I had an interesting discussion Friday with a friend concerning social media and B2B companies. His position was that everyone should be on social media; it’s mandatory, and the need to be there will only increase.

My position was – and is – it depends. It depends on the exact nature of your business and it depends which social network we’re talking about. But, yes, social media really can make a positive difference for your business-to-business firm. For proof, check out this infographic that shows you the impact that B2B firms can make on social media.

And then check out our important caveats below.

Before embarking on a social media strategy, B2B firms must build a foundation by figuring out a) who their audience is and b) where they are. This sounds basic, but it’s critical.

Determining your audience should be pretty straightforward. After all, if you have a viable business, you have to have some idea who the people are who buy your product or service.

But don’t make assumptions. Sit down with your team to create a level set and conduct persona exercises in which you talk about the demogrpahics and psychographics of the people who are your prospective clients. Create a documented understanding of who they are, how they behave and, most importantly, how they make buying decisions.

Once you’ve identified your buyer personas, it’s time to figure out where they’re looking for information. Because they are looking – a recent study showed that, for Fortune 100 companies, 80 percent of the purchase cycle is completed before the buyer contacts potential vendors or partners. And you need to be easy for them to find in that environment.

So ask yourself – are our clients on LinkedIn? Is Facebook really a good place for us to be, or is it too consumer-y? Maybe you can make a splash on Pinterest and break through there in a way you can’t on Twitter. Once you understand your audience and their buying habits, you can begin to influence them.

And that’s the purpose. It isn’t about finding new friends; it’s about finding new customers.