #refrigeratedtrucks in posts can help your trucking business get found based on a buyer's specific trucking needs.

Best social networks for customer engagement

Engagement marketing starts by talking about your customers, not your company. Social posts that spark engagement are those that practically beg to be shared, liked and commented upon. Plus, talking about your customers and vendors on social networks gives you the ability to tag them, ensuring that the organic reach of posts will be that much greater.

1. Facebook

  • Congratulate customers on milestones, anniversaries and achievements
  • Give shoutouts to your drivers and put a personal face on your business
  • Funny photos and memes are always among the most-shared content on social networks
  • Talk about your company's give backs and bring attention to the causes you support
  • Share photos showing your company culture in action (company events, employee recognition, etc.)

2. Instagram: Used by 24 percent of U.S. adults, Instagram is a great way to speak to the human element of your company.

  • Photos with beautiful over-the-road photos
  • Photos that speak to trucking life and the work drivers and carriers do to ensure the loads get through
  • Photos of company events and social gatherings
  • Photos showing awards and company achievements

3. LinkedIn: You can use LinkedIn for many of the same types of posts you do on other networks. Your LinkedIn trucking company profile page (as well as the profile pages of your company's leaders) can all be optimized with content that gets found in online searches as well as LinkedIn business searches. In addition, you can post blog-style articles on LinkedIn via your professional profiles; such as:

  • Accomplishments and awards
  • Stories about how your drivers or company went the extra mile for a customer
  • Talking about your company culture for both marketing and recruiting purposes
  • Insights about the industry's past, present or future

There is a tremendous amount of digital real estate available to your trucking business on LinkedIn that can lead to direct leads as well as brand awareness, web traffic and network-building.

Best social networks for reviews and referrals

1. Facebook: Among U.S. adult Facebook users, 70 percent sign in at least once daily and 43 percent check their Facebook feeds multiple times each day. You can use Facebook both to share customer testimonials (preferably in both text and image format for maximum impact) and to solicit customer feedback using Facebook messaging or by sending them a link to online surveys. Not only can you ask happy customers to share their ratings and reviews on Yelp and your Better Business Bureau listing, but you can also ask them to rate your business page right on the platform.

2. LinkedIn: You can use customer testimonials on your trucking business profile page and in updates, and you can also ask happy customers to offer endorsements for company representatives who have LinkedIn profiles. All of this social clout engenders buyer trust and could swing the decision your way when customers are choosing which trucking business to use.

3. YouTube: 9 percent of U.S. small businesses use YouTube and so do 81 percent of U.S. millennials. Video is one of the most persuasive, engaging and sharable forms of social content. Interview some of your customers about their experience with your trucking company in video format and use it on your website and social networks as well as YouTube. Infuse customer testimonials into your marketing content developed for YouTube, adding an element of objective endorsement to what might otherwise feel like a simple ad.

Social has moved from a "nice to have" feature to a must-have status for every business. But there's more to a successful social marketing strategy than logging in and setting up a few profiles. The more you understand how each network is designed to reach users and master the techniques that will engage buyers in your target audiences, the better your social marketing results will be.