December 22, 2014

3 factors in winning the social media horse race

Seems everyone has an opinion about Google’s G+. And as usual in a situation where little data exists (yet) to support fact-based opinions, most of them are extreme. Some say G+ is dead in the water because it hasn’t generated the mad rush that Facebook did and that growth and use is already starting to slow. Others say that G+ will rule because of its integration with Google’s other tools like Android, Gmail, Docs, and its media properties like YouTube and Google Music—in other words, the colossus effect that we’ve been waiting (for so long) to take effect.

It’s way too early to make a call, so I’m not going to presume to know G+’s prospects for success (especially when it hasn’t even been officially launched), but there are a few things that the rise of a possible new giant in social networking points out:

  • Social networks are porous. One writer claims that the attraction of G+ is the opportunity to start over in social networking. The argument is essentially that we’ve screwed up everything in Facebook and G+ is our social media morning after pill. But as even the worst one-night stand movie comedy will tell you, starting over is tough to do. Erasing or simply stopping our lives on a social network is possible, but it’s much easier to just start sharing across many at once. For example, just when I was lamenting having to do over all the work I’ve done to build up a Twitter community with some true interaction and conversation in G+, along comes a browser extension called SGPlus that lets you post on G+ and share it across Twitter and Facebook at the same time. When and if Google releases an application programming interface for G+, no doubt one of the social dashboards such as Tweetdeck will build G+ in. It’s easier for tweets to flow across all the various social networks because of their short nature and the fact that they usually contain links to longer content that can show up on Facebook and G+.
  • There are only two types of relationships in social networking. G+ is touted as something new, but it’s really a combination of two elements that I’ve talked about here before: Permission-based and viral-based relationships. G+ combines the viral model pioneered by Twitter, in which you can follow someone you don’t know and hear what they have to say, and Facebook and LinkedIn’s permission-based models, in which you can only engage in relationships with those you know. All the social networks we’ve seen so far are based on one or both of these models. G+’s relationship model mix of the two is a little bit complicated. So much so that it takes a PhD. to explain it.
  • There are only two types of content in social media. Short or long. That’s it. One of the reasons that Twitter is compelling is because its content is so short. You have to come up with something really pithy and link to the deeper thinking. Twitter kills the long-winded entry about nothing. The reason that blogs are so popular (and the cornerstone for social media in B2B social media marketing) is that they are long. They satisfy our need for stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and give us room to support our arguments with facts and proof (the cornerstones of thought leadership). Gone are those annoying blogs from the early days that just posted links to other stuff. Twitter killed them all. G+ tries to split the difference. Most of the posts I’ve seen on G+ have been twitter posts that go on for too long—140 words instead of characters, with little in the way of deep thinking or factual evidence to justify the wordiness. In this sense, G+ looks more like the blogging platform Tumblr. And we all know how Tumblr has taken off, right?
  • Commenters rarely engage in conversation. All the social networks allow for various kinds of real-time, texting style conversation, but when it comes to commenting on content, there’s little true conversation. It’s rare to see threaded conversations (unless the discussion is political, in which case the conversation usually happens at the shouting level). G+ and Facebook allow comments to specific entries that are pretty easy to follow. Twitter has the re-tweet button, @replies, and hashtags. I don’t think any of them have a particular advantage in the conversation department, but I think that G+ is at a bit of a disadvantage here. Those 140-word entries don’t have much depth to them, which means that many of the comments are inane. There’s just not much to say about something that didn’t have much substance to begin with. I also think there’s a piling on factor in G+. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but when I read posts by the A-list bloggers, there are tons of people who seem to think that saying something—anything, even “So true, so true”—is good for their street cred and exposure. I just don’t want to wade through it all. I think longer blog posts inspire more thought and better comments, even if they don’t rise to the level of conversation.

What do you think?

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The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it

cooling

Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on social media for an ITSMA client. The marketer in charge of the company’s social media effort gave me a clear edict: “Look, I don’t want you focusing on Facebook, okay? We don’t see the value of it for B2B and we want it off the table. Every time we talk about it, we have an endless argument that leads nowhere.”

Seemed a bit harsh, but I had to admit that I had been harboring my own doubts about the value of Facebook for B2B for a long time. I’m not saying that B2B companies shouldn’t be on Facebook. I think every company should be on Facebook. There are just too many people passing through those turnstiles not to put up a sign somewhere. So I think B2B businesses should have a Facebook page that shares whatever content the company is already producing. Why not? It’s yet another channel for reaching customers and the effort required to set up a Facebook page and create RSS feeds of your content to update it is pretty small.

But let’s put this all in context. What is B2B marketing all about? Relationships, right? And I just don’t see what’s good about Facebook for creating relationships in B2B. Much of what works on Facebook seems to fall into two camps:

  • Charity. I see many brands launching altruistic campaigns on Facebook to get attention and burnish their reputations.
  • Contests/giveaways/games. Much as people at trade shows will do just about anything for a t-shirt, it seems pretty easy to get people to click the like button if they can get free swag or get a chance to win something. EMC, Cisco and Intel have had success with this kind of focus for some time now.

But I notice a few things about B2B efforts on Facebook that leave me skeptical:

  • Engagement is campaign focused and temporary. I see brands investing effort in campaigns around a particular event or contest, but what about the space in between? If the only way to get people interested in your content is by giving them stuff instead of wisdom, how are you supposed to sustain that connection over the long term?
  • Conversation is banal or non-existent. The B2B pages I’ve seen on Facebook are broadcast focused. Lots of big graphics and calls to action around the above mentioned swag and charitable causes, but I’ve never seen anything in the way of substantive discussion that anyone would mistake for thought leadership, as you would on say, a good blog post by a subject matter expert.
  • The like button is a blunt instrument. There’s no denying the power of Facebook as a platform. Its sheer numbers mean that brands get tons of likes. But click on that like button and X,Y,Z Company is in your Facebook stream forever (with no clear way to get rid of it) along with the stuff you really want to read from your BFFs. That’s gotta get old pretty quickly. Research shows that people unlike brands on Facebook nearly as often as they shut off other channels and for all the same reasons: “too frequent, irrelevant or boring communications.”
  • The perception of Facebook as a consumer platform persists. I keep waiting for Facebook to buy LinkedIn or Twitter and just put an end to the business vs. consumer distinction. But until they do, it seems that the perception will persist. Is it any wonder that B2C marketing techniques dominate? Facebook just doesn’t seem like a good source for B2B thought leadership.

Again, I’m not saying Facebook shouldn’t be part of a B2B social media strategy, but its utility as a platform for building a deeper relationship with B2B buyers still seems limited. What do you think?

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